Day two of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020 kept up the momentum set so effectively on the eventful first day. There was tremendous diversity in sessions, speakers, and themes in the programming of the day. “Morning Music” on the 2nd day of the Festival was performed by acclaimed classical Carnatic veena artist Vidushi Saraswati Rajagopalan. She began her set with Raga Saraswati – an ode to Goddess Saraswati, the patron deity of music, art and literature, which was an appropriate beginning to the second day of one of the world’s grandest literature festivals.
In conversation with editor Sudha Sadanand, the acclaimed vocalist Shubha Mudgal read from and spoke about her debut collection of short stories, Looking for Miss Sargam, and the traditions, realities and contradictions that a musician typically straddles and set them against the realities of her own narratives.
Francesca Cartier Brickell, a direct descendant of the Cartier family, has recently published a book titled The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewellery Empire. Her book launch was conducted at the NEXA Front Lawn of the Diggi Palace at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020 and the session was anchored by Editor-in-Chief of Literary Publishing of Penguin Random House India, Meru Gokhale. The book was launched by Diya Kumari, Member of Parliament.
Speaking at the session Diya Kumari said, “It is an absolute pleasure and an honour to be here at the launch of the book The Cartiers. The family name is synonymous with outstanding craftsmanship, creativity and a long history with numerous royal families, including mine. And I’d like to thank everyone associated with the book to have invited me here. I am looking forward to reading what I am sure is a fascinating story of the family. And all my very best for the success of the book. Thank you!
Anay Saxena wrote his first book, Time Adventures: The Jackson Menace, when he was seven. His most recent work is a collection of three short stories titled What a Mysterious World We Live In. Today, Anay Saxena was in conversation with much loved children’s author Deepa Agarwal discussing his work.
Bestselling-author Howard Jacobson talked about his new book Live a Little, which is the love story of a 90-year-old woman. Age, according to Jacobson, is not an impediment to love, though literature has been “very unforgiving” of old age. Jacobson went on to say, “The most intelligent people I know are in their 90s” and explained “…if you can allow your body to decay, you can concentrate on your mind!” The eroticism in this love story is only suggested. This is because Jacobson thinks that “the body is overrated”, and therefore he wants to start a movement against people writing about sex. “Sex makes words look foolish, words make sex look absurd,” he said. Jacobson felt that the shame and humiliation a novelist experiences can be an asset. “Embrace your shame and write about it,” was his advice to the audience.
A session on memoirs opened up a treasure trove of backstories. Nicholas Coleridge, former editorial director of Condé Nast Britain, had the audience in splits when he recalled Princess Diana asking him at a lunch, “Nicholas, please be frank, I want to know your real view. Are my breasts too small, do you think?” “Your Royal Highness,” he responded, “they seem, umm, perfect to me.” He drew a crucial distinction – “A memoir is what you remember, otherwise it is an autobiography!”
Talking more about memoirs, the English broadcaster and author of My Name Is Why, Lemn Sissay, spoke with emotion about his life as a foster child, the meaning of his name and the sources he used to write his own memoir. He said his book recounted the trauma that his mother went through. “It’s really not my story,” he said. A journalist known for her accounts of life in war-zones, Åsne Seierstad, said that to work on American history of the last 100 years, she had had to look at the changes the US faced and wished for her source to be personal and family stories. So, she began to look at her personal letters, the letters of her grandfather. Avi Shlaim talked about his book Three Worlds: Memoir of an Arab Jew and spoke with intensity about his identity as an Arab-Jew and his life-experiences in Baghdad, Israel and London. His main source of information was his 96-year-old mother.
Lisa Ray, India’s first supermodel, actor, mother of twins through surrogacy and a cancer survivor, spoke to ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival producer and Managing Director of Teamwork Arts, Sanjoy K. Roy about her riveting life story and memoir, Close to the Bone, a deeply moving account of her healing and spiritual quest. She spoke about how identity to her was tectonic and rooted in movement, embodied by her own peripatetic life.
In the session “Winners Take it All” Anand Giridharadas said “rich people are making a killing in a way that is strangulating democracy”, and this rendered their claims of benevolence invalid. Giridharadas went on to say said that “they do just enough good to preserve a system that does harm on a much larger scale”. This system, he said is “the old trickle-down economics with whipped cream and a cherry on top”. Thus, according to him, we are looking at a systematic problem and we need to ask ourselves, “Should we even have billionaires?” He claimed that “every billionaire is a policy failure”. Their wealth could finance a lot of services that people in democratic countries are entitled to, but are not getting.
The day ended with the announcement of the prestigious Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize, a first of its kind award for brilliance in book design and an attempt by the iconic bookstore to recognise and encourage the work of gifted illustrators, designers and publishers throughout India. The winner of the fifth edition of the award announced at Jaipur BookMark was well-known graphic designer Sneha Pamneja who was felicitated with a trophy and a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh by jurors Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Namita Gokhale and Shobhaa De, amidst a gathering of designers, publishers and book-lovers. The announcement was followed by a cocktail reception hosted by Oxford Bookstore honouring the winner.