After two very sombre dry days, order seems to have returned to the Jaipur Literature Festival. Ashis Nandy has left the building and the focus is back on literature. And a huge weekend crowd in their Sunday bests has descended on the sprawling lawns of Diggi Palace.
When we’re talking about a lit fest that compares itself to the Kumbh Mela, it is only natural to see Hindi and English tussle with one another to claim the literary landscape of India. However, one of the questions that was being raised in a session this year was whether the two languages can become friends in a new global order. What impact has the intermingling of Hindi and English had on both the languages? How estranged have we become from our “own” language and, consequently, our own literature? Is Hindi becoming a killer language and gulping all regional languages? In one of the most vibrant sessions of the day, panelists chewed over these complex questions, but never without humour. Poet-critic Ashok Vajpeyi took several potshots at bureaucratic Hindi and English and the bhrastachaar of both the languages, sprinkling a sasura here and a sasura there.
Speaking of literary sensibilities, Devdutt Pattanaik, Andrew Solomon along with other panelists reminded us of the rich text in western and Indian traditions that spoke of same sex love.
Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jelloun emphasised that Arab literature, too, had a tradition of gay literature citing the works of the classical Arabic poet Abu Nuwas. “Happy stories will end in three lines,” he said, adding that literature must do its work and portray different realities. Literature, after all, is either good or bad and it makes little difference whether it is gay or straight.
Incidentally, one of the most visible and enthusiastic sponsors of Jaipur Literature Festival, Tata Steel, came in for some serious flak at the session “Whose legacy is it anyway? Land, People and Development”. When the issue being discussed is land acquisition, it’s hard to skirt the Tata fiasco in Chhattisgarh and Singur. Tata Steel Managing Director HM Nerurkar, who was also on the panel, was visibly cornered by one of the panelists, who believed the company was a classic example of companies practicing bad land acquisition policies. Wonder if Tata will be back to celebrate the “carnival of values” next year.