Jaipur: The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2013, possibly the most high profile gathering of litterateurs in Asia, kicked off Thursday with rights campaigner and Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi saying that “the right to dream should be made a fundamental right”.
Stressing on “humanness” to accept “each others rights to live with dignity”, Mahasweta Devi said: “There has been a jailbreak of dreams in the country.”
Addressing a gathering at the sun dappled lawns of the Diggi Palace that has been hosting the festival since 2005, she said: “People have been evicted from forests… Where will they go? There are Naxalites whose crime is they dare to dream. Why should they not be allowed to dream? The right to dream should be made the fundamental right.”
Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot were amongst those present. The inaugural session “O To Live Again”, played to an overflowing house on the front lawns of the heritage resort.
The space sponsored by Tata Steel is a manicured green lung that will serve as the main venue of the five-day festival.
The venues have been sponsored by corporate entities like the Tata Steel, Google, Counselage as well as the forums many of which have found presenters from organisations like the British Council, Edinburgh’s World Writers’ Conference, Hindustan Times, DNA, Rajasthan Patrika, Vodafone and banks.
On Thursday morning, the resort wore a festive look. Around 9.30 am, a group of Drepung Loseling Buddhist monks broke into sonorous chants imbuing the venue with a spiritual fervour.
The culture and music stage has been shifted to a hotel this year to make room for more literary events and people.
“We can accommodate another 5,000 more people this year,” a senior functionary of the festival told. The organisers said they were expecting more than 200,000 visitors over five days this year – up from 120,000 last year.
A row over RSS demanding a ban on the posse from Pakistan and hardline Muslims groups rallying for the ban of four writers who had read out from Salman Rushdie’s controversial “Satanic Verses” last year failed to make an impact.
There are 283 authors participating in the Jaipur literature festival amid heavy police presence following threats from extremist groups.
“We are not here to be bullied,” said event producer Sanjoy Roy.
Co-director of the festival William Dalrymple said the festival had grown enormously in strength since 2005 when barely 14 people turned up, some of them inadvertently for want of anything to do better.
The keynote address gave away to a slew of literary discussions featuring the likes of Dalai Lama, noted writer Zoe Heller, emerging Pakistani novelist Jamil Ahmad, Neelesh Mishra, Pico Iyer, Shashi Tharoor, Binayak Sen, Javed Akhtar and Nadeem Aslam on day one.
The coming five days will see literary sessions addressing subjects as diverse as cinema, sensuality, Buddhism in literature, Afghanistan, extremism, art, yoga, poetry, Shakespeare, philosophy, James Bond, women’s issues, politics and the Arab world.
At least 40 women writers from all over the world will discuss aspects gender justice and empowerment.
The flavour of India will dominate the festival with an extravagant spread of vernacular literature in 17 languages, including Bengali, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Magadhi, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Sanskrit, Santhali and Urdu.
The hype around literature and the presence big names in writing generate brisk business in sale of books every year. A book stall set up by Full Circle drew dozens of first-time buyers Thursday who went on virtual shopping spree to get books autographed by their authors.
Food and ‘masala chai’ flowed plenty for writers and delegates since early morning with the ladies of Diggi household supervising over the meals and snacks to lay out a traditional table.
“The spirit of Jaipur has changed from the royal pink city of the Rajputs and the Mughals to a democratic literary destination,” said a visitor of Indian origin reconnecting to Jaipur after 10 years in UK.