Jaipur Literature Festival 2021 LIVE updates: Discussions on ideas, literature continue amid limitations of virtual edition

·14-min read

Jaipur Literature Festival 2021 adopts virtual stage amid COVID-19 crisis

As with most offline mega-events, the Jaipur Literature Festival has also been compelled to go online in this ongoing era of the coronavirus pandemic. For its 14th edition, it returns to the iconic Diggi Palace venue, albeit a digital avatar of it. Virtual book launches and sessions with authors will take place in these simulated iterations of the "Front Lawn" and "Durbar Hall".

JLF 2021 will take place over 10 days on this virtual stage. You can access it by registering for the festival here.

Follow our LIVE updates and highlights from the 10 days of this 14th edition of the JLF.


€" 19:44 (IST)

Shashi Tharoor x Faye D'Souza

In one of the better moderated sessions of the day (which is what you get when you put Faye D'Souza on camera), Shashi Tharoor spoke about his book The Battle of Belonging and the ideas contained within €" nationalism, patriotism, and what it means to be Indian today. In one particularly engaging segment, D'Souza and Tharoor discussed the state's intolerance of dissent:

"There certainly is, I'm sorry to say, a delegitimising of dissent as some people who are in power today are essentially focusing on the idea that if you don't agree with them you're anti-national. So that entire category of whether you belong to the nation, of you having a claim on it is conflated with the extent of your willingness to support the government and to confirm to its idea of how you should be as a person."

"Ultimately, if you argue that opposition and dissent are by definition anti-national, then your fear of anti-nationalism becomes itself anti-nationalist because you are opposing the democracy with which our nationalism is inextricably linked. The attack on dissenters and the attack on democracy, and the fear that many have (and I've echoed in my book), is that ethno-nationalism of this kind is taking India towards a peculiar hybrid €" a sort of "dictator-ocracy" €" which preserves the forms of democracy while brooking no dissent against its dictates."

€" Rohini


€" 19:33 (IST)

The topic of the hour

In hindsight, one should have perhaps realised that almost a year into the pandemic, a discussion on the subject might not provide many illuminating insights. Although Chinmay Tumbe and Laura Spinney's conversation with Ambarish Satwik was informative on the history of diseases, while also providing some perspective into how we process the same, there was not much that hasn't been discussed over and over again in the last year or so.

The duo talked about their respective books €" Tumbe's Age of Pandemics (1817-1920) and Spinney's Pale Rider €" and how easily pandemics are purged from our collective memory. The somewhat sombre talk though, kept getting punctured with poor video quality and screen freezes. And not for the first time in the day, one felt like JLF really missed a trick, considering how much time they had to prepare for the fest.

€" Harsh


€" 18:55 (IST)

Priyanka Chopra Jonas x Shobhaa De

After several hours of fairly sedate room-scenery, spotted in the background of faces framed shakily and sometimes poorly by cameras, the session featuring Shobhaa De in conversation with Priyanka Chopra Jonas came as a breath of fresh air.

No, it really didn't. It was the same old air if you want to know the truth, but to our bleary eyes, watching talking heads (and we mean that literally, not in the sense of television news panels) through nearly a full day, just seeing anything that wasn't a blank wall or a shelf of books was a revelation.

Just beyond De, within the screen, were a profusion of pillows and mattresses and what looked like other seating arrangements of the super-soft type. Chopra Jonas, on the other hand, had a more minimalist backdrop, all the better to keep attention on her elegant and unrehearsed self.

After a longish introduction by JLF producer Sanjoy Roy, and an even longer first question by De, the session was off. Selected excerpts from the conversation:

Chopra Jonas on how she became involved with the cause of empowering the girl child €"

A chance remark from Chhoti, the five-year-old daughter of the woman employed as a cook in the Chopra household, spurred the actress to actively champion the rights of girl children. Chhoti told Chopra Jonas that she didn't go to school because her brothers had to €" a throwaway comment that indicated to the actress how different the realities of two daughters of the same country could be.

[Anecdote €" narrated by Shobhaa De €" on how Chopra Jonas' parents included her name and 'designation' (Upper KG) on the signboard outside their new home.]

On her husband Nick Jonas €"

"People think just because I'm a public person, they know who I am. But I've been quite private... nothing surprised me as much as he [Nick Jonas] did," Chopra Jonas said.

She noted that Jonas was among the most secure and conscientious individuals she'd come across, that he swept her off her feet when she met him after "discounting him for nearly two years while [they] texted". "I felt this is someone I can trust to share my burdens for the rest of my life," Chopra Jonas told De.

[Anecdote indicating how he prioritises her career while also knowing her needs so well, followed.]

[Anecdote €" narrated by Shobhaa De €" about how Priyanka's mother Madhu Chopra was in her nightdress, watching TV on the couch, when she first met Nick Jonas.]

