Jaipur-on-Thames: Britain Enjoys a Very Indian Summer

Aditi Khanna/London
Jaipur-on-Thames: Britain Enjoys a Very Indian Summer
Courtesy: Twitter

Temperatures may not have soared quite as much as expected in Britain but the country is enjoying a very Indian summer this year nonetheless.

The Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) travelled from the havelis of Rajasthan to the banks of the River Thames this weekend as part of a 'Jaipur-on-Thames' theme for the annual Alchemy Festival in London.

The line-up included Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, who marked the 50th anniversary of his masterpiece A House for Mr Biswas yesterday. This is the festival's second London outing and is set to become a regular fixture in the city's annual calendar.

"In eight years the Jaipur Literature Festival has grown from 14 lost tourists to a quarter of a million people and it's now the biggest free festival of literature in the world," said William Dalrymple, author and co-director of the JLF.

"We are excited to bring back its energy and colour to the Southbank Centre: our Jaipur-on-Thames," said Dalrymple who also participated in a lively panel on the violent history of the Kohinoor diamond alongside Shrabani Basu, author of Victoria and Abdul, and Anita Anand, author of Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary.

Besides the literary festival, Alchemy also plays host to a range of programmes from the Indian subcontinent at Southbank Centre in London including sold-out performances by table maestro Zakir Hussain and Bollywood vocalist Shreya Ghoshal.

A performance of the play Nirbhaya, written and directed by Yael Farber and investigating gender-based violence following the tragic events of the 2012 Delhi bus rape, and installations such as Narrative Geometries by Delhi-based Siddhartha Das Studio tracking India's rich visual storytelling traditions are some other highlights.

"Alchemy, now in its sixth year, continues to broaden the scope of its offering, not only in the wealth and diversity of cultural activities, performance, debate and learning, but in the new touring programme launched this year," said Jude Kelly, artistic director of Southbank Centre.

"We have a responsibility to tell these stories, whilst celebrating our cultural connections, and the legacy and vitality of all this region has to offer," Kelly added.

Alchemy coincides with the Asia House Literary Festival, which plays host to Indian literary stars like Amitav Ghosh for the launch his new book Flood of Fire and sessions on India's storytelling tradition as part of its broader South Asia wide programme.

Asia House festival manager Jemimah Steinfeld described 2015 as the London-based cultural centre's "most diverse festivals to date".

"The programme invites attendees to really think about the world around them and how it is being shaped in the here and now," she said.

The more serious literary programmes aside, there is also a rather blatant attempt to cash in on Bollywood's growing popularity in the UK with a brand new musical titled Beyond Bollywood.

This high-octane song-and-dance extravaganza, which has music by Bollywood duo Salim-Sulaiman and is directed by choreographer Rajeev Goswami, opened in the heart of London's West End theatre district recently to mixed reviews.

It throws the spotlight on some of India's more traditional folk traditions and attempts to take Western audiences beyond Bollywood.

With a central theme song of Namaste India, this new musical may just strike the right chord with the scores of Indian tourists who descend upon London during the peak tourist season but is unlikely to get an extension beyond its June 27 closing date.

However, something that will serve as a more open-ended tourist attraction is a variety of commemorative events for one of the world's most famous playwrights, William Shakespeare, in the lead up to his 400th death anniversary in April 2016.

Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, around 100 miles north of London, is undergoing a makeover to create a new heritage landmark around the town he was born and grew up in. A particular point of interest for Indians would be the statue of India's own great poet and writer Rabindranath Tagore in the backyard of his birthplace.

"We get a lot of Indian tourists who visit the Tagore statue but also to walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare. This year we are expecting an even higher number in line with the 400th anniversary commemorations," said a spokesperson for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

There is another rather unique India connection to be found in Shakespeare's old classroom at King Edward VI School, which records the assassination of Ralf Reynolds Garlick in 1931 – the first head boy of the school who went on to serve as a sessions judge in Bengal during the British Raj.
 

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