India is vast! Vast in space, vast in population, vast in culture, vast in change, it is just vast. It is a country where cultures meet. Their own! From ethnic groups which pride themselves on their ancient traditions, still living as their ancestors had, still speaking their native tongue of generations back. Dressing in traditional dress to the urban middle classes who speak mainly English (with a smattering of Hindi thrown in), dress in western style clothes of jeans, leather boots and stylish shawls talking on their up-to-date smart phones. Is it a case of where cultures collide or are they completely compatible?
The India that I know and am familiar with is one of village life. Being surrounded by wheat and rice fields, locals are busy tending to their crops and their cows/buffalos constantly. It’s a simple life as most would know it and their dress relatively simple unless it is for a wedding. No overt stress of being caught in traffic jams on the way to work to worry about. Just the need to find enough grass to feed the cows so they can sell the milk locally to earn a few more rupees.
So stepping out of village life and onto a fast Indian train bound for Jaipur recently was rude awakening. I was heading to the Jaipur Literature Festival. No village life far away from this modern event. Women, and lots of them, urbane, all with smart short haircuts wearing designer clothes, speaking in English and of course talking on their smart phones was where it was at. Where was the familiar of Hindi speaking, village women, with a long black plat, in their colourful Kutta pajamas (a long blouse over baggy trousers) with their dupatas draped around their shoulders as they work?
India has a significant middle class population – a mere 31.4 million middle class households (160 million individuals) and expected to grow around 267 million within 5 years. According to the Economic Times, the growth in the number of middle class households will translate into huge demand for the products such as cars, televisions, computers, air-conditioners, microwave ovens and credit cards…and books.
Stepping out of Jaipur station with these chic, urbane woman was like stepping out in Oxford Street London with chauffeurs and cars waiting for them . The woman I had been sitting next to offered me ride in her car and driver as I lent her IR200 (equivalent $4) to pay the porter to carry her bags at Delhi. She was late and had no change, so hence I also got to ride in one of the fancy cars waiting for at the station to zoomed towards The Greatest Show on Earth (as widely quoted by Tina Brown).
The Jaipur Literature Festival has been going for many years, since 2005 we are told. It is held each year in January at the famous Diggi Palace, a family owned haveli (a traditional royal, heritage Palace) that doubles now as a hotel.
There are 1 hour sessions each dotted around the complex under canopies. You choose the session that interests you . Some of the sessions have a single author complete with a moderator and others are panel discussions on a topic that was advertised. Some of the titles were unusual – I might add. One in particular had “Selfie: The Art of Memoir”. Lots of young people there hoping to get advice on the perfect shot, only to find it was about memoir writing.
words-wonders002The range of topics were as vast as India as well as popular local and international writers. From it’s political scene to historical accounts of it’s coloured past to more personal accounts of writing memoirs the festival had a big agenda. It boldly set out to show for all those how turned up.
As for me, I loved the Greatest Show on Earth and all it had to offer, roll on January 2016. I travelled courtesy of Ekno Experience, a local travel company based in Brisbane, www.eknoexperience.com. The tour to the festival in 2016 will accompanied by Janet Thomas, an author from the USA http://www.daybreaksoverdharamsala.com/ is about her travel writing in India and she will be conducting workshops during the festival.