The Jaipur Literature Festival this year faced criticisms of overcrowding and an indiscriminate choice of sponsors. There was also at least one incident of assault. Here, the three organisers of the festival respond to the critique and discuss the festival’s future
‘Success is sometimes harder than failure,
You’ve been involved with the festival for four years now. Your thoughts on the challenges of managing an exponentially growing festival?
Success has its own problems and is sometimes much more difficult to handle than failures. The problem with crowds, for instance, includes getting people into places, starting things on time… all the logistics involved when you do something on this scale in a place like India with all of its security concerns. In a big stadium event or a big conference, you have gatekeepers either allowing or not allowing certain kinds of people in. Yet, the philosophy of this festival is to have equitable access on a first-come-first-seated basis for anybody who comes off the street.
Near the fountain area, I saw a man and his son being stopped. I walked up to them to ask them where they were heading and the man said, “I sleep on the footpath outside the hospital, and I heard you had children’s stories here. I will never be able to send my children to school. But I thought if he hears a story, it will change his life.” And immediately we had to change our thinking in terms of allowing people in. How can we be gatekeepers and say such people are not allowed?
You spoke of security concerns. There was an incident where author CP Surendran was slapped. He said in an article that it is about the elements that had been allowed entry…
I couldn’t disagree more. CP may take a high moral stand with regards to the kind of people who should be allowed in, but this incident was about him going up to a Sikh gentleman and asking for a light. This gentleman — he is an industrialist of some repute — is British and because they are a diasporic minority and are battling racism all the time, they take this kind of stuff seriously. The crowd at the festival (has been well-behaved); every session has been packed. I haven’t heard a mobile phone going off.
Did you have a chance to look at the letter about the sponsorship issues?
Oh absolutely. I’ve answered it twice or thrice. We haven’t looked at the colour of money so far and I think that we do need to be somewhat sensitive to the kind of sponsorships we raise. Having said that, we know that the festival needs money to create an equitable platform to allow access to all. (I think we are fine) as long as we aren’t stopping any criticism of any of these sponsors.