The 2014 Jaipur Literature Festival opens on Friday, and runs for five days. The Festival, the largest free literary festival on earth - last year it had 250,000 visitors - brings together some of the greatest thinkers and writers from India, South Asia, and the world.
Namita Gokhale, co-director of the Festival with William Dalrymple, has put together the Indian programme. She picks as one of this year's highlights a strand of readings and conversations on the survival of local minority languages. This set of discussions will examine India’s linguistic diversity, and the challenges with which endangered tongues must contend in the modern world. Jaipur is in Rajasthan. Namita Gokhale says this area: “has an incredible diversity in its linguistic range, including the tribal border areas adjoining Pakistan, the vast expanses of the Thar Desert, and the Aravalli ranges habituated by agricultural and nomadic communities.” The Festival will see the launch of a book coming out of a survey of this great multiplicity of languages, carried out under linguist Ganesh Devy. He will lead a session examining the diversity of South Asian languages, dialects, scripts and grammars.
Namita Gokhale points out that with so many languages, India exists in a continuous and ongoing state of translation, a circumstance that will be explored at the Festival: “With twenty-four official languages, innumerable mother tongues and dialects, and a tradition of many languages, many literatures, translations are key to a conjoined literary heritage. In 2014, we are fortunate to have as speakers many eminent translators from India and around the world, including Carlos Rojas, Arshia Sattar, Rahul Soni, and Geeta Krishnankutty.”
Bollywood and popular culture are an intrinsic element of India’s national narrative. Gokhale draws attention to a series of sessions, Crime and Punishment, which will dissect detective fiction with special reference to Bollywood villains.
Of the discussions with international writers, after a quick glance down the programme, I’d be particularly interested to attend Behind the Veil: Women Writers of the Islamic World, in which Nadifa Mohamad, Bejan Matur, Sahar Delijani, Shireen el Feki and Fariba Hachtroudi, five women who have found their literary voices in different parts of the Islamic world, talk about writing about modern Muslim women. The blurb explains: “Outsiders are quick to objectify Muslim women as oppressed and silent onlookers of a conservative, patriarchal and male-dominated civilization. The reality is often very different.” It would be interesting to learn in what ways different. The conversation will be led by Urvashi Bhutalia,
Away from the main programme, the Festival will host the first Jaipur BookMark, an initiative to develop and promote the Indian publishing industry, including self-publishing, eBooks, digital content and distribution. In publishing in the English language sector, the industry in India ranks third behind the US and the UK. India is also an outsourcing hub for a range of print and pre-publishing services. Namita Gokhale helped bring the event to fruition. She said: “The Jaipur BookMart is a natural progression of the interest shown in the annual publishing sessions at Jaipur. This is a modest beginning, and I am convinced that it will provide a welcome and much needed haven for informal interactions within the publishing industry.”