I returned to the sixth edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, South Asia's largest, most egalitarian and intellectually formidable gathering of writers, after skipping the 2012 edition. At the time, I was in New York and was appalled at the eruption of froth and -- there's no better way of saying this -- stupidity that occupied center stage at Diggi Palace, the festival venue. The Indian media was obsessed with TV show host Oprah Winfrey's appearance and the unwarranted controversy around Salman Rushdie despite the presence of such cerebral giants like David Remnick, Katherine Boo and Richard Dawkins.
For this year's edition, the organizers have assembled an equally formidable lineup that's under the radar for an Indian audience. These include novelists Gary Shteyngart, Zoe Heller and Elif Batuman. Academics Diana Eck, a Harvard University professor whose work focusses on religion in South Asia, and Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak, a Columbia University professor who works on literary theory will also make an appearance in the next few days.
Yesterday, however, included panel discussions on Shakespeare's global appeal, the roots of yoga, train travel in India Italy and the UK. Pico Iyer spoke about his fascination with Graham Greene, Oxford University professor led a discussion on Afghanistan and Manil Suri spoke about his new book City of Devi. It was hard to find a seat at most of these sessions, but it was harder to find breathing space when His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, held a devoted audience captive to his words. In conversation with Pico Iyer, The Dalai Lama spoke about religion, love, secularism and the unnecessary lavishness of Indian weddings. The day's proceedings ended with an announcement of the finalists for the Man Booker International Prize.
Today's sessions include discussions on subjects as diverse as Latin America, Sharia Law, the origins of sex and the making of James Bond. I've not had a chance to sit down for even a moment (except for lunch and to file this piece) and if today's running around between sessions is any evidence, I'll be doing a lot more of it tomorrow and in the days to come. Needless to say, you can read about my adventures here. Until then, ciao!