Jaipur Literature Festival’s grand feast of ideas returns to London

Teamwork Arts, the producer of the iconic Jaipur Literature Festival, presents the sixth edition of ZEE JLF at the British Library as it returns to the UK between Friday 14 and Sunday 16 June 2019. This annual celebration of books, creativity, dialogue and diversity brings South Asia’s unique multilingual literary heritage to life in the heart of London.


This year’s Festival features nearly 40 sessions with over 90 speakers from a range of disciplines, genres and cultures, including Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi, V&A Director and former Labour MP Tristram Hunt, Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, travel writer Pico Iyer, award-winning author and journalist Christopher de Bellaigue and acclaimed Bollywood actor Manisha Koirala.
The programme features an exciting array of conversations to look forward to, including discussions of key historical milestones. Exactly a century since the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Indian diplomat Navdeep Suri speaks about his new translation of his grandfather Nanak Singh’s Khooni Vaisakhi, an epic Punjabi poem with a scathing critique of the British Raj which was banned soon after its publication. Kim A. Wagner also marks the centenary with his new book Jallianwala Bagh: An Empire of Fear and the Making of the Amritsar Massacre, a dramatic telling of the event and its aftermath.


Explorations of emblematic historical figures range from Bashabi Fraser’s new book about the celebrated 20th-century Bengali poet, thinker, polymath and Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore to Deepa Agarwal’s portrait of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, the pioneering First Lady of Pakistan in the mid-20th century. Other historical subjects include Tristram Hunt’s exploration of the colonies’ role in the creation of the urban world, Christopher de Hamel’s examination of medieval manuscripts and the session ‘From Hieroglyphs to Emojis’ which looks at how visual representations of the written word has evolved over centuries.


Current affairs are explored in sessions such as one by Navin Chawla, author of the new book Every Vote Counts, who discusses the results of this year’s Indian elections as well as the strengths and fault-lines in the country’s democratic convictions. British-French journalist Ben Judah, author of This is London, discusses the complex social make-up of the British capital, while the city’s former mayor Ken Livingstone talks to Delhi documentary-maker Rana Dasgupta and LSE professor Mukulika Banerjee about how urban hubs can remain centres of migration and ethnic diversity despite a backdrop of deep-seated nationalism.


Among speakers representing the world of cinema is acclaimed Bollywood actor and cancer-survivor Manisha Koirala, whose autobiographical book Healed is inspiring readers far and wide affected by the illness. Also exploring the field of cinema is Jonathan Gil Harris, whose book Masala Shakespeare looks at the influence of the Bard on Indian films.


The matter of intersectionality is discussed by a panel of experts on race, class, gender and social justice, including queer theorist and desire historian Madhavi Menon, poet and novelist Meena Kandasamy  and Angela Saini, author of Superior: The Return of Race Science. In other sessions related to gender, Christina Lamb’s Our Bodies Their Battlefields explores war through the lives of women and Helena Kennedy’s Eve Was Shamed looks at how the British justice system is failing women.


Speaking on religion and spirituality are Christopher de Bellaigue, author of The Islamic Enlightenment: Faith and Reason, a revelatory and absorbing account of the modern history of the Islamic world, and Navtej Sarna, who discusses what it means to be a Sikh in the 21st century, in the context of his book about Guru Nanak.


Visual art experts on this year’s programme include Davinder Toor, founder of the Toor Collection of Sikh Art, presenting his latest book, a showcase of the artistic legacy of Punjab’s Sikh Empire, whose ruling elite lavishly commissioned a sumptuous array of artwork over the centuries. Elsewhere, award-winning critic Marina Warner presents her new anthology Forms of Enchantment: Writing on Art and Artists, while  another session explores the forgotten art masterpieces commissioned by the East India Company.


Sessions on science this year include Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society and author of Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome which unlocks the mysteries of the gene-reading molecule, one of humanity’s greatest puzzles. Leading mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, an instrumental figure in the recent ground-breaking research into the Bakhshali manuscript, discusses his new book, The Creativity Code. Other speakers from the world of science include Roger Highfield, author of the new book The Dance of Life: The New Science of How a Single Cell Becomes a Human Being, while the bond between humans and their natural environment is discussed by Prerna Bindra (The Vanishing) and Ruth Padel (Tigers in Red).


Several authors on this year’s programme explore themes of travel and cross-cultural identity such as Pico Iyer, author of the recently-out Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells, and Carlo Pizzati, author of the memoir Mappillai: An Italian Son-in-Law in India. In a session called ‘The Elephant and the Dragon’, four speakers discuss the civilisational links between the ancient cultures of India and China.