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JLF full of substance and grit with many sessions, awards, book launches

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 06, Feb 2024, 15:05 pm IST | UPDATED: 08, Feb 2024, 13:02 pm IST

JLF full of substance and grit with many sessions, awards, book launches

Jaipur: The third day of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Series Jaipur Literature Festival began with a lyrical performance from the renowned Trio One World, presented by the Embassy of Switzerland. They are a classical crossover project that combines western classical piano and Indian classical sitar and tabla. With Rohan Dasgupta on the sitar, and Pandit Udhai Mazumdar on the tabla, they were able to transport the audience to another realm.

Acclaimed poet Arundhathi Subramaniam has been awarded the prestigious Kanhaiyalal Sethia Award 2024. Mahakavi Kanhaiyalal Sethia, a celebrated poet, educator, social reformer, environmentalist, and freedom fighter, is remembered through the annual award, presented by the Festival in collaboration with the Mahakavi Kanhaiyalal Sethia Foundation. The esteemed jury consisted of Namita Gokhale, Sanjoy K. Roy, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Ranjit Hoskote, and Siddharth Sethia.

The morning commenced with a focus on the larger canvas of the our place in the universe and our forays in outer space with a session titled The Pale Blue Dot: Cherishing Our Planet with Founder of Myntra and CureFit Mukesh Bansal, G20 Sherpa to the Prime Minister Amitabh Kant and Chief Economist of Axis Bank Neelkanth Mishra in conversation with NDTV Group Executive Editor Vishnu Som (Presented by Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Series). Speaking of the growing industry of space exploration and India’s place in it, Kant said, “We should not be in the space business for space tourism, but to improve the lives of our citizens”. The panel highlighted the role that the private sector and, most importantly, the youth of India must play in the research of space exploration. Bansal, who has also funded India’s first private space company, Skyroot, added, “A lot of young entrepreneurs are understanding that sky's the limit, literally.”

One of today’s marquee sessions was Oppenheimer: The American Prometheus in which the co-writer of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kai Bird, was  in conversation with British journalist Jonathan Freedland, (presented by Rajasthan Patrika).

Bird’s book was the inspiration behind the 2024 Academy award-nominated film Oppenheimer. He opened the session by expressing his great approval of the movie’s portrayal of Robert J. Oppenheimer’s life. He spoke about the importance of Oppenheimer, “Oppenheimer gave us the nuclear age, the atomic age that we are still with that we will always be living with in this very dangerous world balanced on the precipice of Armageddon.” Bird also shared that Oppenheimer was a very complicated and hard man to understand; he had justified the existence of the bomb to himself as he truly believed that the bomb was needed to end all wars.

In The Power of Myth, Anand Neelkanthan in conversation with Satyarth Nayak (Presented by The Week), explored the plurality of the Hindu texts and the various interpretations across regions and periods. Neelkanthan, author of the blockbuster Bahubali trilogy, explained his idea of ‘Ishwar’ and how it vastly differs from the concept of ‘One god, one Hindu’ that was developed by the British during the colonial era. At the end of the session, Neelkanthan mentioned his new release, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, and how it explores the narratives of Raavan in different Puranic texts.

 The much-awaited session, Paro Turns 40, celebrated 40 years of writer and Festival Co-Director and Co-Founder  Namita Gokhale’s trailblazing 80s novel Paro: Dreams of Passion.  The session featured Gokhale, journalist Pragya Tiwari, podcaster Eric Chopra, and literary agent Hemali Sodhi in conversation (presented by Sakal Media). Gokhale reminisced about her debut novel Paro, first published in 1984, which has remained a cult classic over the years. She remarked, “I think people got offended because it was funny about sex, I don't think it was the sexual bit that offended people. Women were not allowed to laugh at things sexual…” 

In the session, The Name is Fleming, Ian Fleming, award-winning biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare discussed his book Ian Fleming: The Complete Man with Matthew Parker, renowned historian and writer. Shakespeare shared intimate details about the trajectory of Fleming’s life, from his childhood when he lost his father at eight years old to eventually landing a job in Geneva, Austria at the League of Nations. While talking about Fleming, Shakespeare described, “He [Fleming] was the son of privilege but the grandson of poverty….” Letting the audience into a secret, Shakespeare said that it was Fleming’s access to naval intelligence that inspired him to record his operations into the now world-renowned James Bond.

