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Jaipur hosts South Asia’s biggest literary festival

Today marks the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, South Asia’s largest celebration of the written word.

Co-founded six years ago by Scottish writer and historian William Dalrymple and Indian author and publisher Namita Gokhale, this year’s five-day festival featured writers and publishers of all stripes, including Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai, Junot Diaz, Henning Mankell, and J.M. Coetzee. The Jaipur festival is described as a joyous blend of celebration and business, as a piece in The Globe and Mail suggests:

As a writer there are very few festivals you go to that you really enjoy “ but this is a festival that’s festive, said the Toronto-and-Kathmandu-based writer Manjushree Thapa (Seasons of Flight). Everyone is happy to be in Jaipur, because it’s beautiful and it’s a mix you don’t find elsewhere of international writers and local ones “ it’s very cosmopolitan and also very rooted. And they don’t focus on the international at the expense of the literature from the corners of the world.

There is no segregation of writers, publishers and public and that makes for a very fluid kind of experience, said the British-Indian novelist Rana Dasgupta, winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Solo. He found himself chatting with the Indian tycoon Nandini Nilekani (Imagining India) at the festival two years ago. In such a hierarchical society, where access to people is so controlled, it seemed so miraculous that you could walk in on Nandan Nilekani having his lunch, when he is at the very heart of the transformations of this country. The fact that a person like that doesn’t need to hide “ the festival brings that openness in those who come.

The festival is held in a palace outside the walled city, and the events are free to the public.

Nearly 30,000 people visited the festival last year “ up from 12,000 in 2009. If India’s non-academic English book market continues to grow at about 18 per cent a year, compared to 2 per cent in North America, as the Globe claims, that number is likely to double again in the next few years.