The war in Ukraine and a punishing pandemic will be debated and analysed at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), beginning next week in a combined virtual and physical format. The new format comes with a new venue. The festival has bid farewell to Diggi Palace and shifted to Clarks Amer, the new venue away from Jaipur's busy city centre this year.
A strong lineup of speakers this year includes authors such as Nobel laureates Abdulrazak Gurnah and Abhijit V. Banerjee, Booker Prize winners Damon Galgut and DBC Pierre, former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Sri Lankan sociologist Ameena Hussein. The festival will start on March 5 as an online event and run on the ground at the new venue during March 10-14.
"There are several themes that reflect the concerns of the world around us," says festival co-director Namita Gokhale. The presence of writers, thinkers and political heavyweights is expected to provide a rarefied atmosphere of debate and discussion in the Pink City. The invasion of neighbouring Ukraine by Russian forces is certain to dominate the sessions, along with the chilling effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed over half a million lives in India and nearly six million worldwide.
"We explore the enigmatic world of viruses and how they have shaped life on earth in ways we are only just beginning to understand," explains Gokhale, who published her new novel, The Blind Matriarch, on the struggles of a family headed by a blind elderly woman during the pandemic last year.
"We have curated a strand titled The Urgency of Borrowed Time, which examines climate justice and environmental and ecological issues. We also reflect on the eternal question and timeless answers that literature offers," Gokhale adds. "The pandemic has left a trail of hurt, pain and trauma. Our programming searches (for) affirmation and courage in the face of this."
Called the Kumbh Mela of Literature, JLF is seeking to make up for the loss of a physical edition last year (the 2021 edition was a virtual event) with a packed programming reflecting the state of the world through storytelling. The Tanzanian-born Gurnah, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, opens the discussions on March 5 over a session titled A Life in Stories. The UK-based novelist whose writings deal with colonialism and refugees in such works as Memory of Departure (1987), By the Sea (2001) and Afterlives (2020) is certain to highlight the flight of people from war-torn countries in his first appearance at JLF.
Nobel winner for economics in 2019, Abhijit V. Banerjee returns to the festival where he was the star speaker two years ago talking about the significance of data in reducing poverty. This time around, Banerjee will be laying his prowess as an economist aside to show off his culinary skills. The Poor Economics authors session, a physical event, is based on his new book, Cooking to Save Your Life.
Gurnah's online session on the opening day is followed by the current Booker Prize winner and South African writer Damon Galgut focusing on his novel, The Promise, on March 6. Brace for some tough talk on the abhorrent racism in contemporary society.
Ameena Hussein, the outspoken Sri Lankan women's rights activist and author of The Moon in the Water (longlisted for Man Asia Literary Prize in 2007) will be talking about her new book, Chasing Tall Tales and Mystiques: Ibn Battuta in Sri Lanka.
The focus on Covid-19 and its impact on the world will be witnessed in sessions on the history of pandemics, pandemic and mental health, public health and policies, and the 'shadow pandemic' about the increase in domestic violence. Among the speakers are public health professional Pranay Lal, author of Invisible Empire: Natural History of the Viruses, vascular surgeon and Perineum: Nether Parts of the Empire author Dr Ambarish Satwik, Portuguese politician and author of The Dawn of Eurasia, Bruno Maçães, and Chinmay Tumbe, author of Age Of Pandemics (1817-1920): How They Shaped India and the World.
The outcome of the climate conference in Glasgow in November last year will be hotly debated in a series of sessions devoted to the climate catastrophe. Indra Nooyi will be talking about her 2021 book, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future. While Huma Abedin, who was vice-chairperson of Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential campaign, has a session on her new book, Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds. Monica Ali, the Bangladeshi-born British author of Brick Lane will talk about her first novel in a decade, Love Marriage, about multicultural England.
The festival will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo's birth which falls in August this year. British bioarchaeologist Dr Car Jarman is scheduled to present her new findings about the arrival of Vikings in India, the subject of her new book, River Kings: The Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads. Afghani TV host Mozhdah Jamalzadah, called the 'Oprah of Afghanistan', will talk about the hope she brought to her fellow women, which is the subject of Canadian author Roberta Staley's biographical work, Voice of Rebellion. There will be discussions about the publishing industry, too, with the recent closure of Westland Books owned by Amazon slated to dominate the topic.