Written by Felix Pal
Are you interested in Indian literature? Do you want to engage with some of the best Indian and international writers and intellectuals? Would you like the to chance to hear speakers like the Dalai Lama and Germaine Greer? Then, India is sure to have a literature festival for you. To get you started, here is Asia Options’ review of India’s five best literature festivals and how you can get involved.
The Indian literary scene has a lot to be proud of. With a written tradition over three and a half thousand years old, India and South Asia have always been a major player in global production of the written word. From Vedic manuscripts to Urdu poetry, from the soaring prose of Salman Rushdie to the prosaic contemplativeness of R.K Narayan and the intricacies of Arundhati Roy.
Today, India has one of the most diverse literary scenes in the world. With India’s rapid growth, writers are engaging with and telling stories about some of the most compelling social and economic issues of our time. If you want to engage with these issues and stories, taking part in one of India’s many literature festivals is a must do.
Zee Jaipur Literature Festival
The Zee Jaipur Literature Festival is the holy grail of literature festivals. It is the world’s largest free literature festival and is possibly also the world’s most famous. It is held each year in January at the spectacular Diggi Palace, Jaipur.
Every year the crowds get bigger, the speaker’s list gets longer and more illustrious, and the opportunities to access unique events increase. Past speakers have included Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama and Hanif Kureishi. Organised by author Namita Gokhale, historian William Dalrymple and the internationally renowned Teamwork, Jaipur Literature Festival is not only your entry point to the South Asian literary scene but also an opportunity to interact with the global literati.
The entire event is completely FREE and open to the public. For additional access to delegate lunches and dinner you can also register as a delegate at a small fee. Check out the festival’s easy to use program app too.
The festival takes a number of volunteers each year. There is an application and interview process, followed by training, if you are accepted. Check the volunteer page around August the year before. Unfortunately, there is no remuneration, just the fantastic opportunity to engage more closely with one of the world best literary festivals. Due to the large number of applicants and the emphasis of the festival on connecting with the city and region, the festival preferences local volunteers from Jaipur.
The next Jaipur Literature Festival is from the 19th-23rd January 2017.
Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival
The Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival does not pull the same crowds as the Jaipur Literature Festival but wears its lower profile as a badge of honour. Held at the start of each year in Kolkata – often regarded as the cultural, intellectual and cultural capital of India – it finds itself part of the same rich Bengali literary tradition which nurtured literary giants such as Rabindranath Tagore.
Scattered throughout a number of Kolkata’s most iconic heritage buildings such as the Indian Museum, the Town Hall and the charming and intimate Oxford Bookstore, the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival has a particular focus on up and coming Indian authors and poets. The festival provides outsiders with a rich glimpse into Indian and Bengali intellectual culture. Past speakers have included distinguished poet and novelist Anjum Hasan, influential philosopher Ashis Nandy, poet Ben Okri and Australian culinary celebrity Christine Mansfield.
If hopping between Raj era heritage buildings from book openings, to poetry slams, to experimental theatre to cooking demonstration appeals, the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival is for you.
The Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival accepts volunteers. You can apply by sending an expression of interest along with your resume and why you want to volunteer via email. When taking volunteers, the festival significantly prioritises those with a knowledge of Bengali and a familiarity with Kolkata. However applications are open to everyone and efforts are made to find everyone a role.
Follow the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival Facebook page to get the latest festival news. The next festival runs from the 15th to the 18th January 2017.
Hyderabad Literary Festival
Started in 2010 with a focus on accessibility, the Hyderabad Literary Festival has had from its inception a progressive frame of mind. The festival is held around January each year, and is FREE and open to the public, with special access provided for people with disabilities. The Hyderabad Literary Festival emphasises the importance of spreading the benefits of literary engagement as broadly as possible.
Every year the festival invites authors and artists from around India and the globe. Highlights of the festival are the annual ‘Guest Nation’ and ‘Indian Language’ focus, which in 2016 featured Singapore and Marathi respectively. It included poetry readings, book launches and symposiums from a the guest nation or language in focus.
Previous speakers have included Javed Akhtar giving lectures on Urdu poetry and Mahesh Bhatt on an open panel talking about Indian social cohesion. Held in the City of Pearls, you will have an opportunity to visit Hyderabad’s famous monuments, pearl markets and sample its inimitable biryani.
If you would like to get involved, the Hyderabad Literary Festival happily accepts volunteers. It has a streamlined online application process where you can describe the work you would be able to offer. This process allows a certain flexibility and makes sure all volunteers are doing jobs they want to be doing.
Usually held in January, the dates for 2017 have yet to be announced. Find out more here.
The Jashn-e-Rekhta is an entire festival devoted to the whimsy and poetry of the Urdu language. Held in Delhi each year, it is one of India’s largest and youngest vernacular language festivals.
It is comprehensive in its programmes and has panel discussions, qawwali performances, poetry readings and even a food festival. Started in 2015 JeR debuted at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) and attracted over 15,000 attendees from across the subcontinent. The lists of speakers and performers are formidable. The 2016 program, for example, included luminaries such as the Sabri Brothers and Syeda Hameed.
Jashn-e-Rekhta has been held in February since 2015 but dates are yet to be announced for 2017. To register for a pass for 2017, visit the Jashn-e-Rekhta website.
Every year there is a call for volunteers on Jashn-e-Rekhta’s Facebook page. It asks you to email your resume to be considered for an interview. The selection panel will create a shortlist of applicants who will be interviewed by the organising team and assigned to the most appropriate role.
Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest
Perhaps one of the most well organised literature festivals in India, Tata Literature Live! attracts big name drawcards like Barkha Dutt, Germaine Greer, Devdutt Pattanaik and Vikram Seth on its many panels and lecture schedules. Tata Literature Live! is notable for its incredibly wide scope. In one festival you will have events on poetry, panels on the implications of war for literature, horror genre literature and workshops on children’s writing.
Usually held in November each year at Mumbai’s famous Prithvi Theatre in Juhu, you will be a stone’s throw from one of Mumbai’s most glamorous and cosmopolitan areas.
The next festival will be held from the 17th-20th November 2016. You can stay up-to-date with the latest festival news via the Tata Literature Live! Facebook page.
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