Frontlist | Jaipur Journals – the Jaipur Literature Festival Saga
These meta fictional tales are told from multiple perspectives and search the inspirations of that loneliest of tribes—the writers.
The ‘Greatest Literary Show On Earth’ has gained a virtual avatar. The 14th edition of Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which I co-founded, and co-direct, with William Dalrymple, goes live from 19th to 28th February. Last year, in January 2020, the JLF announced 4,50,000 footfalls over five days. But when the world shut down in March, we responded to the challenge by reaching out to book lovers through digital space via our ‘Brave New World’ platform. We have over the year garnered more than 4.5 million views and reached out to over 21 million people.
The two dimensions, the virtual and the physical, are very different in their vocabulary, their experiential grammar. That other world of milling crowds, of pushing and being pushed—I confess that I miss it. On the other hand, we have easier access to writers and speakers across continents, and the constraints of geography are no longer daunting. What have we gained, what has been lost? Last year, I launched my new novel, Jaipur Journals, which is set around a literature festival. Not just any litfest, but the JLF. When the book was released, the world was very different. The grounds of Diggi Palace, the beloved venue of the festival, were literally heaving with human presence.
Then the world changed, absolutely and unexpectedly. Ours was among the last live events to be held in India’s vibrant litfest season. Suddenly we were confronted with a disorienting isolation and a slew of disruptive happenings. People were turning to books more than ever before, and their bookshelves were their friends and companions as they faced anxiety and uncertainty in every sphere.
Yet bookstores were closed. Online deliveries were not possible. Publishers were unable to reach out to readers. Friends whose new books were to come out in this difficult crisis found their hopes of reaching out to readers dashed. Some familiar patterns are now slowly re-emerging. We held a small, contained set of readings as a pre-event in Delhi for JLF 2021. New books are coming out again, many of them written in the difficult days of the pandemic. The world is waking up.
The two lives I inhabit, as writer and festival director, were separated by a thin but porous membrane. There seemed something not quite right about breaching this delicate balance. Yet, once I began writing, I couldn’t stop. All those years of observing the speakers and authors, the readers and festival goers, as they shared and absorbed their stories, spilled out in a rush of memory and anecdote. Jaipur Journals is about the writing life. It has a colourful cast of characters whose lives interest and collide amidst an ocean of stories. There is Rudrani Rana, the lonely writer in her seventies who carries her unpublished novel about with her in a canvas tote bag, too proud and too vulnerable to ever show or share it with anyone.
There is the icon of queer literature who receives a malevolent anonymous letter, the cat burglar with a passion for poetry, the child prodigy who is determined to make it to the top. These meta fictional tales are told from multiple perspectives and search the inspirations of that loneliest of tribes—the writers. It tells their stories, and gives us a glimpse into the ones they are trying to tell. It is a love letter to the Jaipur festival, and to all the unwritten, untold tales in the world.
Jaipur Journals will be published in the UK this spring. The paperback edition will be out around then here. After a year of closed interior pandemic existence, images of the crowded grounds at Diggi Palace, of laughter and companionship, returned with a rush when I re-read the novel. The festival will return, in its evolving hybrid persona, like a newly birthed amphibian. The stories, too, will remain, as will the storytellers, for we are each other’s stories.
Source: The New Indian Express