About the Author: Anne Lee Seshadri is the American Center Director in New Delhi.
The high school students in their crisp blue uniforms, knee socks, and plaited hair peeked curiously into the tent. Although the whole area was festooned with ribbons in the festive colors of Rajasthan, this was no Indian wedding. A man and a woman discussed something earnestly on a stage, while a thousand onlookers sat quietly in the audience, hanging on their every word. The students walked farther inside to another tent where a line of people queued up in front of a desk, books in hand. Who was that signing autographs? They seemed as popular as a Bollywood movie star!
Welcome to the Jaipur Literature Festival, where award-winning writers from around the world converge annually on this small Indian metro, known primarily for its pink sandstone architecture, the faded glory of the Maharajas, and elephants, which parade up and down its narrow streets. The U.S. Embassy New Delhi has supported the festival for the last three years, recognizing it as a unique opportunity to showcase the best American writers to an audience that includes schoolchildren and literati alike. The festival directors pride themselves on creating an event, said to be the largest of its kind in Asia, that is free and open to "aam admi," or the common man.
Lured by the undeniable appeal of a potential audience of 6.2 billion, as well as coverage by leading South Asian and international media, no fewer than 20 prominent American authors, including five Pulitzer Prize winners, heeded our call for participation this year. Richard Ford, discussing Independence Day, shared insights into middle-class suburban America, while Liaquat Ahamed dissected Wall Street's role in the global economic crisis. Junot Diaz, a Dominican American and MIT professor, read from his book, The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which also won the National Book Award, while David Finkel, along with other top journalists, related his experiences covering the war in Iraq. Kai Bird recounted his life growing up in the Middle East as the child of American diplomats, the basis for his new memoir. All told, the Americans held their own in a distinguished lineup of 200 writers that also included Nobel Laureates Orhan Pamuk and J.M. Coetzee.
For those who could not make it to Jaipur, we shared the American writers' insights via Facebook, the Ambassador's blog, and Twitter over the five-day festival. Several writers also plan to stay after to speak at Kolkata's Book Fair or at New Delhi's American Center.
Whether it was Sex and the City's Candace Bushnell opining on the modern American woman, Chitra Bannerjee discussing our cultural diversity, or Akhil Sharma sharing his discovery of American libraries, one thing is certain -- 20 unique American voices resonating within and beyond the Pink City proved a powerful tool of cross-cultural understanding.