JLF 2021: Noam Chomsky, Mark Haddon and Priyanka Chopra Jonas to headline the event . Here’s what to expect...

We look at the highlights of the festival

Rashmi Rajagopal Published :  19th February 2021 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  19th February 2021 12:00 AM

A little over year ago, we were in Jaipur’s Diggi Palace, in the thick of all the action and excitement that the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) has come to be synonymous with. So, when we received an exclusive invite to Delhi, to be part of a pre-event, on-ground celebration of this year’s virtual edition of the literary extravaganza, it offered a reminder of simpler times, and a sliver of hope for the future.

Sanjoy K Roy, Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple at JLF 2020
Sanjoy K Roy, Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple at JLF 2020

The pandemic posed numerous challenges for the people behind the events that mark the Indian cultural calendar, but for William Dalrymple, author, historian and co-director of Jaipur Literature Festival, it has only made things easier. “In many ways, putting the festival together this year was a lot easier. We’ve been able to get speakers who we’ve never managed to bring down before,” says William, of the line-up that includes the likes of Noam Chomsky, Mark Haddon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Colm Toibin, Craig Brown, HM Naqvi and Colum McCann among others. “The list also includes two Nobel prize winners, but we’re not at liberty to reveal their names yet. I think this is our finest line-up yet,” he adds.

The festival kicks off today, and attempts to recreate the magic of Diggi Palace, the charming venue that this time of year is usually abuzz with the chatter of literary obsessives and engaging conversations between some of the world’s most celebrated novelists. For instance, the schedule includes ‘Morning Music’ a mainstay of the festival, and sessions will be held on the ‘Front Lawn’ and ‘Durbar Hall,’ which are regular fixtures. “The challenge has been to capture the essence of the Jaipur Literature Festival at Diggi Palace, with its colour, architecture, and design. We have also made an effort to shoot some episodes out in the open to provide a sense of the outdoors in a time where we are all cooped up in our homes. Links to the sessions have been shot at Diggi Palace to provide an atmosphere replete with history, built heritage, and colour,” shares Sanjoy K Roy, Managing Director, Teamwork Arts, producer of Jaipur Literature Festival.

In keeping with previous editions, the topics covered at the festival are extensive and range from literature to art, dance, science, technology, climate change, politics, nature, history, cinema, religion, food, feminism and a lot more. The inaugural address by festival co-director Namita Gokhale, Sanjoy and William will set the tone for the 10-day event. This will be followed up with sessions featuring actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who will talk about her memoir, Unfinished; politician Shashi Tharoor, who will discuss the current political trends, and dancer and survivor of female infanticide, Gulabo Sapera, who will discuss her life and learnings. 

On the home front, authors like Annie Zaidi, Avni Doshi, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Deepa Anappara, Janice Pariat, Jeet Thayil and Ira Mukhoty will take the stage to discuss their latest work across the 10 days. “The 2021 virtual festival had many of the writers from our dream list accept our invitation. Our programming team confronted logistical challenges of balancing time zones in panels that spanned different continents. We tried to break the monotony of speaking heads formats by recording creatively where we could,” explains Namita, while Sanjoy adds, “Creating a unique programme with writers and speakers who are not always accessible and covering a wide variety of themes has led to us having a blockbuster list of Nobel Laureates and Man Booker, Pulitzer, Commonwealth, European Union, JCB, and Sahitya Akademi Award winners.”

For the audience, scrambling to find good seats before the start of the sessions that they’ve circled on the programme print-out might not be an issue this year, and for the organisers, the difficulty of bringing thousands of people together in a single space is not a worry, but William shares that nothing can compare to the physical event. “We’re the only festival in India that gives equal importance to events surrounding the main festival. I will surely miss the camaraderie, the multiple parties thrown by publishers and the sheer glamour of the musical concerts held at Amer Fort,” says William, as Sanjoy gives us a peek into what to expect next year, before signing off. “The Jaipur Literature Festival will  evolve as it has over the past 13 years. We will return with the on-ground festival in 2022 with a bespoke retreat for our writers at the back of the main festival,” he concludes. 


Word, Image, Text, Ranjit Hoskote in conversation with Anupama Raju, February 19

Unfinished, Priyanka Chopra Jonas in conversation with Shobhaa De, February 19

The Edict Project: Music and Meaning for Our Times, TM Krishna in conversation with Manasi Subramaniam, February 20

One Two Three Four, The Beatles In Time, Craig Brown in conversation with Bee Rowlatt, February 21

The Tale of The Horse: A History of India on Horseback, Yashaswini Chandra in conversation with Manu S Pillai, February 21

Who Rules The World, Noam Chomsky in conversation with Sreenivasan Jain, February 21

The Art of the Novel, Annie Zaidi, Colum McCann, Colm Tóibín and Jeet Thayil in conversation with Moin Mir, February 23

The Word, Inspiration and Story: The Journey of Kevin Kwan, Kevin Kwan in conversation with Shunali Khullar Shroff, February 24

The Vaccine and the Virus - A Moving Target, Amitabh Kant, Vinod Paul and CK Mishra in conversation with Sarah Jacob, February 25

Bill Gates – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthrough We Need, Bill Gates in conversation with Alok Sharma, February 26

Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury, February 26

The Curious Incident of the Author Who Couldn’t be Categorised, Mark Haddon in conversation with Sandip Roy, February 28

February 19-28. Details: jaipurliteraturefestival.org