Only words... and far away
A local newspaper in Jaipur interviewed some of the bright young things thronging the packed central square at the event venue. “Festival dressing is the in thing,” exclaims Juhi, a final year B.Com student at a city college. “Everyone wants to look cool and fashionable and so do I. After all, here are people from across the globe...”
Sanjana, another college student says, “I bought a variety of colourful hats so I could look hobo-chic!” Nisha, another young visitor says, “This festival is an excuse to show off trendy outfits. This year I bought long boots and jackets. A lot of my friends also went shopping especially for the festival.”
Let the last word on this come from Rakshanda, a marketing professional. “Last year, I bumped into a fashion blogger profiling people, who were fashionably dressed. This time, I thought I might get lucky and get featured, so I decided to wear ethnic fashion throughout the festival, with junk jewellery to complement my look.”
The festival all these pretty young things were dressing up for was JLF as the Jaipur Literature Festival is generally called, and any connection between Juhi, Sanjana, Nisha, Rakshanda and things literary is purely coincidental.
JLF claims to be the world’s biggest free festival, and judging by the large number of people taking selfies one bumped into in trying to move from one crowded venue to another, there is no doubt that it is. But has a stage come in its 10th year when JLF has become — and is there such a thing — too successful for its own good?

Just read this: “The city police have deployed special armed commandos at JLF,” says a report in the local edition of the country’s biggest newspaper. The police commissioner is quoted saying, “We have been working on security arrangements for the past one month. We have positioned our QRT (Quick Reaction Team) at the venue, armed with state-of-the- art weapons to neutralise hostage situations.... They are trained to vacate an area in times of crisis and they can operate multiple assault weapons and take on long distance targets. We have many policemen at the venue in civilian clothes too.”
Inside the Diggi Palace tents, the assaults taking place on the stage are more genteel, and the state-of- the-art weapons are words, rapidly fired from some of the world’s best literary mouths. Gulzar speaks of being overwhelmed to be invited as an Honoured Guest, and being asked to sit in the high chair where his feet can’t touch the ground. To be a writer, he says, your feet need to get dirty, a statement which startles the cop in civvies next to me, who only notices the poet’s spotless white clothes.
The other guest of honour, the American performance poet Anne Waldman, sings her Anthropocene Blues in a deep, gravelly voice, the nearest thing we get to assault at the JLF tents as she tears into Donald Trump, the man, who was to become her President the next day.
That five letter word dominates Jaipur Literature Festival, as it will no doubt dominate our consciousness in the days (and years) to come. In a sense, Trump exemplifies the futility of words, the futility of the work of the Nobel, the Pulitzer, the Booker Prize winners whose books give us so much pleasure, and whose words, we assume, influence so many minds. In the face of Trumpism and all that it represents, their noble words just do not seem enough.
But when you think about it, it’s only words, words are all we have to take us far away.