In a session with Booker Prize awardee Damon Galgut in conversation with Anish Gawande (presented by: TV9), Galgut talked about his book The Promise, which conveys the play of power in relationships - with self, society, state - against the backdrop of post-apartheid South Africa. Galgut said that it was structured around four funerals that had taken place in his friend’s family during the most tumultuous decades in South Africa which witnessed transformational changes. When asked about how he is as a writer, Galgut admitted, “I am the messiest, most chaotic of writers, I start from complete obscurity and incoherence, not really knowing what it is I want to express, how I want to express it.”

In another session which focused on the current global climate crisis and its impact on India's primary energy needs, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ReNew, Sumant Sinha, said, “I think a lot has changed..15 years ago, climate change was something that we were just beginning to imagine and start thinking about, today I think it is front and centre..”.

Some of the sessions which made up the large canvas of day 3 are listed below:

Banned, Burned and Censored

Speakers: Mridula Garg, Kalpana Raina, Merve Emre and Navdeep Suri in conversation with Nilanjana S. Roy

An illustrious panel spoke about the currently relevant issue of book bans and censorship that has been on the rise globally. The session was interspersed with the speakers’ experiences of “rehabilitating” work that had been banned years ago by different institutions in power. While talking about her grandfather Harikrishna Kaul, Kalpana Raina said “He was an author without an audience and I want to focus on rehabilitating a writer and giving him his rightful place in history.” While talking about her work that received considerable criticism, Mridula Garg said, “When I was arrested, I was fine, I was released. No harm was done to me. But it did harm for the literature community”. Merve Emre highlighted, “We need to think of book banning, burnings and censorship in the context of expansion of all other types of freedom of expression.”

Justice: The Voice of the Voiceless

Speakers: Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice S. Muralidhar, Sital Kalantry, and Aparna Chandra in conversation with Chief Justice Raghavendra Chauhan

The session began with Aparna Chandra, author and Associate Professor of Law, speaking about the enormous changes in the role and the structure of the Supreme Court over the 75 years of its existence. Justice Muralidhar remarked, “Today we don’t have a judiciary that is completely insulated from executive interference.” Chandra took the conversation further by discussing the themes in her co-authored book Court on Trial: A Data-Driven Account of the Supreme Court of India, the everyday working of the court and the broader pattern of the court’s functioning and the gaps between the intent and the outcome. The session progressed with Sital Kalantry commenting on the Supreme Court’s access to people and how if more time was spent hearing PILs then the reach of the court would be wider. Justice Madan B. Lokur added, “The Constitution of India itself provides sufficient guidelines for coming to the Supreme Court; so all that the Supreme Court needs to do is follow what the Constitution says.” The session ended appropriately with the panellists discussing the lack of women judges in the collegium and whether the Supreme Court was suffering from a patriarchal syndrome.

The Palestine Laboratory

Speakers: Antony Loewenstein, Navtej Sarna, Charles Glass and Kai Bird in conversation with Suhasini Haidar

As the world reels under the current conflict between Israel and Palestine, an informed panel discussed the complicated history of the conflict, the present developments and their likely impact on the region. Diplomatic Editor of The Hindu, Suhasini Haidar added, “…death toll that is already crossing 25,000 and closer to 30,000 at the time we speak…as a journalist you're used to seeing a lot…but … (what’s) new is to hear is the UN Secretary General speak up about an area as a graveyard for children because of the daily bombardment…” Jewish journalist Antony Loewenstein, empathised with Palestinians and felt that the Western world’s support for Israel, which was gradually diminishing, was a wake-up call, and that he believed that one democratic state was a solution. Author Charles Glass expressed his concern on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, lack of essentials, due to ongoing Israeli attacks. Kai Bird believed that events of 7th October have changed fundamental Jewish sensibilities of security and America's influence on the on-going conflict.

Tomorrow, the Festival is looking forward to host author and Padma Shri awardee Sudha Murty; winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for 2021, writer and journalist Patrick Radden Keefe; the UN Resident Coordinator for India Shombi Sharp; 2023 International Booker Prize-winning author Georgi Gospodinov; third-time member of the Parliament and best-selling author Shashi Tharoor; US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti, amongst a long list of speakers.

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