Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tourism and the Jaipur Literature Festival

'Greatest?' Arguably!!

Impassoined Debate on Gandhi and Ambedkar.
We attended the Jaipur Literature Festival, a week or so ago and came back with mixed feelings. The festival which bills itself as the “Greatest Literary Show” on earth was definitely big, but “Greatest”? Arguably. There are many components that go into an event being the ‘Greatest’, not the least among which is organization and management, it was here that the festival did not live up to its hype. If one were to describe this event, one would say, “An Excellent Event, Spoiled by Bad Management”.   

The Guardian! No Satanic Verses Allowed!
The controversy about Salman Rushdie apart, the Event itself was really good, with eminent  authors and speakers holding stage in lively panel discussions and debates.  Attentive, informed and well behaved audiences ensured, that provided you could find space, intellectual stimulation and enjoyment were a given. A heartening feature was the large number of young people and school children that thronged the venue and participated with rapt attention. This in a way was a repudiation of this author’s oft stated belief that the art of reading was dying. I was happy to ‘eat crow’.

David Remnick,The Editor of the 'New Yorker' On Obama.

The great worldwide interest in the festival ensured that there were many foreign visitors attending, with great expectations. Content wise they were not disappointed, but,-- there always seems to be a ‘But’ somewhere; the very success of the festival was in a way its own undoing. The crowds were too large for the venue and this was compounded by some extremely poor management and organization on the ground. Aisles and exits were routinely blocked by eager spectators and there were people squatting on the ground, wherever they could find a place. It needs be said, however, that the crowd behaviour was impeccable, and people were accommodating. 

Young Ladies Deciding on Which Session to Attend!
This overcrowding, however, was dangerous and a recipe for a stampede even if there were to be a small incident of fire. No precautions for fire control were visible anywhere, I checked on three occasions with volunteers, who were blissfully unaware . Nowhere in the world would there be such disregard for safety. In fact, in most enlightened countries, holding capacities for all venues need to be set down and even marquees for gatherings of over 100 need sprinkler systems. Overcrowding in featured events was at least understandable, as entry was free and public interest was high. In the paid, evening events too, the packing in of at least twice the number of people that the venues could safely hold, was nothing short of criminal.

Disappointed Lady. No Place to Stand Either. Exits Blocked!
The author met many bitterly disappointed visitors from India, the USA and various European countries that had made the long journey to Jaipur to attend this event. They bemoaned the arrangements and lack of facilities and at least one couple from the US said that they would spread the word on various forums, warning people from attending the festival in future. A golden opportunity to promote tourism to India, Jaipur and Rajasthan, featuring the literature festival somehow seems to have been lost. The chaotic entry scenes on Sunday the 22nd January, when Oprah was to address a session, just compounded woes, with many delegates and journalists too being denied entry.
Gurucharan Das The Management Guru on Myths!
In all fairness one returned with an overall positive impression of the festival, based solely on the quality of content, which was excellent by any yardstick. Authors, Raconteurs, Management Gurus and Publishers of all hues and persuasion abounded and were approachable to visitors.  

William Dalrymple’s assertion that the Jaipur festival invitation could not be ignored by any author in the world certainly rang true. 

Waiting For The Good Times!
There was, however, a sense of lost opportunity and ‘what might have been’, especially in terms of tourism promotion. Far too many visitors felt short-changed and quite a few foreign tourists carried away a negative impression of India's organising abilities. One hopes that the organizers will take note for the next year.  

The Milling Crowds, Travelled from The World Over!