Jaipur Diary – The Intense Second Day

Jaipur Diary – The Spectacular First Day

Notes from the Jaipur Literature Festival.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Click here to reach the complete compilation of the Jaipur Diary

As the only Nobel laureate in the fifth Jaipur Literature Festival, Wole Soynika – writer, poet and playwright – read his poems, talked of his gods, discoursed on the profundity of human existence, but he also spoke like a political activist.

Besides calling his country’s ruling party, People Democratic Party, “totally corrupt”, the Nigerian author also talked on religious terrorism. “It’s an epidemic, a disease, a virus,” he said as a mesmerized audience looked on in the main lawn of Hotel Diggi palace, the festival’s venue.

Describing the recent religious riots in his country, Mr Soynika’s tale would not have sounded unfamiliar to his largely Indian audience. “At the latest count, 200 people have died in the affected town. People were not only killed in the streets but murderers forced into the houses,” he said. Without specifying any religion, Mr Soynika suggested his cure to eradicate religion-inspired terror. “If people belonging to some faith wants to remain pure, then something drastic has to be done.” Amid chuckles from the audience, he suggested, “Our astronauts could send them to live in space.”

Mr Soynika also criticized the heightened racial profiling in airports that followed an aborted hijacking attempt on Christmas day by Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutalib. “Racial profiling is irrational,” he said. “That man was born in Nigeria but he got the Jihadist ideas in England. Perhaps you must then ban all the British passports.”

This breaded men with jet white hair doesn’t believe fanaticism in his writing, too. “I take influences from other worlds and I use them, enjoy them,” he said. “But at the same time, I also believe that there has to be a core within (the individual writer).”

As a black man who was subjected to racial discrimination during his student days in London, Mr Soynika had built in an inner apparatus to cope. “I’ve a sense of humor and I’ve a sense of moral superiority,” he said.

When he read his verses, Mr Soynika did not lift his eyes even once from the book. His rich and vibrant voice deepened, boomed and trembled as he went over the passages. Faced by hundreds of people, he looked as alone as an island. But once he was done, Mr Soynika engaged with the audience; answered their questions, looked into their eyes, moved his head, waved his arms. He smiled, he joked.

Talking of his solitary confinement during the Nigerian civil war in the 60s, he said, “In the absence of reading and writing material, I rediscovered the theories of mathematics, a subjected I hated in the school days.” On Nigeria’s “cursed” oil wealth, he said, “If I could turn the time back, I would let the oil pipelines flow in from my country to India.”

No wonder then that there was a long applause in the end. Ratna Kumari, a visitor from Delhi, said, “I’ve never read Soynika but by just soaking myself in his physical presence, I hope to take away something precious.”

Click here to reach the complete compilation of the Jaipur Diary

Listening to Mr Soynika

Jaipur Diary – The Intense Second Day