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Literature lovers spoilt for choice as Jaipur Literary Festival gets underway

File photo of the stage on the Front Lawns at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2010.
File photo of the stage on the Front Lawns at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2010.
"Let’s not obsess over Salman Rushdie."This appeal by the organizers of the Jaipur Literary Festival to the media aptly reflected the chasm between the event and its projection.
 
Billed as the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific and the most prestigious celebration of national and international literature to be held in India, the five-day event, now in its fifth year, got underway here today.
 
Organizers Sanjoy Roy, William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale sought to drive home that 250 authors were converging amid expectation that peoples’ participation – there’s no entry fee – will be impressive. The numbers partaking of the literary fare over five days, some say, could touch 1,00,000. Journalists though could not help speculating about threatened protests by local Muslim organizations in case Rushdie turns up. What to the organizers is a "side story" is the main fare for media.
 
Go past the "Rushdie angle" and glance at the over two feet by one foot sheet of "menu" on offer. You are spoilt for choice in the friendly ambience of a sprawling haveli that has evolved into a hotel called "Diggi Palace". You may dig into a particular theme or just nibble for "gyan" of various hues. 
 
The five day confluence of authors – with five sessions underway at any point of time – offers varied fare. A sampling: examination of "Holy Wars",  a conversation between Pakistani author and political scientist, Ayesha Jalal with author William Dalrymple; "Imagining India", a conversation with Sunil Khilnani, academic and author, book launches and more.  
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The Lit Fest this year also seeks to be a forum for science writing, said Dalrymple, pointing to the participation of Richard Dawkins, author and evolutionary biologist, and Steven Pinker, an experimental psychologist and author.  The list of participants –which includes academics, authors, film personalities and photographers -- is indeed impressive.
 
There’s a dash of spirituality too in a refreshing perspective.  “We are looking at Granth Sahib as a poetic work,” said Gokhale amid approving nods from those familiar with this holy book of the Sikhs.
 
Today's proceedings begin with a 15-minute rendition from the works of Bhakti poets -- Meearabai, Kabir and Dadu, and end with a musical evening with Sufi singers, the Sabri brothers. 
 
There’s a session titled "Reconstructing Rumi" and another titled "Violent Mystics" featuring Carl Ernst, described as a specialist in Islamic Studies and Sufism and others. You have the famous Deepak Chopra listed to speak on "The Return of the Rishi". 
 
Contemporary South Asia – and beyond, including Myanmar – feature prominently, and, with refreshing angles. If lawyer and politician Kapil Sibal is expected to dwell on the“truth” of politics, Ashok Vajpayee, poet-author-retired civil servant is billed to bare the “truth” of the world of poetry.  
 
General V.K.Singh is listed as a key speaker on "Indian Military History: The Missing Links". Fatima Bhutto of the Bhutto family will speak on Pakistan.
 
The concerns sought to be brought on the table include Obama’s America, future of Palestine as also an engagement with voices from Rajasthan in its cultural idiom be they authors, musicians or school going children.
 
“We are organising interactions between visiting authors and increasing number of schools,” said Roy. 
 
The Jaipur Literary Festival, while having made a niche for itself in South Asia and beyond, seems to be striking roots deeper locally as well.
 
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