Jaipur literature carnival rubbishes "pretentious" tag

Sat Jan 22, 2011 5:19pm EST
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By Henry Foy

JAIPUR, India (Reuters Life!) - World-famous authors lost themselves amidst thousands of fans as Asia's largest literary event sprang colourfully to life this weekend, debunking criticism of the Jaipur Literature Festival's pretentious overtones.

In speeches and debates in bright and airy yellow and green tents, authors, academics and book lovers shared jokes and swapped stories, as the pomposity alleged in a leading Indian news magazine dissipated into the Indian spring sunshine.

An article in Open magazine this month accused the festival, now in its seventh year, of "making use of a certain romantic association that stretches back to the Raj," and labeled its organiser, William Dalrymple, "the pompous arbiter of literary merit in India."

Best-selling authors skipped lunch in order to answer a never-ending list of questions and sign a huge pile of their books, while those that made it to the food queue found themselves sandwiched between excited guests.

"Look at this, it's a party!" remarked one guest as she embraced a friend under the pink, yellow and orange cotton drapes of the festival entrance, while dozens of visitors crowded around the schedule boards to decide which seminar to attend.

"The atmosphere does feel like something between James Joyce and a monsoon wedding," Dalrymple told Reuters, in the ground of the majestic blue-painted Diggi Palace in the center of Jaipur, the capital of the eastern state of Rajasthan.

"Everyone is just having a great time, listening to some of the greatest writers in the world, for free. It's intellectual stimulation in a carnival atmosphere," he added.

Speakers and attendees had come from across India and the world, while sessions addressed national, regional, and international topics alongside readings in various languages.   Continued...