American Writers in the Pink City

January 27, 2011
Novelist Junot Diaz Speaks With a Fan in India

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.



West Virginia, USA
January 28, 2011

Pam in West Virginia writes:

What a wonderful event. It is heartening to hear of such events.

West Virginia, USA
January 28, 2011

Dr. G. in West Virginia writes:

Opening India to American literature makes sense -- English is the official language. Smart idea.

Ashim C.
January 31, 2011

Ashim C. in India writes:

All people to people contacts like the one in Jaipur between two countries, which are poised to become strategic partners to impact world power architecture eventually, are important. But irritants like what is happening to Indian students in TRI VALLEY UNIVERSITY spoil things - more so when such occurences are handled insensitively.

Heavens would not have fallen if some responsible US adminstration official had made suo-moto statements to express concerns rather than explain technicalities of how the GPS collars are safe or how common is there use in certain situations in USA. Images of GPS COLLARS on ankles of students remind most Indians of bonded labourers in shackles during medieval times and Indian political class is availing the opportunity to play patriotism.

Administration should act to protect innocent students and assure protection of their interests. Humility is always a virtue. One wonders what diplomats in Delhi are hoping to accomplish by the kind of statement that US embassy sources have made.

February 2, 2011

Dinesh in India writes:

American literature in India is welcome. But putting shackles in Indian student leg is inhuman . Its the animal like treatment.


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