The second day of the Jaipur Literature Festival saw a rewarding focus on literature. The first session we attended saw Uday Prakash and Jason Grunebaum read in Hindi and English respectively from sections of the three stories included in The Walls of Delhi, shortlisted for the DSC South Asian Literary Prize. Moderated by Namita Gokhale, the Festival Director, the session was a showcase for what a literature festival should aspire to. The audience was asked to enter two worlds at once – the Hindi world of the original stories and the English world of its translation. Central to the discussion was the challenge of translating, involving re-contextualization while retaining the nuances of the world translated. Not all of these nuances are translatable, but a good translation is able to provide a perspective to its world without an over-reliance on excessive description.
‘God as Political Philosopher: Dalit Perspectives on Buddhism’, was well attended and accompanied by heated debates. The contentious session was negotiated well by Patrick French and featured Ajay Navaria, Kancha Ilaiah and Nirupama Dutt. The title derived from Ilaiah’s book, God as Political Philosopher: Buddha’s Challenge to Brahminism, and triggered much debate on whether religion offered any means through which a nation-state can ensure a just system that does not discriminate by caste, creed, or race. Ilaiah suggested that Buddhism offers a model for a just state that surpasses the caste-based decree of Hinduism. Navaria, a Hindi-language writer, strongly opposed this, noting that religion itself does not provide an answer, as is evident in the case of Dalits who convert to Buddhism but still bear their lower-caste status on their state identity cards. He suggested that the solution had to come from a secular state uninfluenced by religion. Nirupama Dutt took the middle path, stating that reforms within religion are essential and can only be done from the inside out; the state needs to remain impartial to religion but can draw ideas from it. The session was followed by a lively discussion that spilled over into the audience and well into the day.
With an unusual choice between ‘What is a Classic?’ and ‘007: Ian Fleming and the making of James Bond’, attempts to attend the first half of the the former and the second half of the latter proved somewhat unsuccessful. The session on classics veered towards the academic but was nonetheless engaging in its questioning of the use of the word ‘Classic’ and ‘Classical’ in this part of the world. In the Bond session, Sebastian Faulks’ humour and piercing observations were a pleasure to listen to.
The bookstalls scattered around the venue, in addition to the festival’s bookshop, saw much action throughout the day. The Pratham book stall (www.prathambooks.org), for example, featured the affordable children’s books the publisher specializes in. Their latest release, What on Earth Happened? The Complete Story of Planet, Life and People from the Big Bang to the Present Day, is an incredible wall book that traces the history of the world from inception to the present day – a perfect gift for 10 to 14-year-olds.
The big event of the day was the announcement of the DSC prize for South Asian Literature. The prize ceremony was inexplicably bereft of three of the shortlisted authors – Amitav Ghosh, Tahmima Anam, and Mohammed Hanif. But the other three shortlisters – Jeet Thayil, Jamil Ahmed, and the duo of Uday Prakash and Jason Grunebaum – each talked briefly about their works. The jury, which went through 81 submissions to create the longlist and then the six-book shortlist, then announced that it had settled on Jeet Thayil’s first novel, Narcopolis, on the opiate-soaked underbelly of Bombay.
We’re heading to Delhi’s bookshops and its art fair, so forgive us if we miss a Jaipuri beat. But we’ll write, wherever we are – PS, La.Lit