Jaipur Literature Fest begins on a high note

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 25 January 2019

Amidst the blowing of conch shells, drum rolls and folk dance performances, the 12th edition of Zee Jaipur Literature Festival got underway on Thursday.

Jaipur: Amidst the blowing of conch shells, drum rolls and folk dance performances, the 12th edition of Zee Jaipur Literature Festival got underway on Thursday. Recalling how the festival directors, Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple wondered if they would get 170 speakers for the first edition held in 2006, Sanjoy Roy, Managing Director of the festival in his inaugural speech, said, “This year, we are hosting 500,000 visitors at Diggi Palace.” 

Talking about its journey, Roy said, “Four years into the festival, security had increased and as usual, on the first day, I was standing at the gates of the haveli, I saw a pavement dweller and his boy walking towards us. The people manning the gates were sceptical of letting them in...they were ‘others’, perhaps not fit to be seen as a part of the festival. I asked that they be allowed in. The man told me, ‘I don’t think I will be able to give my boy education in either school or college. But I thought if he comes here, he will at least listen to the stories that are told here and may be that will help him become the man he will be in next few years’.”

“I have a similar story to share, this time about peasants from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. One of them said, ‘We have heard a lot about this literature festival and wanted to see it for ourselves’. This group bought lot of regional literature from the festival store and formed a book club in their village on their return’. All I would like to say is that we create boundaries, ‘us’ and ‘others’. But literature alleviates them and transports us, the readers, to a different world,” said Roy, to cheers and applause from the enthusiastic audience. 

In her address to the audience, Gokhale speaking first in Hindi and then in English, likened the literature festival to ‘kumbh mela’. She said, “Yeh ek manthan hai, sahitya ka kumbh mela hai.” 
“The festival, since its inauguration has been bahubhashik...multi-lingual and it will be continue to be so. Yeh hamesha se nirpaksha aur loktantrik rahega. This year’s theme is harnessing scientific temper and empirical thinking,” she added.
 
Continuing on the theme of science and scientific thinking, Nobel Laureate, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, in his keynote address on ‘The Role of Science in Today’s World’ said, “Being here today gives me an opportunity to talk across the divide between the humanities and sciences that have plagued many societies for a very long time. Even today, you can imagine the scene at a party, where I am asked what I do.  ‘I am a scientist’. I can already see the first sign of panic and disengagement. ‘What kind?’ they ask politely. ‘I am a molecular biologist. I study how information in our genes is used to make proteins’. ‘Oh, that sounds fascinating and terribly clever. I am afraid I was never very good at science or maths. I know nothing at all about it!’ The conversation quickly moves on to the latest novel they have read or concert they have attended. Now, imagine the reverse. Suppose I had said, Oh I really know nothing about literature or arts or music. The same people who proudly proclaim their ignorance about science and maths would consider me an uncivilised boor.”  

“Art, literature and science are all ways of capturing essential truths about the world, but science has some distinctive aspects encapsulated in the Royal Society’s motto is ‘Nullius in verba’ or ‘On nobody’s word’. In science, it does not matter who you are or where something is written, but an idea is accepted because it is testable by experiments that can be reproduced by anyone anywhere in the world with the required training and expertise.”

“This aspect of science took root as a result of the enlightenment in Europe and the freedom it fostered to think and speak out against authority. The resulting explosion of knowledge and the industrial revolution meant that Europe quickly overtook China and India, which had dominated the world’s GDP for centuries. Those who ascribe the wealth of Europe to colonisation may consider the fact that Sweden, Switzerland and Germany, which were among the richest countries in Europe, had essentially no colonies. On the other hand, countries like Portugal or Spain that were not scientifically advanced were not well off despite their large colonies. It was objective scientific and technical knowledge that created wealth and does so even today. Even today, countries that are resource poor, but knowledge rich do very well, e.g. Switzerland or Singapore. Knowledge does not just lead to economic prosperity. It also has consequences for our well-being,” he concluded.

William Dalrymple. Co-director of the festival skipped JLF this year because of the demise of his father. 

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