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16th edition of Jaipur Lit Fest concludes; ‘one of our very best years,’ says William Dalrymple

With over 300 speakers engaging in conversations about art, literature, politics, technology, and international policies, JLF 2023 proved to be a hub of ideas and a space for community engagement.

Jlf 2023 William DalrympleFestival Co-Director and historian William Dalrymple in conversation with celebrated Pulitzer prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee on the second day of Jaipur Literature Festival 2023, January 20. (Express Photo by Chitral Khambhati)
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16th edition of Jaipur Lit Fest concludes; ‘one of our very best years,’ says William Dalrymple
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A star-studded line-up of speakers and artists, visual exhibitions, art installations, sumptuous bites, books, and entrepreneurs — Jaipur Literature Festival 2023 had a little something for everyone.

With over 300 speakers engaging in conversations about art, literature, politics, technology, and international policies, the 16th edition of the festival proved to be a hub of ideas and a space for community engagement.

“Spectacular,” said William Dalrymple, one of the founders and a co-director of the event, describing the festival this year. “It was one of our very best years… We were very widely advanced because last year with Covid, numbers were down. But this year, we are thrilled.”

“We had the best crowds, best authors, we have never had so many of the major prize winners. We literally had the Nobel prize winner, International Booker, Booker, Sahitya Akademi, JCB, Women’s Prize, Pulitzer (winners)… and so many new talents came in,” the founder shared with The Indian Express.

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Monday, the last day of the festival, attracted a massive crowd at Front Lawn, one of the central venues at the festival, where Indian monk and speaker Gaur Gopal Das shared the stage with youth activist and filmmaker Puneeta Roy for the session First Edition: Energize Your Mind. Lauded by the audience, Das made spiritual and psychological revelations from his own life during the 50-minute session.

“Human beings are found everywhere, but humanity… in some places,” the audience roared while Das made the remark.

A lively signature debate on whether the right and left divide can ever be bridged marked the end of the festival. The session included Rajya Sabha member Jawhar Sircar, literary historian and writer Purushottam Agarwal, Earth Day International awardee Vandana Shiva who stood for the motion; while author Makarand R Paranjape, writer-diplomat and politician Pavan K Varma and Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi debated against the motion.

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Moderated by columnist Vir Sanghvi, the session saw Purushottam Agarwal questioning the “fascination” about bridging the gap between two political fronts. He said, “every civilisation has a history… If you look at history…civilisation actually gets enriched by such conflicts, they do not enrich by removing these things or putting realities under the carpet, and therefore the left and right divide is bound to persist.”

Chaturvedi, however, claimed, “… the left and the right construct do not apply to the Indian governance model, India has its own construct… the country’s concerns are supreme in a multicultural country like India… In a diverse social set up like ours…it is not a choice”.

The five-day festival proved to be a hit for entrepreneurs of Rajasthan who displayed their works to the world. Vidhi Mittal, managing her entrepreneurial venture Beads and Beyond alongside the festival, said, “I have been to every other JLF, two as a vendor and 14 as an attendee.” Excited when asked to talk about her connection to the festival, she said, “JLF is a great platform for us to share our work with people… And it has been amazing so far.”

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Another businesswoman Neeta who was running her six-year-old Rajasthan-based startup Fatfatiya, which deals in colourful bags of multiple shapes and sizes, told The Indian Express, “This is a very good platform for me and other entrepreneurs to promote their brands here… This is my first time here and I sold almost 60 to 70 percent of my stock.”

The festival bookstore remained the highlight, with school students and enthusiastic readers flocking to it throughout the five days to purchase their favorite books and get them signed by authors. An event coordinator from Cambridge Court World School in Jaipur’s Mansarovar area, shared, “Interested students from classes 8 to 12 come here every year to experience the happenings at the fest …”

People from all around the world, and across ages, visit Jaipur between December and January every year, mostly to attend the “greatest literary” festival. An autorickshaw driver, Kalu, who provides travel services to tourists in the city, shared, “The first three months of the year prove to be fruitful for my business. The tourists come from all around the world, and I tour them along the city as and when they call me for rides.” According to him, “Amber Fort or Amer Fort,” a chief tourist attraction made of sandstone and marble, is the “most crowded” during these times.

Dalrymple, who also handles programmes for international speakers, art and history at the festival, said, “Our main aim is to get the greatest writers in the world and India together, and to present it to large audiences… It’s where India meets the world and the world meets India,” he added.

“Every year we find little things to improve, for example, some of our air ticketing was a bit slow this year, we had some international travel bans… But we are improving. We will have a meeting within the next month when we go through the things that didn’t work out so well…,” he added.

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The acclaimed author also shared his thoughts on shifting to a new location — from Diggi Palace to Hotel Clarks Amer since last year. “I was very sad to leave Diggi … But through the brilliance of our designers, it feels and looks very similar here.” The guests used to come to Clarks for music in the evenings even when the festival was hosted in Diggi, according to Dalrymple. “It’s slightly bigger [at Clarks] … there were some slightly terrifying moments in Diggi on Saturdays and Sundays when the crowds would go so tight that no one could move. We haven’t got that here.”

“I will now sleep happily, and with a sense of victory,” Dalrymple told The Indian Express as the festival ended Monday.

First published on: 24-01-2023 at 11:40 IST
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