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JLF Day 1: Security worries, 'social business' and an Instagram poet

The festival was opened, instead of by a politician, by the travel writer Pico Iyer

Mihir S Sharma 

Jaipur Literature Festival 2018, JLF 2018
(From left) Festival producers Sanjoy K Roy and Nasreen Munni Kabir, and Ustad Zakir Hussain present the tabla maestro’s biography, A Life In Music, during the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018 at Diggi Palace in Jaipur | Photo: PTI

The eleventh edition of the -- now sponsored by Zee, and thus being called by organisers Zee -- began in Jaipur on Thursday amid tight security. The Rajasthan Police are over-stretched: besides JLF, always a magnet for protestors, they also have to deal with Republic Day security, various by-elections, and of course the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's' Padmaavat. The Karni Sena, an organisation that claims to represent Rajputs and has led the violent protests against the Bhansali movie has also targeted because of the presence on the announced festival programme of Prasoon Joshi, the chair of the Central Board for Film Certification or and thus the man who signed off on the release of Padmaavat. The organisers have not yet confirmed Joshi's attendance, but there are nonetheless concerns about the festival's security in the current tense atmosphere. Notably, was not opened this year, as it has been in past years, by Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Heightened security is not unusual for JLF, which in the past has dealt with the presence of both massive crowd-pullers -- such as movie stars or Oprah Winfrey -- but also with controversial figures such as Salman Rushdie. On the opening day the problem was at least less intense because the crowds were of a manageable size. Over Republic Day weekend, however, new records on foot-fall are expected to be set, straining both police resources and the capacity of the quaint venue, the converted haveli known as Diggi Palace. Roadwork for an underground passage in the road just outside the venue is likely, say police, to complicate their efforts. The festival was opened, instead of by a politician, by the travel writer Pico Iyer. The day's sessions had a typically eclectic set of speakers, including the art historian B N Goswami, who spoke among others about 18th-century India; the journalist Sagarika Ghose, who has written a biography of Indira Gandhi; the film-maker Mira Nair; the playwright Tom Stoppard; and the historian Upinder Singh. For many attendees, the highlights included Ghose's descriptions of Indira Gandhi's chutzpah on the international stage, such as her responses to snubs by the then US president, Richard Nixon, as well as her calculated use of her clothing choices.

Nair entertained her audience by, among other things, explaining why she rejected the opportunity to do a Harry Potter film on the advice of her son, and how she played Cleopatra to Shashi Tharoor's Antony in a production by the Shakespeare Society of St Stephen's College in the 1970s. Nair also implicitly reminded the audience of past assaults on freedom of expression when she talked about her time in Rajasthan facing protests for filming her Kama Sutra. Another highlight of the day was Korean journalist Suki Kim, who spent months undercover as an English teacher to elite children in Pyongyang, the capital of the North Korean dictatorship. Her discussion of propaganda and power -- which included a North Korean propaganda film -- was impressive and struck a chord with many in the audience even in a democratic country. The largest crowds, however, came to see Rupi Kaur, an Indian-Canadian poet who has made a name for herself on the social network Instagram. Kaur has built an enormous following, especially among younger women, and they crowded into the front lawns of Diggi Palace to hear her speak and quote from her poems. Their roars of approval were audible across the sprawling festival venue. Among the other speakers was Nobel laureate and economist, of Bangladesh's Grameen Bank. He spoke at length about his belief that "social businesses" -- businesses that are focused not on profit maximisation but on addressing a particular social or economic problem, and that seek only to cover their costs through innovative business plans -- might be the solution for global problems including poverty, inequality, and joblessness. Yunus criticised many Indian microfinance institutions for focusing on making profits, which he holds responsible for their failures. In the context of the Indian MUDRA scheme of loans to small-scale industry, he emphasised the need for easier regulations for loan-seekers and for new entrepreneurs. He also attacked the concept of a Universal Basic Income, saying that then the impetus to be a creative and productive human being would be taken away. The will last four more days.

First Published: Fri, January 26 2018. 00:06 IST