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No controversy, only democracy: JLF ends with a bang!

January 21, 2014 20:52 IST

No controversy, only democracy: JLF ends with a bang!

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Sanchari Bhattacharya in Jaipur

In spite of the wet and wintery weather, the annual extravaganza of the Jaipur Literature Festival ended on a warm note on Tuesday evening. Rediff.com’s Sanchari Bhattacharya reports from Jaipur.

A loud and hearty crowd had gathered to hear, and participate in, a riveting discussion on the merits and demerits of democracy.

The panelists comprised, among others, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Murli Manohar Joshi, author Pawan Varma, who also happens to be cultural advisor to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and the crowd’s favourite -- Aam Aadmi Party leader Shazia Ilmi.

The political leaders cut across party lines to come up to the microphone and extoll the virtues of a democratic system.

When a group of men started chanting slogans in support of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Joshi shushed them, saying, “Koi Zindabaad, koi Murdaabad nahi. Sirf democracy zindabaad (only democracy should be hailed).”

He sagely added, “Democracy is the celebration of the independence of human mind”.

When it was her turn to speak, Ilmi said, to a tremendous round of applause, “How democratic is our democracy? An unfulfilled, unrealised democracy becomes nothing but a travesty.”

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Image: (From right) Aam Aadmi Party leader Shazia Ilmi, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Murli Manohar Joshi and author Pawan Varma
Photographs: Chandra Mohan Aloria

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No controversy, only democracy: JLF ends with a bang!

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

Earlier, a heavy downpour since the wee hours of Tuesday had dragged the mercury further down in the pink city.

It had thrown the festival into complete disarray and sent visitors and speakers alike scrambling for cover, literally.

The intermittent rains turned the last day -- of the otherwise impeccably organised and colourful festival -- into a chaotic and gloomy affair.

The organisers had to improvise on the spot as the open-air venues turned slushy, slippery and absolutely inhospitable.

Most of the major events were shifted to venues inside the DiggiPalace which, while comfortable, were not roomy enough to accommodate most of the audience members.

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Image: A heavy downpour threw the festival into complete disarray
Photographs: Chandra Mohan Aloria
Tags: JLF

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No controversy, only democracy: JLF ends with a bang!

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

JLF 2014 will go down in history for steering clear of controversies, almost, and avoiding the kind of undesirable drama that had plagued the festival in the preceding years.

The festival’s first, and thankfully last, controversy had erupted on Day 4, Monday, when a group of protesters gate-crashed an event featuring producer Ekta Kapoor and started shouting slogans against her.

Alert personnel of Rajasthan police had whisked away the trouble-makers and an unfazed Kapoor had continued with the session.

The festival this year was also marked by an unusually long list of absentee guests.

Boxer Mary Kom, the much-awaited guest at a top-billed session on Tuesday morning, had to give the event a miss.

She joined a list of other high-profile speakers -- including lyricist Javed Akhtar, Union minister Shashi Tharoor and journalist Barkha Dutt -- who had to skip the event for reasons ranging from ill health to personal tragedy to work commitments.

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Image: Producer Ekta Kapoor at the Jaipur Literature Festival
Photographs: Chandra Mohan Aloria

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No controversy, only democracy: JLF ends with a bang!

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

But a panel discussion put together at the last minute to substitute Kom’s session -- with firebrand activists Gloria Steinem, Ruchira Gupta and Urvashi Butalia -- turned out to be completely paisa vasool for the audience.

When a few ill-informed male members of the audience asked the women why they could not "just accept" the system they were born in and not spend their lives involved in a power struggle, the room erupted in jeers and boos against them.  

"We don't want to live in oppression. So if you want us to give up our fight, we won't," said Ruchira Gupta.

She added, "If we want to go out and buy cigarettes in the middle of the night, we should be able to do so."

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Image: Activists Gloria Steinem and Ruchira Gupta at the Jaipur Literature Festival
Photographs: Chandra Mohan Aloria

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No controversy, only democracy: JLF ends with a bang!

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

At a discussion on understanding the readers of India, moderator Mita Kapur noted that the organisers deserved a standing ovation for managing to firefight through the confusion unleashed by the temperamental rains.

She also brought up the issue of "fake reading", pointing out that people who enjoyed popular bestsellers by the likes of Chetan Bhagat were often embarrassed about admitting it.

"A reader is a reader is a reader, irrespective of whether you read Charles Dickens or Bhagat," Kapur said, adding that no one ought to be embarrassed about the kind of books they choose to read.

But the line of the day, and probably the entire festival, belonged to Aditi Maheshwari, director of Vani Prakashan, who talked about the realities of Hindi publishing in India.

"India may think, cry or even dream in Hindi, but it aspires in English," she said.

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Image: K R Meera and Anuradha Sharma Pujari are introduced by Aditi Maheshwari
Photographs: Chandra Mohan Aloria

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This year, the festival had surpassed its own records of crowd-pulling and hosted an unbelievable 70,000-strong people on Sunday.

Many of the visitors said that the festive chaos and the breathless crowd at the JLF often reminded them about the spectacle of the Kumbh Mela.

That is, if the Kumbh Mela was patronised by many, many fashionably clad women, and men, instead of saffron-clad sadhus.

Till next year, then.


Image: The festival hosted an unbelievable 70,000-strong people on the last day
Photographs: Chandra Mohan Aloria

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