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Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

February 19th, 2015 13 comments

Jaipur Literature  Festival

This was my second visit to Jaipur’s vibrant festival of literature. What brought me back a second time? In short, its colorful outdoor venue and upbeat vibe. It actually feels like a festival! Also, the fest’s big-name authors are another draw for me.

At last year’s event, I was thrilled to see Jumpha Lahiri, as well as Jonathon Frazen, Cheryl Strayed, and Reza Aslan. This year I saw Paul Theroux and William Dalrymple. V.P. Naipul was also there, but sadly, Elizabeth Gilbert cancelled due to health reasons.

Both this year and last, I traveled with my Dubai-based book club for the event. Last year we were six women and this year we were ten! It’s a wonderful thing to travel with a group of friends who share a common interest—in this case, a love of books.

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Book Club

About the Jaipur Lit Fest

Considered the “Pink City” and the gateway to Rajasthan, the flamboyant city of Jaipur hosts the fest. The mostly-outdoor event is set in the Diggi Palace Hotel. With greenery, colorful tents, intricate interiors, and structures draped with bunting, the event has a truly festive feel. With an ambiance like that, people are chatty and it’s a great place to interact with fellow readers.

Jaipur Literature  Festival

Jaipur Literature Festival

The largest free literary festival in the world, the Jaipur Lit Festival features both international and South Asian writers, including Booker and Pulitzer Prize winners and many celebrated Indian authors. The program includes talks, discussions, panels, debates, and music.

With a diverse showcase of writers, this year’s festival was a celebration of freedom of expression, religious tolerance, and diversity of thought—and occurring at a time when India faces various cultural and religious challenges.

I attended a variety of panels including “Writing Resistance: Of Battles and Skirmishes,” presented by UN Women as part of the Women Uninterrupted series (below).

Jaipur Literature Festival

I also attended the panel, “Matters of Faith,” which reflected the religious diversity of India (below).

Jaipur Literature Festival

Wanderlust and the Art of Travel Writing

However, my favorite panel was “Wanderlust and the Art of Travel Writing.” Reading from their travel memoirs, the writers included Charles Glass, Paul Theroux, William Dalrymple, Brigid Keenan, Sam Miller and Samanth Subramanian (below).

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Wanderlust Panel

What a delight to see Paul Theroux! After reading so many of his travel memoirs and novels over the years, I was excited to see him on various panels, including this one where he read from his upcoming memoir about traveling stateside (below).

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Paul Theroux

At the time of the lit fest, our book club was reading White Mughals by the India-based historian William Dalrymple, so it was a lot of fun seeing him, too. Along with Namita Gokhale, Dalrymple is one of the directors and founders of the festival. A prolific writer, Dalrymple was an animated reader as he read from his travel memoir From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East (below).

Jaipur Literature  Festival - William Dalrymple

Of course, there were books to buy. This year the festival book store was sponsored by Amazon India, which meant (sadly) that there were fewer books for sale and more devices. I hope next year they bring back more actual books to the fest—as books are the soul of any literary event.

Jaipur Literature  Festival - reader

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Book Store

The event also had food outlets, stalls for shopping, including those wonderful Jaipur textiles, and my favorite—the tea wallahs selling masala chai in little clay cups.

Jaipur Literature  Festival - tea sellers

To find out more about this event, see the Lit Fest webpage or read my post from last year. I’m looking forward to next year’s festival, and I hope to be there for the full four days and I hope Elizabeth Gilbert makes it next time!

Question: What are your favorite literature festivals around the world? 

Reflections of India

January 20th, 2015 4 comments

Taj Mahal Reflections

As I prepare for a second trip to India, I’m reflecting back on memories from my last trip when five friends and I toured the “golden triangle”: Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. We visited palaces, forts, tombs, markets mosques, and temples.

Here are a few of my favorite photos—which unfortunately can’t quite capture the awe I felt.

2 Jaipur

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and known as the “Pink City” of India. Above is the iconic Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds.

Jaipur Festival of Literature 2014

The Jaipur Festival of Literature was our primary purpose in Jaipur. We were six women from a Dubai-based book club, ready see Jhumpa Lahira, Reza Aslan, Cheryl Strayed and more. Here is my post on the Jaipur Lit Fest 2014.

 Jaipur Amber Fort

Jaipur offered much to see, including the gorgeous Amber fort.

Jaipur Elephant Ride Amber Fort

The ideal way to visit the Amber Fort is by elephant.

Agra Taj Mahal Archway

Next we drove overland to Agra to see the Taj Mahal—without a doubt, the most beautiful building in the world.

Agra ~ Oberoi Hotel, Room with a View

We stayed at the Oberi Hotel, which is possibly the most exquisite hotel I’ll ever stay in. This was the view from my balcony. Yes, that’s the Taj Mahal.

Agra Taj Mahal ~ Diana's Seat

I took hundreds of photos. Here’s one of me sitting on the so-called “Diana Seat” where Lady Diana famously posed. I’m trying to channel Lady Di. Is it working?

Delhi ~ Old Delhi

Delhi is the capital of India, where we experienced the bustle and color of Old Delhi, pictured above, as well as stately New Delhi.

Delhi ~ The Imperial Hotel

We stayed at the Imperial Hotel, which had a colonial, art deco, Raj-era vibe—basically amazing.

Delhi Jama Masjid

We toured the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India

Delhi ~ Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid holds 25,000 worshipers for Friday Prayer and towers over Old Delhi.

Delhi ~ Gandhi Memorial

The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial was simple but poignant.

Delhi ~ Qutub Manar Archway

The Qutb Minar is the tallest brick minaret in the world. (You have to see it to fully appreciate it.) The complex where it stands dates from the onset of Islamic rule in India.

Delhi - Detail First Mosque

Above is a detail from the first mosque in India.

Delhi ~ Street rickshaws

Admittedly ours was a pampered tour of India. However, we did visit Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi where we shopped and rode rickshaws.

India

During this trip we traveled by bus from Jaipur to Agra and from Agra to Delhi. We saw sights of countryside, people, little towns and shops like this.Jaipur Amber Fort ~ The End

Question: What were your favorite sights of India?

Jaipur Literature Festival 2014

February 6th, 2014 18 comments

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?