Selling a literature festival in 2019 is not as straightforward as it used to be. An endeavour made trickier if one is in India, with a dedicated litfest for most major cities and even a few smaller, picturesque towns.

Sure, the footfalls have steadily increased and there are few things to match the opportunity of having the company of a literary giant in one’s own backyard; but with great expansion comes greater scrutiny. Between questionable and recycled lineups, poor crowd management, ill-suited venues, accusations of elitism or pretentiousness, and woke millennials outright rejecting or “ironically attending” the festivals in their fall best, it is up to the organisers to work out how they want to (re)shape the scene in the coming years and retain that prized “charm”.

With all that in the air, the biggest litfest of them all (and perhaps the most awaited) — the 12th edition of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival — will kick off on 24 January. Whether it will be a year of missed chances or the organisers outdoing their previous bests, the effects will certainly be felt outside the beautiful yet confining walls of the Diggi Palace in the coming seasons.

Diggi Palace during the Jaipur Literature Festival. Image courtesy of the author

Among the hundreds of speakers — including authors, poets, filmmakers, historians, journalists, activists, politicians, academics, scientists, intellectuals, artists — some of the big names from around the globe in this year’s line-up include Alexander McCall Smith (The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), André Aciman (Call Me by Your Name), Andrew Sean Greer (Less), Ben Okri (The Famished Road), Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad), Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting), Jeffrey Archer (Kane and Abel), Mary Beard (SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome) and Yann Martel (Life of Pi).

With over 200 sessions spread across five brightly coloured wintry days, there is plenty on paper to look forward to and keep one occupied. Some of the other notable names on the expansive roster include,

Ahdaf Soueif (The Map of LoveIn the Eye of the Sun)
— Andrea di Robilant (A Venetian AffairLucia)
— Anita Nair (Ladies CoupéMistress)
— Audrey Truschke (Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth)
— Bee Rowlatt (In Search of MaryTalking about Jane Austen in Baghdad)
— Bibek Debroy (The Holy VedasGetting India Back on Track)
— Carlo Pizzati (Mappillai: An Italian Son-in-Law in India)
 Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (The Palace of IllusionsSister of My Heart)
— Christophe Jaffrelot (The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience)
Claudia Roden (The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)
— Dan Jones (The PlantagenetsThe Wars of the Roses)
— Daniel Lieberman (The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease)
— Germaine Greer (The Female EunuchThe Whole Woman)
— Gonçalo M Tavares (JerusalémO Senhor Valéry)
— Gulzar (Half a Rupee StoriesSelected Poems)
— Gurcharan Das (India UnboundThe Difficulty of Being Good)
— Hari Kunzru (White TearsGods Without Men)
— Harsh Mander (Looking Away: Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India)
— James Crabtree (The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age)
— Jerry Pinto (Em and The Big Hoom)
— Jon Lee Anderson (Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life)
— Kapka Kassabova (Border: A Journey to the Edge of EuropeStreet Without a Name)
— Kaveh Akbar (Calling a Wolf a WolfPortrait of the Alcoholic)
— Maja Lunde (The History of Bees)
— Marc Quinn (Alison Lapper Pregnant, Sphinx)
— Markus Zusak (The Book Thief, I Am the Messenger)
— Patrick French (India: A PortraitThe World Is What It Is)
— Perumal Murugan (MadhorubhaganPoonachi)
— Pushpesh Pant (India: The Cookbook)
— Richard J Evans (The History of the Third Reich)
— Sandip Roy (Don’t Let Him Know)
— Sanjeev Sanyal (Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography)
 Simon Sebag Montefiore (Stalin: The Court of the Red TsarJerusalem: The Biography)
 Upamanyu Chatterjee (English, August: An Indian Story)
— Urvashi Butalia (The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India)
— Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (structural biologist, President of the Royal Society)
Vikram Chandra (Sacred GamesRed Earth and Pouring Rain)


Spread across six venues inside the Diggi (Charbagh, Front Lawn, Mughal Tent, Baithak, Durbar Hall and Samvad), each day will kick off at 9.15 in the morning with a music performance, with the sessions commencing at 10 am.

