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India literary festival:

Massive crowd throng at Jaipur

INDIA: Royalty rubbed shoulders with the rump of India’s caste system at the Jaipur Literary Festival this year as crowds flocked to India’s “pink city” for an annual dose of celebrity and culture.

Bright sunshine and a roster of 220 authors and performers, including a clutch of Nobel, Booker and Pulitzer prize winners, lured tens of thousands of book lovers to the grounds of the Diggi Palace a converted 19th century mansion where the event has been held since 2006.

Billed as the world’s largest “free” literary festival, the Jaipur event prides itself on its open door policy, eclectic mix of speakers and informal atmosphere which spurns VIP enclosures.

Thus the former Maharaja of Kashmir, Karan Singh, who helped open the 2011 festival, could later be seen sitting among the crowd, taking in a poetry recital and signing autographs.

“The great thing is that you can move from a debate on the role of Indian women to another on the future of American fiction with Junot Diaz and Martin Amis,” said Indian novelist Abha Dawesar.

“There is no ranking here among the writers, and it’s great that this is happening in Jaipur rather than a major, cosmopolitan city like Delhi or Mumbai,” she told AFP.

This year’s festival was slightly clouded by a vitriolic spat just days before it opened between one of its co-founders, best-selling British author William Dalrymple, and the political editor of Open news magazine, Hartosh Singh Bal.

In an article, Bal questioned how Dalrymple, a white middle-aged Scot, had established himself as a “pompous arbiter of literary merit in India”.

Hurt by the attack and an unflattering cartoon of him in colonial-era regalia, Dalrymple noted that two-thirds of invitees to Jaipur were Indian and accused Bal of “reverse racism”.

The row had its roots in a long-standing and sensitive debate surrounding the commercial and critical dominance of the English language in Indian literature a bias that some say is reflected in the Jaipur line-up. Jaipur, Tuesday, AFP

 

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