Saturday, January 03, 2009

Jaipur Literature Festival ’09

A shout-out for this year’s edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is taking place from January 21-25 at the usual venue, the scenic Diggi Palace. Details are on the official website, including the (not fully updated) schedule of events. Many big names in attendance, including Michael Ondaatje (still to be confirmed, I think), Vikram Seth, Pico Iyer, Colin Thubron, Tina Brown and Nandan Nilekani, but as always many of the lower-profile sessions will be worth attending – and easier to find seating space for. Some potential highlights:

- “Writers’ Chain: Found in Translation” – a session that comes as a follow-up to a week in Neemrana, where four poets from the UK spent time with four Indian authors, exploring each other’s work through translation.

- “Celebrating Vijay Dandetha”, a tribute to the Rajasthani writer, with the screening of a short film about his work

- A reading by the Malaysian author Tash Aw

- “Shehar dar Shehar”, with Alka Saraogi, Govind Mathur, Satya Narayana and Udayan Vajpeyi

- “Pabuji and the Bhopa”, featuring Mohan Bhopa, practitioner of a traditional storytelling art of Rajasthan, and William Dalrymple

- “Where is Sanskrit?”, a conversation between Sheldon Pollock, Alok Bhalla and Ananya Vajpeyi

I’ll be there for four days; am moderating the Hari Kunzru session on the 22nd (the focus will be his fine novel My Revolutions, which somehow didn’t attract much attention in India) and co-moderating the Chetan Bhagat session on the 23rd (wherein I hope to ask Chetan many incisive literary questions such as “You’re the first ever author to have been played by Salman Khan in a film. How does it feel, you lucky dude?!”).

See the full programme, and keep checking for updates.

[Some posts about previous editions of the festival: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]


  1. Sounds great, However, should the words 'Chetan Bhagat' and 'literary' even be in the same sentence? Was there absolutely nobody else they could get?

  2. wordjunkie: the purpose of this festival isn't to create a little corner where the guardians of High Culture can jerk off in each others' presence - it's to examine various aspects of the contemporary writing scene in India with a very open mind, and to facilitate interaction and dialogue (however briefly) between writers from different ends of the spectrum. Whether you like or dislike Chetan's writing, his success certainly tells us something about the nature of publishing and reading in today's India. (At any rate, I suspect that many of the casual readers visiting the fest will be people who have only read his books and not even heard of most of the other names at the festival!)

    parotechnics: it's yours. Happy new year!

  3. wordjunkie: nope, nothing to be touchy about - it's not like I helped organise the festival or plan the programme. Am simply responding to your implication that CB doesn't belong in a fest like this. Also, I didn't understand the question "Was there absolutely nobody else they could get?" If you look at the schedule, you'll see dozens of interesting people and sessions - lots of choice there, including two other events that are on at the same time as this one.

    Incidentally I volunteered to be part of the Chetan Bhagat session so I could rib him about not being "literary"! Your comment will help contribute to that discussion.

  4. Peace, peace. And spare poor CB my comments. But it must be said, his success isn't so much his own making, as that of the marketing genius who priced his books so low. That's the guy I'd like to see being interviewed.

    Have fun at the fest.

  5. ...his success isn't so much his own making, as that of the marketing genius who priced his books so low

    wordjunkie: fair point. But marketing strategies such as that one are very much a part of the Indian literary scene today (or Indian writing/publishing scene, if you don't want to use the word "literary").

    Asterix: well, he did author one of the most high-profile (and best-selling) books of 2008, so...

  6. The marketing genius who priced the Chetan Bhagat books so low and ran the ad campaign is called Chetan Bhagat.

  7. I don't read blogs as a rule. I discovered yours only by chance and was absolutely thrilled to find someone actually writing about books (i think there might be others out there in the blogosphere). Now that I am staying in a village and do not have access to the British Library or book shops I die for anything to do with books. One suggestion - could you give an extract from a book you are reviewing? I find most book reviews don't do that (maybe for copyright reasons), but that's the only way to convey the tone and style and flavour of the author.

  8. Namaskar,
    I invite you to visit my blog on Indian Politics.



  9. I might attend. So, let's connect!


  10. This is when I wish I lived further up north. Have fun!

  11. Kiranjeet Chaturvedi1:08 PM, January 19, 2009

    really dont get the dispute about CB. whats the big deal abt literary branding, and whats wrong (as implied by wordjunkie) in the kind of books Cb wries? they r real, can be inspiring as well as insightful, and very very relevant culturally. If only pretentious high brows cld see that and understand how even such commercially viable writing actually does have potential not just for enriching the author but the readers as well!

  12. I do not understand why a regular,ordinary reader has to meet the writer.The wonder of books is that the writer has put the best of himself he has to offer in some pages and you can buy the pages for a few rupees and read them at your pace at peace with the world.If your world shakes because of the ideas on the paper mail him a thank you note of everlasting gratitude.You have to read the book your self & grasp the ideas your self.It is a lonely exercise.
    That said. I am all for the Asia's leading Lit Fest being held in Jaipur currently.At least it generates such a hype around books so that more and more people read the books.The more books you sell the cheaper they will be.It is my fond hope.The Canadian book trade proved the reverse true recently.They reduced the book prices to see net figures increase by a healthy figure because of higher sales.

  13. Interesting exchange of words between you and wordjunkie. I was at the literature festival today. Chetan Bhagat has been known as a bestselling author in India. The minimum no of copies for a book are just a few 10,000+ for it to be called a best seller. Whereas abroad a book needs to sell at least a few 100,000+ to be known as a best seller. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that Chetan Bhagat has found a connect with his audience by keeping his storytelling style simplistic and pricing them at Rs 95 apiece. Smart move to stimulate some reading among youngsters- the target audience.

  14. Just realized this conversation has carried on.

    Kiranjeet, sometimes the greatest pretension lies in claiming to be common. But don't take it from a 'pretentious high brow', go read Falstaff's comments on the 'Lit Fest 5' post, he makes the point wonderfully.

    Jai, I have a question..if these marketing strategies are aimed at encouraging reading in India, why aren't they done effectively at the beginning itself -i.e, childrens' books. Most of the prominent publishers keep kids' books at fairly high levels. The books one does find at lower costs are usually tacky, badly printed and poorly edited, and almost always rehashes of the same old fairy tales and mythological themes. Promotion is almost unheard of. Publishing companies abroad actively support libraries, book clubs, book giveaways. They hold contests, meet-the-authors workshops in schools, the list is endless. Their Indian branches,however, do not. Clearly the secret to building a good book buying market is encouraging readership at the formation level,rather than waiting for our kids to grow up, grow disinterested in books, and then desperately try luring them with supposedly 'low brow' carrots.

    Your thoughts, please.

  15. And while it's clearly both pointless and too late in the day to say this, I have no grouse against CB or any other writer - I've been quite entertained by all three of his books. My grouse is with publishers launching isolated phenomena and then using them to hinge the supposed success of reading, the creation of new readers blah blah around. Should have clarified that earlier though.