British poet Ruth Padel’s spellbinding poetry complemented Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan’s stimulating talk on science at the Diggi Palace here on Thursday as the curtains went up on the annual Jaipur Literature Festival. The 12th edition of the five-day festival, billed as the largest free literary event in the world, will host over 350 speakers including authors, scholars, actors, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders and sports persons from across India and the world.
Among a galaxy of literary stars set to speak at this year’s event are Booker Prize-winning Nigerian writer Ben Okri and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Andrew Sean Greer and Colson Whitehead. The 2019 edition has a special emphasis on science and related topics such as genetics, astronomy, post-human future, cli-fi (climate change fiction) and artificial intelligence.
Today science is more important than ever. We live in a world in which science and technology are ubiquitous. Decisions are constantly being made by governments, corporations, educators that affect us in profound ways. Knowledge was key to not just a country’s economic prosperity but also the well-being of its citizens. Today countries which are resource-poor but knowledge-rich do very well. Singapore and Switzerland are classic examples, whereas countries which are resource-rich and knowledge-poor are not doing well economically, Ramakrishnan said.
The 2009 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, who delivered the keynote address, said that science was simply a systematic accumulation of knowledge based on facts. All human beings are born as scientists as everyone as a child is curious about the world around them. But as we grow up we lose that curiosity and take mysteries of nature for granted. All of us must enjoy science as much as arts and culture. Arts, literature and science have always encapsulated the central truths about the world. The need for science with its evidence-based facts was imperative in an era of fake news, where the existence of objective truth is questioned, Ramakrishnan added.
Festival co-director and historian William Dalrymple was conspicuous by his absence this year as he chose to attend to “family affairs” following the demise of his father. However, festival producer Sanjoy Roy said that the purpose of organising a grand literary festival as JLF was to create a space for dissent. In an extremely divisive world where there is one or the other truth, there is very little space left for those who have a contrarian point of view.
Apart from the international speakers, there are many writers from within the country to watch out for this year. Some of the prominent names include politician-author Shashi Tharoor, diplomat Navtej Sarna, Kishwar Desai, Ira Mukhoty, Amitabha Bagchi, Amitava Kumar, Anita Nair, Devdutt Pattanaik, Makarand Paranjape, Naina Lal Kidwai and Rana Dasgupta.
The festival will conclude on January 28.