Arjun Appadurai: My Imaginary Invitation to the Jaipur Literature Festival

by Arjun Appadurai

62648094Dear Professor Appadurai,

We are writing with great trepidation to invite you to the Jaipur Literary Festival this year. You have never been invited to this Festival over its many years of star-studded glory, unbridled creativity and collaborative celebrity, because we have hesitated to include someone with your fame, stature and credentials to our humble (yet magnificent) event. It is also the case that we do not generally support serious books with too many footnotes. Unless they are published by one of our already established cognoscenti, who sometimes dabble in scholarship of various kinds.

But we digress. We want you to give a plenary talk, during which all other panels, promotional events, political processions, private parties or sexual interactions will be strictly prohibited. This can be at a location and time of your choosing. We suggest the Taj Rambagh Palace lawns at sunset, with a special rendition of Raag Yaman will be performed by a global orchestra conducted by A.K. Rahman.

We are aware, of course, that Rajasthan is a slightly controversial setting, where bride-burnings, film censorship, mob lynching, beef bans, cow protection militias and murders of Dalits, sometimes upset the royal serenity of our palaces, forts, villages and luxury hotels. But we assure you that we guarantee your security, comfort and peace of mind, unless you say something that could hurt the feelings of the sponsors, the Rajasthan government or the Karni Sena, though these are all composed of individuals who are usually entirely free of feelings.

We are also aware that in some ways the currency of our beloved Festival has been cheapened by the growth of literary festivals in every nook and corner of India, and sponsored by every variety of silly popular movement, including some organized by writers themselves, a notoriously disorganized group. Still, we believe that none of these upstart festivals can match us in corporate sponsorships, royal backdrops and the tranquil aroma of celebrity. Indeed, we feel that many of these festivals have become so caught up in books and writing that they have forgotten the importance of networking, branding, self-promotion and corporate beneficence.

We would like you to speak on any subject of your choice and we hesitate to constrain you in any way. But we would urge you to avoid any allusion to caste, class, gender, equality, the Constitution or the Congress Party in your remarks, since these are notoriously sensitive subjects among the common people of Rajasthan and even more among our celebrity guests. Perhaps you could address such issues as: cyber-nationalism as a literary theme, secularism as a literary fiction, the importance of the post-literary sphere, the continuing relevance of the sacred geography of Hindu pilgrimage, or our personal favorite: the return of true leaders to India’s educational and cultural institutions.

If you respond favorably, as we fervently hope you do, we also ask you to let us know your preferences as regards the following: (1) Which airline would you like to fly on (in first class of course)? (2) which of our hotel-palaces would you like to stay in and in which suite? (3) in the area of alcohol, is there a particular single malt you prefer and what is your taste in Rajasthani liqueurs (such as our classic Rajasthani royal liqueur with an infusion of partridge blood)?

With sincere and self-abasing namaskars,

The Organizing Committee
Jaipur Literary Festival

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Arjun Appadurai is Goddard Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, and is currently based in Berlin. He is a scholar of South Asia and of globalization, with numerous publications on these topics. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.