Rousing debate brings curtains down on Jaipur Lit Fest

Jaipur: The sprawling front lawns of Diggy Palace were packed to capacity for the final session of the Jaipur Literature Festival Tuesday which saw a cerebral debate on the freedom of information with six speakers given five minutes each.

The debate was on "Society has the total right to know: Freedom of Information must be unrestrained." Armed with six proficient speakers and with only one hour in hand, the organisers firmly allotted five minutes each to the speakers to present their views. Those who got a little carried away and crossed the time limit were forced to stop to the loud sound of a `dhol`.

The three speakers for the motion were social activist Aruna Roy, known for her tireless work for the Right to Information movement, poet and chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi Ashok Vajpeyi, who delighted the audience by speaking in Hindi, and author and editor of Tehelka Tarun Tejpal, who was undoubtedly the most eloquent of the speakers.

Those on the other side of the panel were authors Jaishree Mishra and Abha Dawesar, and senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta.

John Gordon of the Intelligence Squared, the organisers of the debate, chaired the session that saw the biggest crowd in the five days of the festival, which was attended by over 200 authors from across the country.

Gordon took a rough poll of the audience for or against the motion before declaring the stage open for debate. The hands for the motion generously outnumbered the other.

References to the Adarsh Housing scam, rights activist Binayak Sen`s unfair sentencing, corruption, jingoism, injustice, caste, religion, state`s responsibility and a thousand other things were made on and off by the speakers.

The session also had its emotional moment when Tarun Tejpal walked towards the podium and instead of utilising his five minutes to the core, began to talk about Aruna Roy with earnest respect.

"When I heard about this debate and got to know that Aruna is participating in it, I thought it was some kind of a joke, she should have been the mentor of this debate," he said.

The crowd broke into a roaring applause even as the petite lady tried to control her tears.

The debate at one point lost its vigour as speakers on both side of the motion started underlining the words "total" and "unrestrained" as their only problem with the Right to Information.

However, Tejpal broke the spell when he said: "It is better to have excess of information than to have none." His thoughts were further established by Roy who said the same things with a different choice of words.

The five-day annual literary festival saw the who`s who of the literary world including Nobel Laureates J.M. Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk, his partner and Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai, lyricist Gulzar and Javed Akhtar, Junot Diaz and Martin Amis amongst others.