This year’s Jaipur Literary Festival was as large as ever. Meaning: it was the largest-ever gathering of people from all around the world to discuss books, current affairs, and politics (because Indian literary festivals are never free of that.)

And, while I haven’t written a summary of my favorite panels like last year (read JLF 2018) I was invited to participate in two events. One was on literary translation and the other was on literary criticism. A few details follow.

1/ Found in Translation:

The first was a translation roundtable at the Jaipur BookMark (JBM) event that has run alongside JLF for six years now. The aim of JBM is as follows:

Jaipur BookMark (JBM) brings together stakeholders of the book trade from across the world – publishers, literary agents, writers, translators, translation agencies and book sellers. It gives them an opportunity not just to ‘’talk business” through relevant sessions and focused roundtables but also provides the right and fruitful atmosphere to inspire conversations and a space for one-on-one meetings and networking. This intimacy forges relationships and allows the occasional contract to be signed too.

In this session, we had translators from Europe, the UK, the US, and India discussing the non-translation aspects of literary translation. Meaning, we discussed how we can work together better as communities within our regions, what kinds of support government organizations are providing or can provide, and a lot more.

There’s no video of the session as far as I know. But there was a terrific keynote by the award-winning French-to-English translator, Ros Schwartz. Here are the three key takeaways Ros ended with:

  1. Collaboration and dialogue;
  2. Translators as active partners;
  3. Creating a committed community of proactive and visible professional translators and developing translator training results in higher quality literature in translation, an increased appetite for translated literature, both among publishers (increased sales) and the reading public (greater enjoyment, increased demand)

I have just one key takeaway:

Literary translator communities in Europe and the UK are way ahead of those in South Asian regions in terms of how they collaborate and support each other — both individually and institutionally.

Though there is work being done in India too, it’s all too fragmented and not as impactful. This is one of the biggest reasons I had proposed and begun the groundwork for a Writers and Translators Association in India late last year.

Sadly, after the initial flurries of excitement from a few writers (and a resounding silence from all the high-profile ones), everything died down. I might try to drum up interest again shortly but it’s simply too much work to rouse people to even speak out and openly join in. And this kind of literary activism is certainly not a one-person task.

2/ Critical Thinking and Book Reviewing

This session was a stand-by and, when a key panel guest could not make it due to illness, we took his spot.

We included: Alexander McCall Smith, Navtej Sarna, Somak Ghoshal, and yours truly. It was moderated by Jaya Bhattacharji-Rose.

Surprisingly, for a session that was announced less than 24 hours before taking place, we had a sizable audience. Further, it was actually during the usual lunch break time. We also had good audience engagement at the end with relevant, interesting questions. I was, at this point of the festival, already suffering from a bad flu bout but people tell me it doesn’t show.

There’s a video of this panel below. I hope JLF has more sessions because, as I say during the early part of the discussion: literary criticism is a form of literature in itself and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

Overall, as I’ve always said about literary festivals such as these, I come away feeling generally inspired. Actually participating in sessions where I got to talk about two forms of literature I love was even more energizing.

That said, I got some first-hand experienced the literary class system for the first time. Not from my fellow panelists in the two sessions mentioned above but from writers in the Authors’ Lounge and the publisher events. I’m still processing that and will write about it separately, perhaps, some time.

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