Not being at Diggi Palace
- February 1, 2012
This year I was really keen to go to the Jaipur Literature Festival, as I had skipped it the last two years. My experience of sharing the journey of writing Firaaq, my directorial debut feature, was what had taken me to the litfest in 2009. I heard stimulating speakers from around the world on diverse subjects, interacted with writers, both new and noted, and engaged in free-wheeling conversations with the reading community. The festival has grown a lot since then and so had my desire to go back to Diggi Palace in Jaipur, to savour the energising atmosphere. But yet again the mother in me took precedence, as I didn’t want my little one to get overwhelmed by the swarming crowds.
Even before the festival began, the cynics started to say, “This year it will be too big and too glamorous”. Are we too quick at pulling down even interesting initiatives, just because they gain prominence? While most will agree that celebrating great writing is a mark of an evolved society, how often do we hear about reading sessions, book clubs and literary exchanges? So shouldn’t we be applauding the fact that literature is able to garner so much attention, instead of simply finding faults with it? All I read in the papers were the juicy stories about the chaos and controversies.
It is wonderful that we have such an amazing new festival in our country, with an open space for writers to jam with each other and for everybody to have access to them for free. Where would you have Tom Stoppard, Ben Okri, Michael Ondaatje, David Remnick, Mohammed Hanif, Gulzar and Girish Karnad, and over 265 eminent and new writers, all under the same sky? Just because the media prefers to focus on celebrities, why would one care if it is termed ‘glamorous’? And if the swarming crowds made the venue look small and the festival big, then all it means is that the organisers need to find a larger space to meet this growing hunger for good literature! For many of us who couldn’t go, we’d rather know more about the exciting sessions, discoveries of new writers, varied themes that were explored and novel insights that the writers had. Anything else would be froth.
While the litfest doesn’t need to be hijacked by endless debate on why Salman Rushdie didn’t end up coming, it is also not something to be ignored. Our growing intolerance for conflicting views and lack of courage to fight for freedom of expression are a grave matter of concern. And what better platform to organise a collective voice of dissent? When the likes of Hari Kunzru and Amitav Kumar protested, the least we could do from far is to support. It isn’t just the religious fundamentalists and the politicians who are playing their usual vested interest card, but we the people are also to be blamed. Aren’t some of us wary of Salman Rushdie or Arundhati Roy saying more than we want to listen? Even the organisers hesitated to push the envelope. Having said that, I don’t want to look at both sides of the coin, just so that I don’t throw the baby with the bathwater. I want to champion for open spaces for free expression. I want to support initiatives that are meant for you and me to enjoy good literature. I want to celebrate festivals that are more relevant and inclusive. I want to be part of that energy that multiplies when one is with like-minded people. I want to be inspired by great minds and great writing. It is this yearning that compelled me to share these thoughts, despite not being at Diggi Palace.
The inherent enthusiasm to engage is hard to dismiss and to have a festival that fosters it is hard to ignore. I wish we would have more and more festivals that nurture our senses and less and less cynics who find faults with them.