Although with such varied scope and line of investigation, highlighting a few sessions for all seems like a fools’ errand; nonetheless, here are some sessions to keep an eye out for:

Day 1

— Imagine a World without Bees
Maja Lunde in conversation with Pradip Krishen

Northern Lights: Readings and Conversations
Einar Kárason, Hanne Ørstavik, Henriette Rostrup and Laura Lindstedt in conversation with Margit Walsø

— So Many Books, So Little Time
Juergen Boos in conversation with Urvashi Butalia

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts
Christopher de Hamel introduced by Dan Jones

Writing About Writing
Andrew Sean Greer and Anita Nair in conversation with Prayaag Akbar

Day 2

The Battle for Egypt: Dispatches from the Revolution
Ahdaf Soueif, Omar Hamilton and Yasmine El Rashidi in conversation with Max Rodenbeck

Where Does Fiction Come From?
Andrew Sean Greer, Ben Okri, Sebastian Barry, Tania James and Vikram Chandra in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury

In Search of Miracles
Markus Zusak in conversation with John Zubrzycki

On Literary Biographies
Andrea di Robilant, Jenny Uglow and Zachary Leader in conversation with Patrick French

South Asia: Walls and Bridges
Husain Haqqani, Manjushree Thapa, Prasenjit Basu and Shivshankar Menon in conversation with Suhasini Haidar

Day 3

Process: The Writer at Work
Álvaro Enrigue, Ahdaf Soueif, Colson Whitehead, Hari Kunzru and Yann Martel in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury

Call Me by Your Name
Andre Aciman in conversation with Siddharth Dhanvant Shangvi

Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Peter Bergen, Shiv Shankar Menon and Steve Coll in conversation with Jon Lee Anderson

The Biographers Ball
Audrey Truschke, Charles Spencer, Parvati Sharma and Sir Roy Strong CH in conversation with Simon Sebag Montefiore

The Romanovs
Simon Sebag Montefiore introduced by Richard Evans

The Travel Panel
Carlo Pizzati, Eliza Griswold, Isabella Tree and Ramita Navai in conversation with Molly Crabapple

The Shape of Justice – Identifying Gender Violence and Finding Solutions That Fit
Sohaila Abdulali, Sunita Toor and Simar Singh in conversation with Pragya Tiwari

Day 4

— Before and After Pi
Yann Martel in conversation with Jerry Pinto

— The Frontline Club
Eliza Griswold, Jon Lee Anderson, Ramita Navai, Sam Kiley and Steve Coll in conversation with Suhasini Haidar

— Adaptations
Andre Aciman, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Irvine Welsh, Vikram Chandra and Yann Martel in conversation with Sandip Roy

— The Jewish Novel
Andre Aciman, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Tova Reich in conversation with Zachary Leader

— Women and Power
Mary Beard discusses her book with Germaine Greer and Reni Eddo-Lodge in conversation with Bee Rowlatt

Day 5

— After Trainspotting
Irvine Welsh in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury

— Beginnings and Endings
Anjum Hasan, Andrew Sean Greer, Jayant Kaikini and Mahesh Rao, moderated by Paul McVeigh

— The Future is Now
Meredith Broussard and Toby Walsh in conversation with Anupama Raju

— The Freedom Artist
Ben Okri in conversation

— Triple Borders: A Journey to the Edge of Europe
Kapka Kassabova in conversation with Max Rodenbeck

There will also be a number of book launches, usually scheduled between 1.40 pm-2.20 pm and 4.45 pm-5.15 pm every day.


The festival will also host musical performances and conversations each evening from 24-27 January at Hotel Clarks Amer. The artists performing will include Usha Uthup, Dualist Inquiry, The Kutle Khan Project, Roohani Sisters, Indian Ocean, MIDIval Punditz, among others.


With the organizers shifting their focus to a younger audience, and the #MeToo movement fresh in our memories, it will be interesting to observe how the festival pans out this year.

Rest assured, we will keep you posted.



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