William Dalrymple’s notebook: How I lured Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Franzen to Jaipur


william_dalrympleIn 2004, ten days after I moved my family to a new life in India, I gave a reading at a small palace on the edge of the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur. Fourteen people turned up, of whom ten were Japanese tourists who had got lost. The next year, I helped organise a modest literary programme of 18 authors. Two failed to arrive, but with the aid of my co-director, Namita Gokhale, we gathered a respectable audience of nearly 100. Eight years later, however, by some strange yogic sleight of hand, the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival has shape-shifted into the largest free litfest in the world and the largest literary event in the entire Asia-Pacific region.

I still have no office, or assistant, or even a visiting card, but the festival is now a major operation, and my amazing colleagues who look after our production have to wrestle with staggering logistics: in the course of last week they cooked some 14,700 hot meals, booked 1,800 hotel nights for 240 participants, sold 10,000 books and hosted 75,000 people a day, adding up to around a quarter of a million punters in all. And that’s not counting the evening music programme which gathered similar-sized crowds.

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