24 February, 2019

Experiencing JLF 2019

I am a Bengali. Born and raised (mostly) in Kolkata. AND I am a bookworm. 

Needless to say, I grew up attending Kolkata Book Fair on a yearly basis. In those days, when it used to be hosted at Maidan, Kolkata Book Fair used to be the largest non-trade book fair in the world. Starting on the last Wednesday of January, it would last for a fortnight and every year a new attendance record would be registered. It was an experience that is beyond words and one had to experience it for oneself in order to get the true essence of it. It lost part of its charm, for me, when it was shifted from Maidan to other venues and the last I time I attended KBF was in 2007. Ever since, I have felt like I am missing something even though I have attended multitude of other book fairs and events.

Being at Jaipur Literature Festival this year gave me back a piece of the missing part!

Here’s what you will find out if you ask around or Google JLF
-          It is the biggest literary festival in India
-          It takes place at Diggi Palace, Jaipur
-          Who's who of the literary world attend this event
-          It is free to attend (provided you register in advance)
-          Live music, art, local cuisine are added attractions

But what Google cannot tell you is the experience that one can have there, especially if you are a bookworm.

The first thing that I really noticed about JLF is the fact that it was beautifully managed.  There were five events happening at five different venue/stages within Diggi Palace at any given point of time and yet, each event started exactly on time. If you have attended literary fests in India before, you know that none of the events/panels/talks ever start on time. But at JLF you could practically set your watch by it. I also liked how they had set up separate book signing tents at each venue to be able to make things easy not only on the organizers and authors, but also for the bookworms. I for one, have managed to get an early spot on the queue by queuing up about 15 minutes early and since the tent was just nearby, I could still hear the discussion happening on the stage loud and clear.

(Lord Jeffrey Archer at the Press Conference at JLF 2019)

The second thing that impressed me was the friendliness and the ready to help attitude of all the volunteers. I have walked up to them umpteen number of times asking for the schedule or directions and each time they have helped me with a smile. If you happen to approach a volunteer who is not already engaged, they actually greet you with a ‘namaste’ hand gesture and ‘how can I help you?’ This being my first time at JLF, I was a bit apprehensive about asking for directions the first time. But their attitudes really made me feel comfortable knowing that I would have a helping hand whenever I needed one.

(Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar at the Press Conference at JLF 2019)

I feel the need to mention about an incident here mainly because there were grumbles about mismanagement in the crowd once. I left the Markus Zusak event 15 minutes early hoping to get an early start on the book signing queue to find about a hundred people already lined up. Over the next 15-20 minutes the crowd only grew and so you can imagine the rush in the limited space. There was a bit of confusion and a lot of pushing and pulling. In the end, volunteers and security made a sort of barrier with their bodies in front of the signing tent and let in one person to get their books signed at a time. The kind of restless and impatient generation that we belong to, I wasn’t surprised to hear comments and grumbles about mismanagement from a lot of youngsters in the crowd. But I was personally impressed with the way the organizers finally handled it. There were about 10-12 people managing the crowd and yet the co-ordination between those 10-12 volunteers was seamless. Only people who have worked hard at this will know the difficulty and understand how well it was handled.

(Manisha Koirala at the Press Conference at JLF 2019)

Apart from the Book Talks (on and off stage) JLF also offers music, art and food options at the event. I loved the fact that all those who set up shop to sell arts & crafts were either local artists or NGOs. It was a great way to showcase things that are usually in the shadows of the commercial businesses. The environment at JLF is such that even if you are not a huge bookworm, you can enjoy a day out with your friends and family.

(A.J.Finn at his event for Woman in the Window at JLF 2019)

So all in all, JLF is an event that feeds your mind and body while promoting local art and culture.


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