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Spirit of Jaipur fest is egalitarianism, says William Dalrymple

Thursday, 24 January 2013 - 4:12pm IST | Place: Jaipur | Agency: IANS

The success of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival owes much to the fact that Jaipur still remains one of the world's most beautiful cities.

The success of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival owes much to the fact that Jaipur still remains one of the world's most beautiful cities and yet is egalitarian and democratic in spirit, says William Dalrymple, co-director of the event and well-known writer and historian.

"Jaipur in January is a unique celebrations of literature, music and the arts that has grown into something bigger and more wonderful than anything we could ever have hoped when we first conceived this festival less than a decade ago," Dalrymple said.

From only 14 guests in 2005, most of whom were tourists who took the wrong turn, in 2006 the festival had a big enough crowd nearly to fill the Diggi Palace Durbar Hall, the historian said. "About 400 people came in 2007. Last year, we had 120,000 footfalls."

"The success of Jaipur has inspired a whole galaxy of other literary festivals in the South Asian region," the writer said.

"Some of the success of the festival was due to its location."

"Jaipur remains one of the world's most beautiful cities with a rich literary and cultural heritage and a proud tradition of local literature. As ever, we still pride ourselves on being the most democratic and egalitarian book festival in the world. All events are completely free; there are no reserved spaces for grandees; our authors mingle with the crowds and eat with them on a first-come, first-served basis," the writer said.

When not writing historical narratives, Dalrymple, the author of books like "White Mughals", "Nine Lives" and "Return of a King", works round-the-clock to put together the international line-up of literary luminaries for the festival.

"As Time Out put it nicely last year: 'Its settled. The Jaipur Literature Festival is officially the Woodstock, Live 8 and Ibiza of world literature, with an ambience that can best be described as James Joyce meets Monsoon Wedding'," the writer said, capturing the essence of the festival.

Dalrymple said the international list at Jaipur included novelists like Commonwealth Prize winner Aminatta Forna from Sierra Leone, Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson, two Orange Prize winners Linda Grant and Madeline Miller, and Abraham Verghese, "without doubt the most successful writer of Indian origin in the US".

"We have two of the most respected novelists in the Arab world, Ahdaf Soueif and Tahar Ben Jalloun and welcome back two of Pakistan's most celebrated wunderkinds, Nadeem Aslam and Mohammad Hanif and look forward to introducing Jamil Ahmad," he said.

From Chile comes Ariel Dorfman, the playwright and author of "Death and the Maiden".

"We will also introduce Indian audiences for the first time to my favourite historical novelist, Lawrence Norfolk, and two of Britain's most popular literary writers, Sebastian Faulks and Zoe Heller, whose award-winning books have been adapted into the highly acclaimed movies 'Birdsong' and 'Notes on a Scandal'," he said.

"Meanwhile my colleague Namita Gokhale has produced a truly outstanding 'desi' and 'bhasha' list of 17 Indian languages, which remains as ever one of the most remarkable features of our festival," he said.

"I'm particularly envious of the special focus she's put together this year in her list on The Buddha in Literature," Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple said "writing and reading were, of course, something which was done mainly in private, but alongside this there was always a tradition of the public performance of literature, both internationally and especially here in India".

"Think of the Sangam poetry readings in ancient Tamil Nadu, or the mushairas of the later Mughals," he explained.

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