Nobel laureate ‘overwhelmed’ at public event to celebrate A House for Mr Biswas: The Guardian

NaipaulWill he or won’t he? The question that has hung over the lead-up up to the eighth Jaipur literature festival was answered on its opening day when a frail VS Naipaul was wheeled on to the open air stage for his first public reunion in 19 years with Paul Theroux.

Festival directors William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale set the scene by programming a celebration of Naipaul’s name-making 1961 novel, A House for Mr Biswas. It was, said Theroux, “the foundation of Naipaul’s genius” – a novel without precedent, about a little man from Trinidad with big dreams. He recalled discovering it in 1966. “It’s one of the finest books I’ve ever read. I used to go home every night and read five to 10 pages.” 

As Dalrymple changes his mind on Rajiv Malhotra, JLF attendees must take on Dinanath Batra and the threat to books in India, says Hartosh Singh Bal

william_dalrympleThe Jaipur Literature Festival, or to give it its rightful name this year, the ZEE-Jaipur Literature Festival, has, like every other year, attracted a number of well-known authors. But this year in India is not like any other year. We have a new government in place, and the change from one dispensation to another is reflected in the festival as Tarun Tejpal gives way to Tarun Vijay.

Of course it is not incumbent upon the festival to reflect on this change; politics need not be the stuff of literature. But over the past year, a man named Dinanath Batra—who has the full endorsement of the current dispensation—has had considerable success in ensuring that publishers think more than twice about publishing anything that may annoy the Sangh Parivar, which is but a name for the vast amorphous machinery of Hindutva ideologues that drives the BJP. So even if politics does not concern the festival, its impact on literature should.  

William Dalrymple on the overlooked empire that created one of the great cities

Standing amid the arcaded pavilions of the Topkapi Palace, looking down the wooded promontory of Sarayburnu with Asia to your right and Europe to your left, it is easy to see why Istanbul was always going to be one of the world’s greatest cities, and the natural capital for an empire that straddled three continents.

william_dalrympleAround 1600, a dramatic shift took place in Mughal art. The Mughal emperors of India were the most powerful monarchs of their day—at the beginning of the seventeenth century, they ruled over a hundred million subjects, five times the number administered by their only rivals, the Ottomans. Much of the painting that took place in the ateliers of the first Mughal emperors was effectively dynastic propaganda, and gloried in the Mughals’ pomp and prestige. Illustrated copies were produced of the diaries of Babur, the conqueror who first brought the Muslim dynasty of the Mughal emperors to India in 1526, as well as exquisite paintings illustrating every significant episode in the biography of his grandson, Akbar.

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.