The much-awaited annual Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) began on Thursday on a low-key note as Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who was supposed to inaugurate the literary extravaganza, gave it a miss.
The 11th edition of the five-day event, that will see over 350 speakers from diverse disciplines speak and engage in stimulating discussions, kicked off at the iconic Diggi Palace amid scintillating musical and dance performances.
It was inaugurated by former Rajasthan governor Margaret Alva and British-born American essayist and novelist Pico Iyer.
Iyer, who delivered the keynote address, hailed the role of literature, particularly in the present times, when "poets are being eclipsed by novelists and novelists by multimedia devices".
"...Literature has become more indispensable than ever. In the time of travel bans, literature has become more important because it is not respectful of boundaries," he said.
Iyer went on to say that it was literature that had the power to make the world a better place, and not "wars and drone attacks".
"Our words and ideas can take us a little bit past simplicities and remind us that ultimately we can change the world by changing how we dream of it," he said.
JLF, which has now become synonymous with showcasing a range of voices from India and abroad, will represent over 15 Indian and 20 international languages this year.
Festival producer Sanjoy K Roy said knowledge and culture was the only way to transform society, and that dissent, within constitutional framework, was essential to the fabric of democracy.
"It is important to understand the importance of culture and create platforms for dissent. As long as the dissent is within the constitutional framework, it's fine... Fringe groups may not agree with the words a writer writes, or a film that a filmmaker makes or a painting that a painter makes," Roy said.
Writer and festival co-director William Dalrymple said in an era of "quick fix pleasures of Netflix", people still had appetite for serious fiction.
"What differentiates JLF from other literature festivals is that we are completely free and open to all. Anyone can walk in... For five days, we set up a mini university," he said.
Poetry will be a dominant theme at this year's JLF, as will be sessions on women-centric writings.
Author and co-director Namita Gokhale said while the festival has shown tremendous growth over the years, the organizers have made sure to maintain the spontaneity and democratic spirit that remain the hallmark of the event.
Besides the celebrations within the four walls of the Diggi Palace, special events at Amber Fort and Hawa Mahal will also be held to celebrate the rich cultural and architectural heritage of the Pink City.