As promised in my account of last year’s Jaipur Literature Festival, I am back here to attend the 2015 installment and faithfully relay all my geeky excitement to IBS readers. With me this year are the same two friends who accompanied me the last time (apparently, I have successfully conned them into long-term friendship). In the tradition of authorial narcissism, let’s call them Sidekick 1 and Sidekick 2.
Yours truly and the two sidekicks started out from Delhi at an ungodly hour but, even with the weather largely cooperating, the train shuffled into Jaipur late enough to make us miss the first two sessions. We heroically rushed to the premises and then, equally unheroically, stood in a long line to collect the registration passes. At the rate at which the visitors increase each year, JLF might have to be relocated to a larger venue in the near future. The venue was decorated tastefully in much the same manner as last year, with the Rajasthani mirror work and handicraft aesthetic a prominent motif everywhere. Instead of Full Circle, the books on sale this year are an offering of Amazon instead, the Kindle available to prospective patrons at a discount.
At 12:30, we headed to Char Bagh to attend “Early Triumph”, a discussion of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, moderated by a very competent Razia Iqbal. The talk derived its name from the fact that both authors finished their acclaimed novels at the young age of twenty-seven, Catton’s novel going on to win the 2013 Man Booker Prize. McBride’s novel is a formally experimental account of a young girl’s traumatic sexual awakening and consequent “psychic collapse”, while Catton’s The Luminaries is a doorstopper of a murder mystery, set in the 1860s New Zealand Gold Rush. Both authors spoke about the importance of setting oneself a challenge at the beginning of a project to ensure that the creative journey was one of discovery and novelty.
After Char Bagh, we happened to stumble across the Limca Book of Records Quiz in Fort Samvad, hosted by Joy Bhattacharya. The questions largely dealt with literary trivia and were great fun, though, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my opinion may be influenced in some part by the fact that I won a prize for correctly identifying the cover art of Anthony Burgess’s masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange.
Next up at 2:15 in Google Mughal Tent was a discussion titled “Nordic Noir” with crime fiction authors Nils Nordberg and Hakan Nesser. They were introduced by The Bioscope Man’s author Indrajit Hazra who, with his scuffed jeans, long hair and leather jacket, is too cool for his own good. Not only did he arrive late, he was also hopelessly ill-prepared for the session. Despite that, Nesser’s dry humor and Nordberg’s warmth managed to make the discussion of crime novels by Scandinavian authors both engaging and enlightening. They discussed the relationship between crime and jurisprudence, the moral universe of their respective works, their own creative practices and the explosive popularity of the genre.
3:30 pm found us struggling through a near impenetrable sea of humanity at Rajnigandha Front Lawn where veteran B’wood actor Naseeruddin Shah, who recently published his memoir And Then One Day, was in conversation with Girish Karnad. The crowd proved impossible to negotiate, a testament to Shah’s hold over the Indian audience, and we admitted defeat and slunk away to find breathing room. A truly wonderful surprise to counterbalance this failure was our accidentally bumping into Vishal Bharadwaj, whose latest movie Haider was greatly admired by Yours Truly and the sidekicks.
Paul Theroux in conversation with Monisha Rajesh at 5 PM was an informative session. Theroux talked at some length about his considerable experience as a travel writer. He recounted the time he had been chased with spears by the indigenous population of an island near New Guinea, which he details in his book The Happy Isles of Oceania, and urged all aspiring travel writers to explore places alone and take risks to find interesting stories.
The last and most enjoyable session of the day was a discussion among historians titled “Why Ancients Matter. ” It consisted of Llewelyn Morgan, Tom Holland, Daud Ali, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Bettany Hughes, moderated by the excellent Arshia Sattar. They discussed the immense impact on modern identity, both individual and civilisational, of the past, and the problems inherent in any analysis of it. Between the five of them, they discussed Greek and Latin literature and its influence on British colonialism, medieval India, history as memory, Kabir, and the emancipatory sexual politics of ancient Indian poetry in its depiction of women. Also, Tom Holland with his pink socks and enthusiasm over dinosaurs is the most adorable thing ever.
Regrettably, we had to pick and choose our sessions in a way so as to miss some excellent speakers, like Prasoon Joshi, Shabana Azmi and Hanif Kureishi. Unfortunately, the only solution to this dilemma is Hermione’s time turner. Alas. On this note, I will make my goodbyes because a full day at JLF combined with spirited haggling over exorbitant auto fares really takes the wind out of one. Until tomorrow, dear reader!