I’ve always been curious about the Jaipur Lit Fest, the greatest literary show on earth as they call it. So I visited the fest with a friend this year. The venue was excessively crowded with the majority of guests being young people below the age of 25. Not surprising then that this literary fest stands out as a fashion destination, boot haven and selfie paradise. The star authors of the sessions I managed to watch included Michael Ondaatje, Amy Tan, Joshua Ferris, Jeet Thayyil, Amitava Kumar, Manu Joseph, Leila Slimani, and Janice Pariat among a few. Dissent, freedom of expression, the murder of Gauri Lankesh, Scandinavian noir, singletons, me-machines, the Ganges, and healthcare were the subjects of the sessions I managed to watch.
As I watched the authors speak on podiums and saw the madding crowds swell, it struck me how invaluable the imaginations of these writers are. For instance, I’ve often read Michael Ondaatje’s books and wondered how he has retained poetry in prose — how do you write a book and sustain the poetry after repeated revisions? (He mentioned how writing by hand has aided him in his creativity and I lament my present inability to use the flourish of a pen.) Seeing him speak did not lessen that mystery…it is something that a reader can never understand– the hows of writing. And for someone who is attempting to write, watching a writer speak can be overwhelming and inspiring at once.
I did want to hear something about sci-fi and fantasy, particular with the loss of Ursula Le Guin just now but those were genres that were conspicuously mute as far as panelists were concerned and absent even in the bookstore tent that I frequented several times.
So must someone who likes to write visit a lit fest? Well, if you do not like crowds and swollen feet, stay away but if you love to hear a writer you love speak or have a penchant for boots, shawls and selfies, you must.