Stepping out of the Mumbai – Jaipur Duronto Express, the group of fifty seven SSLA students and three professors were greeted by a nippy gust of wind at the Jaipur Railway Station. Embarking on what was probably the longest educational trip any Symbiosis institute ever went for, everyone was brimming with excitement. The entire batch of SSLA and the professors travelled to the pink city on a ten day trip to attend the most prestigious celebration of national and international literature in Asia, the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012.
The chilly weather, the noticeably deserted roads and the rustic pink look of the whole city were not the only things that struck everyone as being different from Pune – the stares that the whole group invited from the localites were a faint reminder of the fact that we were in a much more conservative society, in the northern part of the country.
The first couple of days were spent in getting used to the place, shopping and sightseeing. The students visited the Amber Fort, soaked in the rich culture and heritage of the city, and indulged in the rich collection of mojris, jewellery, textiles and handicrafts. The Jaipur markets are a stark contrast to the quiet main roads. It is always thronged with people of all age groups and is full of what India is famous for – an amazing milieu of colours, sights and sounds.
The fest began on the 20th of January. Most of the students decided to abandon the regular jeans and hoodies look for a more “literary” ensemble of kurtas, shawls and Nehru jackets. The first day saw a turnout of over 17000 people from all walks of life – students, writers, politicians, actors, journalists, publishers, activists, among others. The day proved to be rich in its intellectual content and everyone left with a sense of contentment.
The subsequent days provided a number of star attractions – Oprah Winfrey, Gulzar, Ben Okri and Fatima Bhutto being some of the biggest. Among the intellectually stimulating conversations, readings and hotly debated issues, there were art exhibitions happening at the same place. Overall, the atmosphere was very enriching and inspiring. The fact that at any given point, one could be sitting next to or listening to a well- known literary personality was something most of us were having difficulties digesting. The musical performances in the evenings added to the experience.
SSLA students also did their bit to make their presence felt as a group. The students occupied a small section of the fest grounds and converted it into a makeshift common area The large group of students caught everyone’s fancy and some of the local newspapers covered the SSLA story. Student Sumrit Shahi’s books were also a part of the JLF bookstore alongside numerous critically acclaimed authors. A few students also participated in the discussions by raising pertinent questions from the audience.
The trip was a very important learning experience for all the students and faculty member. Everybody had something to take back with them.