Jaipur Literature Festival 2014

February 6th, 2014

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Front Lawn

Recently I returned from my first trip to India. One of the highlights was the Jaipur Literature Festival, where I attended sessions with writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathon Frazen, Reza Aslan and Cheryl Strayed.

I traveled with members of my Dubai book club. We were six women—all excited to see what the Jaipur Lit Fest was all about and how it compared to the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2014

Map of India ~ Jaipur

Jaipur Literature Festival

This five-day festival is the largest of its kind in Asia and the world’s largest free literary festival. It’s held annually on the green grounds of Diggi Palace Hotel in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. All of the sessions were outside, and because it was free, participants moved freely from session to session. TimeOut Delhi refers to the event as the Woodstock of World Literature.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ map of Diggi Palace

This literature fest had a very different feel from the Emirates Lit Fest in Dubai, which is more formal and held in conference rooms at the InterContinental Hotel. For me, this Jaipur event reminded me more of Folklife Festival in Seattle, where you find yourself sitting on the grass chatting with whomever is next to you.

This year’s Jaipur Lit Fest also featured Gloria Steinem, who was promoting her new collection of essays, as well as actor Irrfan Khan and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, plus a full catalogue of others. In past years, the Jaipur Lit Fest has hosted Ian McEwan, Orhan Pamuk, Vikram Seth, Kiran Desai, and JM Coetzee.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Jhumpa Lahiri

For me, the biggest highlight was seeing one of my all-time favorite writers—Jhumpa Lahiri. Her first book, The Interpreter of Maladies, is a short story collection which won the Pulitzer Prize. Her novel The Namesake was made into a film, but my favorite is Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of short stories and one novella.

At the Jaipur Lit Fest, Lahiri introduced her latest novel The Lowland, the story of two brothers, very close and very different, and set in Calcutta (Kolkata) with tensions swirling. She read from her new book and discussed how her own family’s experiences informed her latest work.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Jhumpa Lahiri reading The Lowland

Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri described the feeling of “Absence of Place” and her own family’s feelings of dislocation after leaving India. That is, when one stops living in a place and moves away, that place takes on a surreal quality. Lahiri explained that she has always been aware of this longing since her childhood.

Meanwhile, Jhumpa Lahiri’s appearance attracted a huge crowd.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Crowds to see Jhumpa Lahiri


The Global Novel

The most thought-provoking panel I attended was the one entitled “The Global Novel,” featuring writers from five countries and four continents: Jonathon Franzen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jim Crace, Maaza Mengiste and Xiaolu Guo.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Global Novel Panel

First of all, this panel was not thrilled with the idea of the English-language Global Novel. Jhumpa Lahiri argued that “global” was a commercial term, rather than an aesthetic term. She explained how she is distressed by too much emphasis on work written in English. She argued that other languages and cultures get lost.

Jonathon Frazen, author of Freedom and The Corrections, explained that the current trend is for less diversity in reading. He fears a “global mono-culture” where cultural differences will become a novelty.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Jonathon Frazen

The panel all agreed that American books are overly emphasized in the literary world, and as Chinese writer Xiaolu Guo stated, “American literature is massively over-rated.” The panel discussed how readers select books. Jim Crace described that overwhelming feeling: “In the bookshop you feel terrified by all the novels you’ll never read.”

Giving us some hope and direction, Jhumpa Lahiri explained that translation is the bridge that enables us to read across cultures. She advised writers to find their own voices and not think about trying to be “global.”

After listening to this panel, I’ve decided to challenge myself (and my book club) to shoot for more difficult and unusual books, more books from other countries, and especially more translated work. I’ll think twice before buying the latest American book that a big publisher is promoting. I’ll dig deeper, and always remember that the power is in the hands of the reader. 

Cheryl Strayed

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

What a pleasure to hear Cheryl Strayed discuss her memoir Wild, an Oprah book club pick, soon to be a movie starring Reece Witherspoon. It was terrific to see a writer from the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR) in Jaipur and one whose work I have admired.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed discussed the journey of memoir writing which she compared to “deep sea diving.” She explained that the process of writing helps one remember their story, gain insights and “taste life twice.” So much of writing, she explained, is making sense of being human.

Reza Aslan

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Reza Aslan

I also attended a session with Reza Aslan, religious scholar and author of a long list of books on religion. He is a terrific and dynamic speaker, and I enjoyed listening to him. He was in a debate defending his latest book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Reza Aslan author & religious scholar

Zealot by Reza Aslan

I honesty wished he could have just talked about his book for the hour without him having to debate it with another scholar. We’ve already heard Reza Aslan defend his controversial book on Fox News and other news outlets. Oh well. It seems debates are part of the Jaipur Lit Fest program.

