Jaipur Diary – First Day in the Lit Fest, 2011 Edition
No literary pretensions.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Keep the focus on blue sky and beautiful people. In the 2011 edition of Jaipur Literature Festival, The Delhi Walla is staying away from post-colonial-post-modern-post-everything literature. There is so much action elsewhere: Turkish novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk standing at a quiet corner with Booker prize winning girlfriend Kiran Desai; novelist Manju Kapur walking around aimlessly; author Jung Chang longingly looking into the eyes of husband, author Jon Halliday; Pakistani novelist Ali Sethi exiting in an auto-rickshaw with a mysterious woman. The sight of the day was of a woman reading a novel outside the stables of Hotel Diggi Palace, an 18th century mansion that has been hosting the festival since its inception in 2006.
Four-hour drive from Delhi, Jaipur is the capital of the desert state of Rajasthan. The city has as many palaces as Delhi has tombs, but I’m only interested in spotting authors and meeting book lovers. India’s biggest literature festival, the five-day carnival will have 223 authors from 20 countries.
During a session on Urdu language in which film lyricist Javed Akhtar was mourning its decline, a visitor was so besotted by his eloquence that she exclaimed, “I’m so happy that I’m a Urdu speaker.” She said that in English.
The festival had started on a boring note. The opening ceremony dragged. Attended by Rajasthan’s Chief Minister, the inaugural speeches were dense with phrases like ‘Your Excellency.” The speech of the chief guest, Dr Karan Singh, an ex-Maharaja and an ex-politician, would not stop. He first spoke in Hindi, then in English. Both times he said that he had read Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann and TS Eliot when he was still a child.
In the evening, a rumor spread that JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter novels, was sighted during the opening ceremony. She was said to be hiding behind turbaned musicians, who were on the podium. A week ago, The Times of India had reported that Ms Rowling would be coming to the festival though the organisers had denied.
As author Gurcharan Das and Liaquat Ahamad, the Pulitzer-prize winning author of Lords of Finance, were climbing the stage for a session on ‘the bankers who broke the world’, Mr Das said to Mr Ahamad, “You’re not wearing a suit. You’re not looking like an investment banker. I forgive you.” Mr Das was in white kurta pajama that he thought was “as sunny as the weather.”
In the evening, I met Dolly Patel, a booklover from Ahmedabad. It was her second time in the literature festival. “It’s great to be here,” she said. “I’m shallow and I love shallow things in life.”
Full on fun
Spotted your favroite author?
Visitors from Delhi
Pass me the schedule
On post-colonial-post-modern-post-everything literature
Shh, she’s reading
Liaquat Ahamad (left) and Gurcharan Das
Juan Chang and husband, Jon Halliday
Kiran Desai and Orhan Pamuk