India festival puts Jaipur on book lovers' map

Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:31pm EST
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By Rina Chandran

JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - Perhaps it's the location, a heritage hotel in a city of faded royal splendor. Maybe it's the crowd: a motley crew of writers, Bollywood stars, agents and critics, groupies and, of course, book lovers.

Whatever the reason, the Jaipur Literature Festival, which kicks off in the Pink City on Thursday, has grown into a must-do event for publishers and party animals alike, creating a sometimes raucous affair with packed readings, heated debates and eclectic music performances.

Now in its fifth year, the event is billed by many as the biggest literary festival in Asia, drawing larger crowds than its also international peers in Galle, Sri Lanka and Ubud, on the Indonesian island of Bali.

It also scores higher for the sheer variety of attendees that range from Booker Prize winners to Bollywood stars rubbing shoulders with school students and day-trippers.

"We're a lot more fun: there's music, dancing and fireworks. There's no other festival in Asia quite like it," said writer William Dalrymple, who was inspired to put together the festival to bring writers and readers together in an Indian venue.

From 18 writers in 2006 -- two of whom did not show up -- the festival has drawn a steady stream of Pulitzer and Booker Prize winners. Last year, more than 100 writers and 20,000 visitors thronged the five-day festival.

Writers this year include Alexander McCall Smith, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle.

"I'm hoping the cold will keep some people away this year because we are already overflowing at Diggi Palace," Dalrymple said of the venue, a sprawling 19th century mansion with quaint courtyards and peacocks strutting about in the lawn.   Continued...