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JLF Day 3: It's Hinduism, Hindutva, and Shashi Tharoor everywhere

It was clear today that JLF continues to attempt to walk an increasingly difficult path, caught between its attempt to create a broadly liberal institution and an India that is not entirely hospitable

Mihir S Sharma  |  Jaipur 

Shashi Tharoor at Jaipur Lit Fest.
Shashi Tharoor at Jaipur Lit Fest.

The third day of the was, as always, packed with young people from Jaipur and beyond. But there was a distinct sense in which it was also about the development of institutions, about the achievements of past generations, and the passing of a torch. Fittingly, it seemed almost like the star of the day was former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who has a memoir out, and was surrounded by hordes wherever she went. In a session just before lunch, the political scientist Milan Vaishnav, the writer and Rajasthan culture advisor Malvika Singh, the economist Sukhdeo Thorat, the historian and a director from the British Library, Michael Puett, discussed the many ways in which institutions could be built and sustained, and the dangers institution-creators might face. Singh's intervention was listened to with especial care, given that the previous evening the festival had organised an expedition to a new sculpture garden in the eighteenth-century on the outskirts of Jaipur, by the foothills of the The directors of the in Delhi -- Pieter Nagy and Aparajita Jain, curated a collection of dozens of contemporary sculptures that they felt would show up to advantage in the historic surroundings and the ample light. The city and state authorities have worked hard to take advantage of the fact that JLF serves as a magnet for tourists from across India and the world, and to show off the new cultural vibrancy of Rajasthan's capital. There were multiple other ways on Saturday in which the concerns and achievements of an older generation took centre-stage in a festival generally designed for and about younger people. In line outside, most young people seemed buzzed about a session that featured Shashi Tharoor and talking about with -- a writer who, otherwise, many might have dismissed as an obsession of a vanished India. At the same time as the Wodehouse session, across the campus -- and it felt like a campus, too, with young people dashing back and forth -- spoke to Chandrahas Choudhary about her latest book, When the Moon Shines at Night.

The book feels like a culmination of Sahgal's glorious career as a dissenter and chronicler of independent India's serial disappointments; but the writer, who has lost none of her fearlessness with age, used it as a springboard to discuss on stage the ways in which the promise of an earlier India was being lost in an age that confused with nationalism, and with Even Amish -- the writer of mythological novels who now goes by one name -- spoke eloquently at the press terrace about the true nature of Hinduism, which he said was a deeply personal creed above all. The hard-working Shashi Tharoor -- who seemed to be on every panel -- has also just released a book about a similar subject, Why I Am a Hindu, that has been the subject of considerable conversation at the festival. Tharoor underlined his simple message -- that cannot be left to -- in conversation with the poet in the last session of the day, adding that it was not a faith of blacks and whites. Tharoor, Sahgal, and Amish are all from different generations, but it seemed almost like their generations were coming together to, almost desperately, speak to younger India about how things might be going wrong, or could be made right. Tharoor was also on stage to launch Gurmehar Kaur's book. Kaur is a college student who broke into the headlines last year when she became a online sensation -- and the subject of sustained trolling by and TV news -- after she was photographed holding a pro-peace with a Pakistani slogan. In many ways, she has been, with the poet Rupi Kaur, the face of a younger generation at this festival. Kaur sounded calm and thoughtful on stage as she talked about her personal journey "towards freedom", and the different ways in which she interpreted the notion of freedom, from cutting her hair and wearing what she wants, to anonymity, to the more general notion of freedom of speech. Overall, on Day three, it was clear that JLF, sponsored as it is by a media organisation owned by a ruling-party politician, and though it works in close collaboration with the Rajasthan state government, continues to attempt to walk an increasingly difficult path, caught between its attempt to create a broadly liberal institution and an India that is not entirely hospitable to the notion.

First Published: Sat, January 27 2018. 22:40 IST