Chopra Jonas also talked about her father's pride in her achievements; the triumphs and tribulations of becoming Miss India and then Miss World at the age of 18 ("I goofed up so much"); juggling the Quantico shoot in LA with the Bajirao Mastani shoot in Wai, Maharashtra ("I'm greedy!") and keeping her professional and personal lives separate to stay grounded €"

"Work and home have always been bifurcated for me. I've never felt if a movie didn't do well, [things have ended]. I always had the confidence that I could pivot to anything [and do well]. My journey was never dependent on any co-stars. I don't come from the business, so the business doesn't define me."

Chopra Jonas on her forays in Hollywood €"

De suggested that the auditioning process in Hollywood must have been a lesson in humility for Chopra Jonas, considering her star status here in India. "Not just auditioning, everything was a lesson in humility," Chopra Jonas corrected. "Walking into a party and no one knows who you are. And you've to introduce yourself if you want to work with these people."

She noted, however, that re-establishing herself was something she considered part for the course, in line with her philosophy that "there are no free lunches" and that there's nothing worse than entitlement.

The conversation continued for the requisite 45 minutes, touching upon Chopra Jonas' early experiences in Bollywood and her hopes for the future with Nick Jonas, until it was time to say goodbye to Shobhaa De's plushy furniture forever.

€" Rohini


€" 16:11 (IST)

Quotable quote:

"I would not start out with a sense that any one kind of poetry or poetics is paramount. I'm as happy to respond to very, very different kinds of poets... and I think it's the diversity of what we receive as readers of poetry that enlarges our sense of what's possible as poets."

€" >Ranjit Hoskote, from the session 'Word, Image, Text'.


€" 16 :05 (IST)

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€" 16 :01 (IST)

Dim Sequence

In a post-lunch session, author Adam Foulds discussed is new book Dream Sequence with Elaine Canning. While it was a bit difficult to make his features out in the rather dimly lit room he had decided to record the session form, the two touched upon the various themes in his book, including the idea of "twin souls"; the part social media plays in modern culture; obsession and how it plays out at times, among other.

Much of the 40-ish minute interaction focused on the two characters in Foulds' book €" Henry, an Oxbridge-educated television actor from a family of frustrated artists, and Kristen, recently divorced and obsessed with the English actor, convinced they are destined to be together €" where he discussed their motivations and circumstances, and the author's own desire to understand them as well as possible.

With the low quality of recording, and some passing generalisations, a 5/10 session.

€" Harsh


€" 14:50 (IST)

Quotable Quote:

Pessimism is irresponsible. It implies that younger people €" my children, their friends €" cannot hope for anything. History is wide open: we could be on a steep decline, or we could recover and go upward. We don't know. All of us have no choice but to continue building the kind of society we want to live in.

€" >Anne Applebaum, in conversation with Edward Luce and Suhasini Haider, at the session 'The Many Lives of Democracy'


€" 14:29 (IST)

'An affectionate haunting' €" Oroon Das on the ghostly influence of Michael Madhusudan Dutt

The aura around Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the Bengali poet writer and dramatist, was further burnished by an anecdote narrated by Oroon Das in an afternoon session at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Das performs in 'Betrayed by Hope', a play by Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal, based on Dutt's life.

Das described how he and Gokhale had been reading Dutt's letters together. Soon after, during a trip to Kolkata for a family wedding, Das decided to stop off at the Park Street Cemetery on his final evening in the city. The cemetery wasn't accessible along the route the taxi driver had taken, so he took Das to another graveyard, one he was completely unfamiliar with.

As Das walked along the graves, he noticed "a tall, dramatic figure" standing by one of them. The man turned around sharply and looked at Das with "glassy eyes". Feeling that he may have disturbed the man in a private moment, Das turned around and hurriedly walked away. He admits to feeling a little frightened, unable to shake off the feeling that the man was following him. Das says he nearly tripped and looked around, only to find no one behind him. Before him, however, was a busy €" that of Dutt's.

Das says he called Gokhale immediately to tell her that he too, had experienced something she had with Dutt: "an affectionate haunting".


€" 14:10 (IST)

After two book launches €" Parameswaran Iyer's Method in the Madness: Insights from My Career as an Insider-Outsider-Insider and Experiencing the Goddess (a collection of essays that shares research, experiences, ideas and knowledge from studies and travels related to ancient sites where divine female energies dwell, and counts the artist Seema Kohli among its contributors) €" we're on to the second half of Day 1.


€" 13:36 (IST)

As we've been "doing the rounds" of online litfests in these pandemic months, there's been many a snarky comment on the technical know-how displayed by speakers and event organisers. That snark has come home to roost, dear readers, as we struggle with our live blog that won't do the things we want it to.

So, is this a good time to segue into a critical evaluation of the digital interface for JLF's virtual stage?

€" Rohini


€" 13:00 (IST)

On caste and Indian writing

S Hareesh, Jayasree Kalathil and Aruni Kashyap also had an insightful discussion about how caste reflects in Indian writing.

