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The promise that winter brings

Saket Suman |

The onset of winter is gradually beginning to cast its spell in the Capital and the mercury levels will soon drop drastically. Shakespeare lived in a classical setting, where his characters found "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything" as their lives were "exempt(ed) from public haunt". But it is not a luxury that city dwellers can afford in contemporary times. For most of us, the hustle and bustle of our metropolitan life is marked by constant honking, crowded Metro rides, late to bed-early to rise-and-rush to office saga, the pomp and gaiety of shopping malls, and all of this with few companions to count on. If the drooping faces of your colleagues slow your spirits, the concrete jungle amidst which we live steal the space and setting for contemplation. Ever wondered what we miss? The sight of the gentle rain kissing the shores of a river, listening to the conversations of the trees, reading the books of the running brooks or hearing the sermons in the stones, like the "Bard of Avon" did, are absent from our metropolitan lives.

But then there is hope, rising towards the end of every January, when the country is enveloped in a thick shroud of fog, as people from around the globe come in quest of all those missed conversations, readings, debates and above all, a celebration of literature. Every winter brings with it this extraordinary promise of an almost spectral annual phenomenon that witnesses the descent of some of the world’s best-known literatis and heavyweight writers for five days of discussions and debates at the beautiful Diggi Palace during the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).

The ninth edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival is scheduled to take place from 21-25 January and will witness leading authors of our times coming together in a global celebration of literature. Headline names set to appear at the festival this year include the legendary Margaret Atwood, poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist, even as her new novel, The Heart Goes Last is appreciated by her many fans around the world; Ruskin Bond, beloved to generations of Indian readers; Steve McCurry, one of the world’s greatest living photographers; controversial Harvard historian Niall Ferguson; and Britain’s national treasure Stephen Fry.

French economist and global voice on wealth and income inequality Thomas Piketty, Bosnian American fiction writer Aleksandar Hemon, Israeli author and peace activist David Grossman, and India’s most celebrated psychoanalyst and author Sudhir Kakar will also take centre-stage alongside some of India’s leading  writers, including prominent Hindi poet and author Uday Prakash, Sahitya Akademi Awardees in the world of Assamese literature Rita Chowdhury and Dhrubajyoti Bora, as well as prominent Gujarati poet and scholar Sitanshu Yashaschandra among others.

The 2016 edition of the festival is said to embrace and explore globally-vital issues such as migration, privacy and navigating change, bringing together a range of expertise and perspectives on stage throughout the five days. Sources told The Statesman that the debate around "rising intolerance and threat to free speech" may also be touched indirectly in several sessions. Homi Bhabha from the Mahindra Humanities Centre is curating a strand of sessions around the theme of privacy in the contemporary world, where Frontline reporters will discuss conflict and its effect on the modern world with American reporter Dexter Filkins, English foreign correspondent Christina Lamb and CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen. Science communicator, children’s author, journalist and novelist Lucy Hawking will speak of her extraordinary journey in transmitting the awe, wonder, and understanding of our universe to young readers.

Leading Indian writers include Mridula Sinha, Alka Saraogi, Ashok Vajpeyi, Yatindra Mishra, Prabhat Ranjan, Harish Trivedi and Mridul Kirti in Hindi, Anita Agnihotri in Bangla, Vivek Shanbhag in Kannada, Ila Arab Mehta in Gujarati, Madhav Hada in Rajasthani, Makarand Sathe in Marathi, Sahil Maqbool in Kashmiri and many others, including the Santhali publisher Ruby Hembrom.

To celebrate and promote the expressive art of poetry, this edition of JLF recently announced the first edition of the Kanhaiyalal Sethia Award for Poetry. In association with KL Sethia Foundation, the award is established in memory of Mahakavi Kanhaiyalal Sethia. In addition to a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh, the winner will also receive the opportunity to share the stage with literary heavyweights during the festival.

The return of its popular Annual Writing Competition is another focus for young aspiring writers. In its second year, the Annual Writing Competition offers bloggers and those fired up about literature a chance to inspire audiences through their words on the Festival’s official blog, which receives more than five lakh hits during the festival. The ten winners of the competition are offered the incredible opportunity to join the festival as part of its official blogging team. They also have the chance to meet and learn from over 250 celebrated authors appearing at the festival. The successful entrants are provided with training in the art of blogging and receive a bursary to cover domestic travel, accommodation and meals. To apply, applicants must submit book reviews, short stories, literary articles or creative responses of 1,000 words, or 50 lines of poetry on any of the festival’s past or upcoming authors and their works. The competition is open for applicants above the age of 18 and the last date for submitting entries are till 15 December 2015.

Jaipur is not far and winter is no longer a lifeless season when all you can do is wrap yourself up in warm quilts and spend hours after hours watching the mundane daily soaps. Witness a change this winter and visit the festival scheduled to take place on 21-25 January.