Other Highlights

I also attended panels entitled “Burdens of Identity” and “The Art of Biography.” My travel companions raved about the panel “Who will Rule the World?” Finally, I attended a creative writing workshop given by Anita Roy.

And of course, I visited the bookstore.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Book shop

I enjoyed wandering around the grounds of Diggi Palace, visiting the stalls, drinking masala chai, and soaking up the vibe at this inspiring and worthwhile event.

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Diggi Palace

Jaipur Literature Festival ~ Chai Tea Sellers

We are already planning our next visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival. Meanwhile, stay tuned for my upcoming posts on the rest of my trip to India: the unique beauty of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi.

Jaipur Literature Festival

Question: What are your impressions of the Jaipur Literature Festival? The Emirates Festival of Literature? Other lit events you have attended? 

  1. February 6th, 2014 at 17:38 | #1

    Holly, what an absolute delight it is to read about your experiences and insights into the festival. Amazing photos. And chock full with vital information for anyone who will follow in your footsteps. (Me) 🙂 looking forward to the next installment….am so happy for you. 🙂

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 8th, 2014 at 09:15 | #2

      HI Zvezdana, Thank you so much for reading & for your sweet comment. Of all the people I know, I think you would appreciate this event the most. I hope one day you will have the chance to attend. Loads of fun for readers & travelers!

  2. February 6th, 2014 at 22:57 | #3

    I had no idea about the Jaipur Literature Festival until hearing about this one–what an amazing gift to the region and the world that they offer this incredible festival for free! Your photos and insights really bring it to life, and I love how colorful it all is. I always love to hear updates about Cheryl Strayed in particular, as I am a huge fan of hers. I will tweet the link to your post and recommend it on Facebook.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 8th, 2014 at 09:12 | #4

      Hi Maureen, Thanks for stopping by! Yes, what a treat to attend this event. And now my book club wants to read Cheryl Strayed. Yay!

  3. February 7th, 2014 at 09:37 | #5

    well done. i felt as if i was there. thanx for the colourful images, verbal and pictorial.

  4. Tej
    February 7th, 2014 at 11:50 | #6

    Sounds irresistible! Will prioritize for next year. Thanks for telling us about it!

  5. February 7th, 2014 at 14:50 | #7

    Wow! How I so wished I had gone. To savor India is divine . . . but to savor India and go to such a great Lit Fest takes is way over the top.” Thanks for sharing this experience. Also, have just put Jhumpa Lahiri on my list of “wanna reads.” I always love your book suggestions.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 8th, 2014 at 09:10 | #8

      Katie I think you would really enjoy it. There’s always next year…. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the upcoming Lit Fest in Dubai 😉

  6. Durriyah Vasi
    February 7th, 2014 at 18:55 | #9

    It was such a delight to read about the literature festival and relive those wonderful days all over again.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 8th, 2014 at 09:09 | #10

      Thanks so much for reading, Durriyah. I agree, a wonderful memory. Looking forward to next year 😉

  7. February 9th, 2014 at 07:58 | #11

    Wow – Jonathan Franzen! You’ve introduced me to some authors I haven’t read too. This post makes me want to go to the next one. Putting a link on my Jaipur post now.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 9th, 2014 at 11:42 | #12

      Thank you, Sally, for reading and for the link…. I enjoyed your photos of Jaipur, too. I hope you have a chance to attend this lit fest. I’m sure you’d enjoy it & appreciate its uniqueness.

  8. February 9th, 2014 at 08:28 | #13

    OOOh you met Jhumpa Lahiri! She is one of my favorite authors too!! The Lowland is on my to read list and I can’t wait to read it.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 9th, 2014 at 11:41 | #14

      HI Neelu, I didn’t actually meet Jhumpa Lahiri. I saw her from an audience of thousands & I took her photo. 🙂 I didn’t even get to have her sign my book, as the lines were incredibly long. She has a huge fan base. I guess you & I are two of those fans. 😉

  9. March 8th, 2014 at 08:18 | #15

    Holly, I loved reading about the festival! Thank you for sharing so much in detail – lots of savoury bits for me to go and reference, and discover on my own. How did the festival compare to others you’ve been to?

  10. June 28th, 2014 at 19:07 | #16

    Hi, this is Noor from Ya Salam Cooking. I wanted to personally invite you to a new cooking club we have started.


    Thanks, Noor

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 18th, 2014 at 01:43 | #17

      Thank you, Noor. I will check it out. Ramadan Kareem!

  11. October 8th, 2014 at 22:56 | #18

    Ha! I think debates will ensue whenever religion is on the table ;p But I appreciate Reza Aslan on his recent debates on TV

Comments are closed.