Jaipur Literature Festival 2023: Questions Answered and Unanswered

Jaipur Literature Festival 2023: Questions Answered and Unanswered

Winter afternoon was getting warmer with conversation. Day one, Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) had Shashi Tharoor in a battle of wits with Caroline Elkins, historian and author of Legacy of Violence. The topic was the British Empire versus the Nazis. Naturally, Tharoor exposed the terrible torture and loot of India.

At this point, I knew JLF 2023 would be interesting.

Tharoor correctly highlighted that it makes “no difference to the person getting shot or getting killed, who killed them”.

I caught up with Elkins later to understand this. We sat by a pool and chatted. My questions about Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill troubled her, but she maintained that Churchill has a twin legacy – as a hero and as the ultimate villain. But she concluded that “the British empire was an agency of moral evil”, but didn’t want to play the “numbers game” as “it doesn’t help the victims”.

My question was still unanswered. I decided to stroll around and found Tharoor extending a helping hand to Sumit Samos on his BR Ambedkar 101, especially on aspects of Panchayati raj. I smiled and walked into the Mughal tent, where Ruth Ozeki was opening a conversation on mixed-race culture and writing about two worlds – Japan and the US.

Next, I caught up with the blue-haired historian, Alex von Tunzelmann. She was here to talk about her new book Fallen Idols, which talked about important secular statues. But I wanted to ask her about currency, especially as the world’s biggest dacoits aka the British royal family, still have their faces on currency notes around the world, and their honor intact too. She laughed a bit, “They are still on the British, Canadian, and Australian notes. We just got a King currency lately. But things are changing, Australia is about to become a republic, also some Caribbean nations are becoming republics. If the empire has ended, they would be off the notes pretty soon too.” We also talked about the “American empire” and imperialism, Prince Andrew being bailed out on British tax pounds (which Tunzelmann didn’t know about), Rishi Sunak, et al.

Our conversation ended, thanks to pesky JLF volunteers, and I moved towards a melodious voice pulling me towards the front lawn, where Usha Uthup Iyer was charming hundreds with her renditions of ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Darling’. I sent her an air hug and ended day one.

Day two started with a bang. It was the indomitable Ravish Kumar, exposing the “Godi Seths” and reminding citizens of their powers. And believe me, he was a serious crowd-puller. “You should call a criminal a criminal. The people of this country can’t fight the big fight if you can’t fight godi media. To fight, all you have to do is turn off the channel,” Ravish narrated a new kind of media satyagraha for democracy. After all, we all need to “practice being democratic citizens”.

For the rest of the day, I walked in and out of sessions and listened to C. Raja Mohan in redundant conversation with two bhakts on the stage. And moved to the pool area to talk with field biologist and author of Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake. The questions were corporate threats to mushrooms – how real was it? And when would psilocybin be decriminalised?

“It’s already happening, let’s look at the US, decriminalisation bills are passing all the time, and so it is definitely underway, defined by modern science studies. Now there are many ways medicinal mushrooms and psychedelic mushrooms are being corporatised. Sometimes it’s happening in a way that is beneficial, and others it’s driven by rapacious greed,” Merlin told me.

As evening came, I was back with JLF quintessential Banas cooking mutton over wood. Gin, wine and educated foreigners, JLF certainly added more flavours to Jaipur’s evenings.

As the sun awakened us, I was excited for P. Sainath and Shehan Karunatilaka, authors of Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. They were scheduled to speak, and I caught up with Karunatilaka first. So, “Gay slut, gambler or photographer” (Maali Almeida’s chosen descriptors) – which was closest to the author? I was hoping for a Bukowski-like answer in real life too, but the celebrated author said, “none”. It was hard to believe, but maybe he was introverted with a fertile imagination. Karunatilaka during the talk had said, “no visas are needed for your imagination,” and “non-gay writers can have gay characters”. Both of these statements were extremely valid.

It was Sainath, who was speaking next about his new book The Last Heroes, who answered my earlier question on the Nazi or British Empire without mincing words. “Media is complicit in the robbing of Indian history, as there is not a word about British imperialism or loot – 165 million excess deaths in 40 years of British rule. 31 famines under them and they classified indigenous people as genetic criminals, 60 years before the Nazis in 1871. The British Empire killed more people than the Nazis,” he said.

But day four robbed us of resistance and took us towards culture. Hidden amidst them was the hyper-glorification of Indians as world leaders. The saffron brigade was quick to flock to these sessions. Overall, Sunday and day four were less crowded and far more relaxed.

Finally, it was Monday. The blues had set in and JLF’s last day was on. When I walked in, a feel-good-monk was on stage giving regurgitating spiritual cliches – “good exercise, good sleep, etc”. I was bored within five minutes and moved to other sessions. Most of the day was about spirituality, climate, agriculture and other earthly things.

But there was some truth left to be heard. Parikshit Singh was giving a session on Aurobindo, and when asked about Auroville said, “humans make a mess of everything but that shouldn’t stop us from learning from the masters”. He categorically differentiated the Auroville experiment and other Aurobindo’s work and ashram. “Follow your bliss and you will find god,” Singh said as our talk ended.

And I continued to journey, hoping to find some soon.

Original Source – https://livewire.thewire.in/out-and-about/books/jaipur-literature-festival-2023-questions-answered-and-unanswered/

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