"Caste is a way of life in Kerala, as it is in the rest of India. Kerala has obvious, outward progressiveness but within communities, caste is everywhere €" from weddings to deaths to surnames and prefixes. People don't see a contradiction between being a Communist leader and also supporting caste. As an Indian writer, caste will always be part of what you write, and if you say otherwise, then you're being dishonest," Hareesh noted.

Hareesh and Jayasree also commented on the great tradition of anti-caste, caste-critical writing in Malayam literature.


€" 12:54 (IST)

Highlights from the session with 'Moustache' author S Hareesh

S Hareesh responded to Aruni Kashyap's questions in Malayam, and was translated for the audience by his Meesha/Moustache translator Jayasree Kalathil.

Jayasree explained to Aruni that Hareesh had always wanted to write a novel based on Kuttunad, where he lived, as well as bring in its flora and fauna. The main character is also based on a man who lived in Hareesh's village.

Jayasree also mentioned how she was introduced to Hareesh's novel: she had been reading the serialised version in the prestigious Malayalam magazine Matrubhumi. The 2018 controversy around the book that called for its ban didn't influence her as such since she is based in London, but the serialisation did come to a halt. Then, Rahul Soni at HarperCollins sent her a copy of the book, and that's how she was roped into translating it.


€" 12:46 (IST)


A sponsor message has just informed us that "The Jaipur Literature Festival is protected by Dettol".

Fitting, I suppose.

€" Rohini


€" 12:45 (IST)

Quotable quote:

"Fiction is not a safe space in some ways. Conservative values do threaten fiction, writers and books. But writers must still think of fiction as a safe space for storytelling [because that is a prerequisite for writing].

"Writing stories is a fundamental act of democracy. The urge to tell stories, the urge to listen to stories, these are a part of democracy. Writers and readers must hold on to that responsibility."

€" S Hareesh


€" 12:29 (IST)

On S Hareesh's 'Moustache'

Urvashi Bahuguna wrote in a review of Meesha/Moustache for Firstpost:

"After reading Moustache, I dreamt of crown rot on bananas, flesh eating eels, owls swinging low over Kuttanad, the weed that blooms red on the water. What can make one fall in love with a landscape one has never visited, one that reminds us of the feudalism that the country is built on? Hareesh's words and Kalathil's translation has me believing that it is a good story told locally and diligently, and without obfuscation that can convey the essence of a troubled, awe-inspiring land."

Read the complete review here.


€" 12:21 (IST)

Just taking a minute to note €" this isn't what I thought my first-ever JLF would be like.

€" Rohini


€" 12:13 (IST)

So... the sessions are not actually live live?

€" Harsh


€" 12:07 (IST)

We're tuning into "THE YEAR OF THE MOUSTACHE" featuring acclaimed author S Hareesh and translator Jayasree Kalathil in conversation with Aruni Kashyap at the Durbar Hall. Watch it on the JLF 2021 virtual stage, by registering here.


€" 12:01 (IST)

10 days. T-E-N.

Still trying to get over it.

€" Harsh


€" 11:57 (IST)

Here's a glimpse of the virtual "press room" at JLF 2021.

Is this what it actually looks like? Harsh, the JLF veteran, comments: "Yes, if it was 10x better."

€" Rohini

€" 11:46 (IST)

If you haven't taken a look yet at the JLF 2021 schedule, here's where you can check in here.

We'll admit it's a bit daunting, scrolling through pages and pages of sessions, which is why we're here to cherry-pick the most exciting ones for you in this blog.

€" Rohini


€" 11:40 (IST)

If you've registered for the JLF, a link will direct you to this virtual stage:


€" 11:32 (IST)

Hello! Firstpost is tuned in to the virtual stage of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2021.

Over the next 10 days, we'll be sharing our thoughts on the sessions at the fest.


Highlights from the best daily sessions €" your cheat sheet into what's happening at the 14th edition of JLF.

Lot of book and author talk.

Some LitFest jadedness (and wisdom), from my colleague Harsh Pareek.

€" Rohini


€" 10:55 (IST)

Wondering which sessions to tune into?

We've compiled a selection of the best sessions over Days 1-5 of JLF 2021. From conversations with Douglas Stuart and S Hareesh to discussions about pandemics and democracy, these promise to be the highlights.


€" 10:44 (IST)

A quick look at what's in store

JLF 2021 will feature over 300 speakers and performers representing around 25 Indian and 18 international languages and over 23 nationalities.

Among the participating speakers are American linguist Noam Chomsky, 2020 Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart, Nobel Laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Malala Yousafzai, Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates, and actor-author Priyanka Chopra.


Also See: Jaipur Literature Festival 2021: Literary extravaganza opens on virtual stage for its 14th edition

Jaipur Literature Festival 2021: From S Hareesh to Douglas Stuart, our picks of sessions to attend from Day 1-5

Delhi Literature Festival 2021: Devdutt Pattanaik, Anupam Kher among speakers in its online edition

Read more on Arts & Culture by Firstpost.

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