Sruthi Gottipati, The New York Times: Sanjoy K. Roy's cell phone does not stop ringing.
The managing director of Teamwork Productions says he has "two-thousand" to-do items on his check list. During an interview on Tuesday, local television reporters were waiting to pounce on him for a sound bite about a controversy connected to the festival his team produces. And Roy, who sports a silver mane, barely has a second to spare.
After all, the gargantuan Jaipur Literature Festival, Asia's largest, which will host literary giants like Michael Ondaatje, Tom Stoppard and Salman Rushdie this year, is just a week away. The festival, held January 20-24, has mushroomed in just a few years from a desert gathering of writers and bookworms to a fixture on India's social calendar that draws top-shelf sponsors.
The festival's Web site describes the five-day event as the "Kumbh Mela of Indian and international writing," referring to the outpouring of pilgrims flocking in from all parts of the country during the Hindu religious festival.
By doing so, it doesn't just evoke far-flung literature lovers coalescing, it unintentionally also stirs up images of the Kumbh Mela's more lethal facet - scuffles and stampedes - wherein a grand celebration quickly turns ugly.
The Jaipur Literature Festival has, so far, mostly avoided the unsavoury aspects of large gatherings like the Kumbh Mela, or the more recent and chaotic Auto Expo. It's managed to handle meteoric growth to a large extent, regular attendees say, though some bemoan the intimacy lost with the swelling crowds.
"It's become a celebrity event," said Alka Pande, an art historian and curator, who's been a regular at the festival right from the start. "But for everyone who's wedded to the written word, it's still a feast." She's looking forward to fresh talents such as Teju Cole at the festival this year.
The annual festival drew 7,000 patrons over five days in 2008, ballooned to 60,000 last year and organizers are expecting thousands more this year. Although no one knows the precise attendance figures, organizers say they doubt it will overshoot venue Hotel Diggi Palace's capacity, which is 11,000 at any given time.
If it does "this is in India and everything is flexible. You adjust," said Mr.Roy, referring to the resilient attitude of Indians to cramped spaces.
The hotel, which was built in 1860 as a palace for the Diggi family, spreads over five acres and has six venues where sessions will take place, including the "Bank of America Mughal Tent" and the "Tata Steel Front Lawns." That's one more venue than last year, and all facilities, including areas like the press enclosure and authors lounge, have been expanded as well, Mr. Roy said. Six cafes will be open to the public and 30 restrooms.
As the festival has expanded, Mr. Roy said Teamwork has added additional manpower and security to keep order.
This year, he said, hundreds of security officers will be patrolling the sprawling palace grounds, mostly in plainclothes, and sniffer dogs will look for suspicious materials.
Whether the number of security personnel is closer to 200 or 1,000, Mr.Roy refuses to divulge. "This is stuff I can't reveal," he said, adding, "There's a huge security network in place." Some celebrity guests also bring their own security, he said.
A couple of people, from his nearly 50 Teamwork staff members and 100 or so volunteers, are coordinating with five local, state and national security agencies.
Local police officers are also tight-lipped about the festival, and would not answer questions about whether they had increased security at Diggi Palace in recent years.
"We make all the necessary security precautions," said Navdeep Singh, an additional director general of police in Jaipur. "There will be foolproof security and foolproof law and order."
The festival remains, as it started, open and free for everyone. But in an effort to streamline entry, for the first time organizers have asked people to register online before the festival this year; walk-ins will have to register at the entrance with photo identification -- all part of the vetting process Roy believes will enhance safety.
"People who haven't been cleared can't get through," he said, noting that bags will be screened at the location's six venues, all of which require registered passes with bar-codes to get in.
"The system is carefully calibrated," Mr. Roy said. The crowds leaving a venue after a session has concluded have a brisk 15 minutes to exit. "Everything you can think of in terms of safety goes into this place. It's just that we try to do it in a way that's not in your face," Mr. Roy said.
One of the reasons the festival has grown as big - and prestigious - as it has, is due to its egalitarian spirit. There's no queue-cutting, whether you're a corporate honcho, student or government minister. That means admission is on a first-come, first-serve basis. You've got the floor to sit on if you've strolled in late to a packed session, no matter who you are.
"We try to keep it as democratic and as accessible as we can." Mr. Roy said. "There's a respect for each person who walks through the door."
Mr. Roy believes that the good behaviour of the attendees, particularly those who have visited before, are a key reason it remains a success.
"They buy into the system." During a previous festival, J. M. Coetzee gave a book reading to some 3,000 people, Mr. Roy said, and not a single cellphone rang the entire time.