It’s exactly one month past the Jaipur Literature Festival and I haven’t posted anything about it. But I can’t let all the photos, videos and notes I took at the festival go to waste. Thus this entry:
Day 1 @ JLF : ( It was the second day of the festival.) Jaipur Literature Festival might actually be ‘the greatest literary show on earth’ (last year it was ‘Asia’s Leading Literary Festival’) but I had never heard of it until I came across the Jan 8-21 issue of Time Out Delhi. I am sure it was in the news in Nepal but I have absolutely no memory of it. A few Nepali journalists seem to be regulars at the festival. On the other hand, quite a few people in Jaipur were clueless about it too. And the credit to this finding goes entirely to my ritual of asking directions. Pedestrians did show us the way to SMS hospital road nearby but they didn’t know their city was hosting a ‘world class’ literary show.
We reached the festival venue on the second day (Jan 22) and I knew what I wanted to do: Attend a session called Travels with a Typewriter in the Mughal Tent. I had done a bit of homework on the festival before leaving Delhi and the realization was disheartening. I had read the works of only two of the 200 authors who were to be attending the festival- Chetan Bhagat and Shobha De. I could not bear to make it to the end of the list because I was frustrated by seeing the names of so many people I had never read! Shobha De was a huge hit among us girls back in school (pre-S.L.C.). It was a book where she talked of her relationship with her young daughters. I don’t remember a word of the book now, nor the title. I read Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five point someone’ in 2007 and ‘One night at a call centre’ sometime later. I am actually ashamed to admit I have read such books! No offense to Bhagat fans but I can’t understand why he is such a huge hit in India. A recent Tehelka survey of bestselling books in India reveals that the first 4 out of 10 bestsellers in India are by Bhagat….simply unbelievable!
Getting back to the festival, I presumed ‘Travels with a typewriter’ to be a session which would discuss the art of writing travelogues. I later realized the session was named so after one of the speaker, Michael Frayn’s book . It was a pleasure listening to the British writer. He spoke well and the best thing he had to say was this:
One thing that is frequently said about the festival is that a commoner can find himself/herself sitting beside a big-shot in the venue. It doesn’t sound like a big deal when I write it here but it is when you are doing so. The delegates and the media people do have a certain privileges like free lunches and dinners from the organizers unlike us who are none of those. But apart from it everyone is equal. Everyone sits on similar chairs, attends the same talk shows, everyone has the right to participate in discussions so on and so forth. In one of the sessions, I saw an empty chair in the first row. I sat on it. Moments later, a man came up to me and told me that I’d taken his seat. He seemed to have gone away for a while, obviously I didn’t see it as I had just come in. I fumbled a ‘Sorry’ and left. Later, I realized that guy was William Dalrymple who for some reason I’d presumed to be thinner than he actually was. He is one of the directors of the festival.
Later, in a session titled ‘In a Tough Neighborhood’, Tina Brown was sitting on the row before us. The spot received direct sunlight so she opened her pink umbrella blocking the view of the speakers onstage for the two men sitting right behind her. One of them, gently told her to close the umbrella citing the obvious. She immediately closed the umbrella, looked around as if she were searching for one of the organizers or volunteers and finally left the place. Where else can a mere literature enthusiast talk with that ease to the celebrity ex-editor of The New Yorker?
Big shots and discussions apart, observing people attending the festival was equally engaging. Whether it be young girls reading newspapers, journos busy at work, people enjoying a smoke or reading a book they all made the festival even more interesting.
An encounter with Hindi
I hate Hindi. And I can’t hide my distaste for the language. Some words like हाँजी simply meaning ‘Yes’ (or हजुर or हँ in Nepali) or other words like college (काँलेज), shop (शाँप) make it seem as though Hindi is a ‘nasal’ language. Kailash (कैलाश) is pronounced केलाँश here which is simply unbearable to my ears. The excessive use of ाँ sound is just annoying. So, filled with nothing but hatred for the language I attended the Language and Identity session where Gulzar was one of the speakers. The moment he started to speak, Hindi became the most beautiful language my ears had ever heard! I was simply mesmerized by the sound of his voice! Here’s a video I took of Gulzar reciting his poem on books in another session titled ‘Can the Internet Save Books’ moderated by Barkha Dutt.
Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi had a poem recital session in the evening after the second day’s programmes were over.The recital took place in Durbar Hall and though I couldn’t get in the hall I enjoyed watching the recital in one of the screens outside. Joshi’s recital was comparatively bland but towards the end of the program he sang a song which changed the entire experience of listening to him. In the song the girl tells her father not to give her away (in marriage) with a businessman, and a other few characters ( I forgot the rest) and finally says,
मोहे लौहार के घर दिजो
जो मेरो जन्जिर बिघ्लाए
(Oh Dear Father, Give me away to a blacksmith who can melt my metal shackles…)
I could see quite a few women around me nodding their approval. They were simply moved by the recital just like me. It is amazing how women in the Indian sub-continent can all relate to the same issues. I can’t do justice to the recital with this bland description but listening to Joshi standing beside a large screen on a cool evening in Jaipur was simply a wonderful experience. Akhtar had recited a poem he’d written for his daughter just before Joshi which felt as though the recital was suddenly directed towards the women audiences. Javed Akhtar’s poem was like listening to a man who just saw through me. I am sure many others felt the same. He started his poem pointing out large number of young women in the audience who might be able to relate to it as well. The jest of the poem resembled Road Not Taken by Robert Frost but it was the mention of the acute dissatisfaction at yourself not having done what you wanted, not achieved your goal that set it apart. It was like taking a blow where it hit the hardest. Just perfect! The audio visual of the entire festival is available in the official site of the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Here are pictures that I took at the festival. Hope you have the time to go through them.