Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019: Literary conversations, underwhelming debate bring Day 5 to a close

Jan 30,2019

Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019 Literary conversations underwhelming debate bring Day 5 to a close
Glimpses of Day 5 at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019. 

The Man Booker Prize-winning author also spoke about the relevance of language in the field of literature. “We’re inflamed by the public language of politicians — the demonising language of politicians,” he said, and praised the liberating role of language in the field of literature. He made special mention of poetry in this regard, saying “poetry keeps language functional at the highest level”.

Okri also read from his new book and discussed the central idea behind it — “who is a prisoner?”

Watch: Ben Okri talks about his novel The Freedom Artist, and collaborative relationships among writers

Meanwhile, the book launch of Hardeep Singh Puri’s Delusional Politics: Back to the Future, attended by the author himself, along with Amitabh Kant, Vasundhara Raje, Navtej Sarna, and TCA Raghavan, during the lunch break provided a glimpse into what was in store for the closing debate of the festival, scheduled for later that day. (Hint: flaring passions, one-sided arguments and a lot of loud talking in the mic.)

André Aciman (Call Me by Your Name) and Claudia Roden (A Book of Middle Eastern Food) were later in conversation with Karima Khalil, discussing Alexandria, one of the liveliest and most prosperous ports on the Mediterranean during the first half of the 20th century. While the Greek, Italian and Jewish communities that gave Alexandria its particular flavour, it was above all a literary city, one that gave birth to the poetry and novels of Constantine Cavafy, EM Forster and Lawrence Durrell.

The trio (Aciman and Khalil, born in Alexandria, and Roden in Cairo) talked about their memories of a lost world and being uprooted and exiled from your home country. Roden described how she started collecting recipes from across the Mediterranean region and the people she met along the way; while Aciman talked about experience of being forced out of one’s country, the feeling of homesickness; the transit between the imagined home, the remembered home and the real home (which becomes a “bubble of nothing”); and horrible grandmothers in hell.

At last, the final session of the day: a debate titled ‘Do Liberals Stifle Debate?’, with Kapil Sibal, Makarand R Paranjape, Mihir Swarup Sharma, Sagarika Ghose, Salman Khurshid, Sonal Mansingh, Hardeep Singh Puri and Vikram Sampath, and moderated by Sreenivasan Jain.

I could go into the details of who screamed loudest, and who made fun of whom, or who made personal attacks. But, of course, I won’t. It went as poorly as you could possibly imagine. There was no “debate” at all, just populist notions put forward by a panel as confused as the audience about the premise of the whole undertaking.

It was a bit disappointing to end on this note — this series of reports — and the fest itself. But it’s late and cold now and no one will remember any of it in few days anyway. So no point lingering, looking for a poetic end. Just grab what you can, and run.

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