The second day of Jaipur Literature Festival dawned very, very wet. At this point, rainfall in January here is not a surprise but the fact that the festival organizers apparently function on extreme optimism about weather is. Due to the control freakiness of Sidekick 2, we arrived at the venue wet, cold and mildly miffed at 9:30 AM while every volunteer and organizing member was still running around dealing with the sudden change in venues and covering up the seating in the many open locations. Picture everyone looking mildly crazed among a riot of green, blue, yellow tents of varying sizes and striding purposefully to communicate changes to co-workers and visitors, many clutching their expensive electronics to shield them from water damage. You now have a fairly accurate mental picture of Day 2 of JLF 2015.
To give the festival organizers their due credit, they were determinedly efficient and the events proceeded fairly successfully. For the first half of the day, every talk was shortened to half an hour and relocated to the three closed structures. 10 AM found us shuffling with a sea of humanity into the welcome warmth of British Airways Baithak, where Kate Summerscale discussed her book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which is now a popular BBC series. The book, modeled on the classical detective novel, is a reconstruction of the real-life murder investigation of the child of a Wiltshire middle-class family in 1860. The author spoke lucidly about the origins of detective fiction, the development of the now-iconic figure of the detective and the challenges of composing a retrospective narrative out of police reports and court hearings. The book is sure to be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good detective story.
Next up was a session titled “My Salinger Years” where Joanna Rakoff discussed her eponymous novel with Chiki Sarkar. The book, described as ‘The Devil Wears Prada of the literary world’, is a fictional account of the author’s experience answering one years’ worth of fan mail addressed to author J.D. Salinger. Warm and personable, Rakoff spoke about the exhilaration and terror of being a sheltered young woman struggling to build a career in publishing in New York. She also does a great ‘Mean NY Boss’ voice.
At 1:30 PM, Shabana Azmi, Girish Karnad amd Sanjoy Roy launched the book Curtain call: Celebrating Indian Theatre and discussed, among other things, the state of theatre in India, its political sympathies, its challenges and rewards and its inevitable battle with cinema. Azmi, as compelling off-screen as on, regaled the audience with memorable incidents from her theatre life. She spoke with great humor and nostalgia about the time she was jailed as a young protestor on the evening she was supposed to perform in a play. She refused to pay bail on grounds of principle and would have missed the play if it had not been for her mother requesting the custodian officer to let Azmi off for two hours. True to her word, Azmi’s mother returned her to the jail after the performance was over!
Next session, titled “Adab Bara-e-Zindagi: Art for Life’s Sake” saw an intensely enjoyable discussion between Javed Akhtar, Pushpesh Pant, Ali Husain Mir and Rakshanda Jalil. They discussed being a part of the Progressive Writer’s Movement in Urdu literature (formed in pre-partition British India) and its historical fight against feudalism, capitalism and women’s repression. Akhtar spoke very optimistically about the interest of modern Indian youngsters in literature and poetry and emphasized the need for this interest to be informed, as opposed to myopic. Pushpesh Pant, when asked about the dangerously regressive trends in current Indian politics, expressed similar optimism and said that while movements have a shelf life, ideas are eternal, dying only to be reborn slightly changed. Sidenote- Azmi and Akhtar are adorable together, joking around and supplying each other’s pauses with words.
At 3:30 PM, the Google Mughal Tent was thrown open when the sun made its grand reappearance and authors Sarah Waters, Mark Gevisser, Devdutt Pattanaik, Damon Galgut, Sandip Roy and Christos Tsoilkas gathered to talk about Queer literature. They discussed the state of the homosexual communities in Europe, Britain and India and the representation of marginalized sexualities in their own work. All of them agreed that while the legal and social conditions of this community have improved in varying degrees in recent times, a long road of reform lies ahead for all of us.
After this, we headed to Char Bagh to attend “Hamlet’s Dilemma” where Vishal Bharadwaj, Basharat Peer, Tim Supple and Jerry Brotton discussed their experience with Shakespearean adaptations and translations. If the sheer density of the crowd is any indication, Bharadwaj has a truly formidable fan base here. The four men had a very spirited session talking about the seemingly eternal and universal relevance of Shakespeare and the importance of keeping him entertaining for the audience. Bharadwaj spoke about the creative and political impulses behind his directorial choices for Haider and fielded both compliments and brickbats offered by the audience.
The last stop for the day was British Airways Baithak where veteran actor Dilip Tahil announced the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2015. The award went to Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland and was accepted on her behalf by her beaming publisher.
Thus ended the squelchy and satisfyingly tiring Day 2 of JLF 2015. Now please excuse me while I go pray to the rain gods to spare us their bounty tomorrow.
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