Jaipur Lit Fest set to begin today amid controversies

Jaipur:  Unfazed by objections from some quarters over the participation of certain authors, the annual Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is all set to begin today with event co-director William Dalrymple saying few fringe groups were trying to hog the limelight.

"JLF is the same as always, serious literature and then some fun. It is just some fringe groups who are trying to hog the limelight," the author of "The Last Mughal" said in Jaipur.

The festival that hogged much attention last year due to Salman Rushdie's planned visit - that ultimately did not materialise - is once again facing the ire of Muslim as well as right-wing Hindu groups.

Following recent tension between India and Pakistan over cross-border violations, many right-wing organisations have opposed the participation of Pakistani authors in the festival.

Authors from Pakistan including Mohammed Hanif, Jamil Ahmad, Fahmida Riaz and journalist Sharman Ubaid Chinoy are scheduled to make an appearance at the literary extravaganza.

Ahmad and Hanif have also been shortlisted for the 2013 DSC South Asian Literature Prize, the winner of which will be announced at the festival.

JLF is also facing opposition from Muslim organisations over the participation of authors who had read out passages from Rushdie's banned "Satanic Verses" at the event last year.

Jeet Thayil, Ruchir Joshi, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar had read out passages from "Satanic Verses" following the cancellation Rushdie's visit to the festival last year.

However, yesterday some Muslim groups softened their stand over the visit of Thayil saying they have no objection provided the act is not repeated.

Upbeat about the development, Dalrymple said people have realised that the festival should not be disrupted.

"We heard that some Muslim organisations have decided not to get in the way of the festival. Even BJP and RSS have toned down. I think people have realized that it is a great asset for Jaipur and shouldn't be disrupted," he said on the sidelines of the friendly cricket match at K L Saini ground in Jaipur.

The five-day literary extravaganza beginning at the Diggi Palace will be graced by Nobel Prize winner and Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The event will discuss through a series of sessions the influence of Buddhism on philosophy and literature and how writers view the influence of this ancient religion on their writings.

International authors like Commonwealth Prize winner Aminatta Forna, Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson, two Orange Prize winners Linda Grant and Madeline Miller will also attend the festival. Other notable names are Ahdaf Soueif, Tahar Ben Jalloun, Sebastian Faulks, Deborah Moggach and Zoe Heller.

According to the organisers, international sessions at the festival will explore Russian literature, the Jewish novel, Shakespeare, Kipling, cricket writing, the New Africa, Iran, and writing on the contemporary art scene.

"The international list at Jaipur this year is one of unprecedented depth and range, with our most cerebral and intellectually formidable group of writers yet," Dalrymple said.

The themes and session at the festival this year will focus on a wide range of topics including, The Buddha in Literature, The Republic of Ideas (a Republic Day focus on ideas of India), Re-imagining the Kama Sutra, Hindi-English Bhai Bhai, Alternative Sexualities, Lok Geet Folk Geet, Bollywood ki Nayi Sanskriti, and Bibliodiversity Dialogues, they said.

This year, about 275 authors are scheduled to make an appearance in the event.

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