Day Three of Jaipur Literature Festival 2015 began with Yours Truly grumbling and procrastinating her shower, cocooned in the warmth of the bed, while Sidekick 2 smugly toweled freshly shampooed hair and generally seemed superior. She then offered me the excellent bribe of masala chai, resulting in three fairly functional human beings standing at the JLF entrance at the opening time, raring to start the day. Thankfully, the weather decided to behave itself. Hallelujah!
The sessions filling the first slot seemed largely dull so we milled around, looking at the exorbitantly priced things on sale – books, handicrafts, clothes, food. Our impoverished student status firmly ascertained, we headed to Rajnigandha Front Lawns for a talk titled ‘Wanderlust and the Art of Travel Writing’ with Paul Theroux, Charles Glass, Samanth Subramanian, Sam Miller, Brigid Keenan and William Dalrymple. The five authors spoke spiritedly about their respective books and the nuances of travel and its representation. Dalrymple called attention to the antiquity of this genre, saying that The Epic of Gilgamesh is, in fact, a travel narrative and made connections between ancient travelers and cultural exchange in the form of storytelling. Brigid Keenan, author of Diplomatic Baggage, was the funniest of the six, noting that the human factor involved in certain transactions in India is what made travel in this country, at once, infuriating and endearing. She regaled the audience with an incident wherein she ordered hand-embroidered shoes in Jodhpur that she arranged to receive by mail in another city. She was extremely surprised to find the artisan at her door one morning, holding out a pair of shoes three sizes too big for her. When asked why the shoes were so enormous despite the artisan having had Keenan’s exact foot measurements, he replied that he had done this to accommodate the growth in foot size that might have happened over the weeks!
Next up was a session in the Google Mughal Tent with historians Tom Holland (adorable as ever), Barry Flood (frighteningly erudite) and Peter Frankopan (the very good-looking Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research). Holland spoke at some length about the rise of monotheism in western civilization and the consolidation of Christianity. He proposed that Christianity succeeded in putting down strong roots because not only did the Church provide the essence of a welfare state with its emphasis on compassion and charity, it gave emperors and the elites the model of a single, central God ordering the universe. Barry Flood, Professor of Art History at NYU, spoke about religious iconography in the ancient Islamic world.
After this, I attended a talk titled ‘The Murty Classical Library of India’ at jam-packed Char Bagh, with Rohan Murty, Sheldon Poloock, Navtej Sarna, Rakshanda Jalil, Maithree Wickramsinghe, C. Mrunalini, Yatindra Mishra and Sharmila Sen.The library, Harvard alumnus Murty’s brainchild, proposes to make available to readers the greatest works of Indian literature from the past two millennia. To this end, the authors read excerpts from works like Akbarnama and ancient Buddhist poetry in multiple Indian languages, providing each excerpt with an English translation. The session drove home the astounding sensuality of different languages- their lilts, cadences, accents.
At 3:30 PM, we muscled our way to ‘Basic Instinct’, a session where Sarah Waters, Hanif Kureishi, Deepti Kapoor, Nicholson Baker and Parul Sehgal discussed the representation of sex in fiction. Kureishi, dressed in a blindingly colorful Shiva t-shirt, was the cynosure of all eyes, making risqué jokes and generally having a whale of a time. The speakers discussed sexual taboos, repressive legal and cultural structures, the balancing act involved in writing sex scenes and gender equality.
The last stop for the day was the Google Mughal Tent where authors Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor, The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs), Mark Gevisser (Lost and Found in Johannesberg: A Memoir), Hisham Matar (No One in the World) and Helon Habila (Waiting for an Angel) were in conversation with Kwasi Kwarteng about ‘Reading Africa, Writing Africa’. The authors spoke about their individual experiences with shared cultural events and traumas and the different ways in which they shape their work. They agreed that given the histories of their countries (Nigeria, South Africa and Libya) any work they write will inevitably deal with politics of some sort, even if it is represented through private relationships. Not only was this talk extremely interesting, it made me realize how skewed our reading choices tend to be in terms of its place of origin. I exited the venue with a firm resolve to actively seek out authors from under-represented nations.
We ended the day with a movie outing at Rajmandir which is a mandatory stop for any tourist in Jaipur. The beautifully preserved theatre, with its pink interiors of dazzling light and a sweeping, vintage-y feel to it, is worth watching any bad movie for (in our case it was Dolly ki Doli). With that bit of needless trivia, I end this account of Day three and bid the gentle reader goodbye, until tomorrow.