What is a literature festival for? The writers or for the literature? The first day of the festival was a mixed bag. It saw the Dalai Lama, in conversation with Pico Iyer, talk about the importance of honesty. The assumption behind his Holiness’s statement was that most unenlightened beings are not honest with themselves (or with others) and feel stressed out because of this dishonesty. One can only hope that this struck a chord with those who have chosen the corporate path to happiness. While we do live under many illusions, to read and be disillusioned is to not really appreciate good literature.
His Holiness also commented on how religion itself was not the issue. What is important is how we treat religion and approach the paths before us. Philosophically, this rings true – religion is but a path and the road chosen is one’s individual and social construct (fiction). But the lack of imagination in allowing other pathways is problematic. As a representative of a school of thought, the Dalai Lama’s message should have been stronger, one felt. The path prescribed by a religion must necessarily be open to challenge for it to incorporate, with respect, other paths. Tolerance alone will not do.
It would be unfair to compare other sessions with the one featuring the Dalai Lama. But as a literary session, it might have addressed the way the word influences people and can change the way people view themselves and others. Meanwhile, the session on the ‘Art of the Short Story’, featuring Nicholas Hogg, Richard Beard, and Yiyun Li in conversation with Anjum Hasan, spoke of the nuances that a story holds. Despite the moderator relying a bit too heavily on Frank O’Connor, the speakers were able to salvage the short story, and highlight its ability to shape a person’s outlook. The strength of the short story (or for that matter a story in any form) is not just its words, but the idea it imprints upon our minds, akin to the power of ideas that the Dalai Lama spoke about.
There were a total of 31 sessions plus a keynote speech by Mahasweta Devi on the first day. This reporter unfortunately missed the best sessions. Based on discussions and overheard conversations, there were plenty of good sessions. The inaugural lecture was engaging and inspiring – setting the platform for the days to follow. Though reserving a complete judgement, it does seem however that the Jaipur Literature Festival is still recovering from the shock of the intellectual, personal, public and practical challenges it faced the previous year.