How I instantly got blown away at the Jaipur Literature Festival

As soon as I set a foot onto the grounds of Diggi Palace, I was blown away. Before I could even hear an author reading or a dialogue enfolding or a panel discussing, I received a call from one of the media people of the Jaipur Literature Festival. If I want to have an interview with Lakshmi Holmström in ten minutes. Yes!, I exclaimed.

On the press terrasse, overlooking the huge Front Lawn with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people sitting in front of the main stage, I met the Indian-born writer who now lives in Great Britain. Her most prominent work are translations of tamil fiction into English and editing stories of Indian women, among them Dalits and others “who are not privileged” and who otherwise might not get heard.

Immediately I brought up the heineous gang-rape in Delhi that moved India and asked about women’s writing about rapes. Interestingly Holmström talked about how men depict rape in literature: They often describe the affected women as victims and portray their lifes as destroyed afterwards, she said. Whereas women authers “have written very sensitively about it”.

These voices had been around all the time, Holmström explained. Rape wasn’t considered a taboo in literature. But now they grow stronger. And women don’t want to be victimesed and blamed anymore. Plus: In the last decades, it was only a small percentage of women had the possibility to write. They cleard the path. “And now you hear other voices from less privileged backgrounds, who are proud to speak up.”

Malashri Lal, Sharmila Tagore and Aruna Chakravarti (from left to right)

Malashri Lal, Sharmila Tagore and Aruna Chakravarti (from left to right)

After the inspiring beginning I made my way to the Baithak room, where Bollywood star Sharmila Tagore spoke about her grandmother who got married when she was only five years old and had her first child at the age of 12 or 13. “But we have to keep in mind what times she lived in,” Tagore demanded. “We have progressed.” Ever generation went a step forward and that is the reason why we are now here where we are, she reminded the audience.

audience in Baithak

The panel “Sex and Sensibilty: Women in Cinema” debated about Bollywood’s role in the perception of women’s roles in India today.  “The problem starts with our inability to differentiate what is film and what is reality,” lyricist and screenwriter Prasoon Joshi said. He was annoyed by the fact that many children dance Bollywood songs at weddings without listening to the lines. “Item numbers should be stopped,” he said.

Actress Shabana Azmi shared the story of how she once played the role of  strong woman who leaves her husband. After the first screening a lot of woman came to the front door of her private house. “But not as fans to get an autograph, but as women who expected me to solve their marriage problems,” she exclaimed.

Shabana Azmi is annoyed that many movies present the women’s body to the male gaze. Nowadays many filmmakers use a voyeuristic camera work and sexy songs. “It is fine that women celebrate their body, but now we have commodification of a body.” Women actors should say: Beautify us, but don’t commodify us.

And Prashon Joshi disliked that fact that Indians honour motherhood that much. “This way we get rid of her personality as soon as possible”, he said. “I have a problem if a women is defined only by her giving birth to children.” Women have to be worth something as themselves, not only as roles, as wifes and daughters and mothers, he demanded.

“We as the film industry are not only monitoring society, we are also shaping society,” Josi said. Azmi concured with him. “We have to have an understanding that we are all accountable.” So movies should depict a man who has ying and yang. Only the two together make a loving person. “Even a strong man needs a female side,” she said.

audience in Char Bagh

Another interview I was able to conduct was with Anjum Hasan, an Indian poet and novelist. Depressingly she said that Indian society as a whole is not yet ready for the escape of women from their traditional roles. Women for example in Bengal tried this for 150 years, but didn’t succeed.

National film awards winner Sharmila Tagore confirmed that at the “Evening with Sharmila Tagore”. “The only passport to life was marriage,” she said. The whole film industrie still has a patriarchal image. This is also true for advertising: Men are selling motorcycles whereas women are selling wahsing mashines – not the other way round.

Also a vital part in Jaipur: The inspiring discussions with the audience

Also a vital part in Jaipur: The inspiring discussions with the audience



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