First Salvo

Published: Jan 22, 2010 02:09:25 AM IST
Updated: Jan 29, 2010 05:48:52 AM IST

Random notes from Day One.

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The Jaipur Literature Festival is in its fifth year, and, from what friends who have been regulars tell me, it has just grow'd and grow'd. Tina Brown, journalist, editor and author, declared it the 'greatest literary show on earth.' Not altogether suprising, considering she is listed in the festival credits as an advisor, and was introduced the audience as its brand ambassador. But one digresses.

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JLF is certainly pulling in the crowds this year. All the events I looked in on had every seat occupied, with people sitting on carpets, on the floor, on the grass, or just standing in the aisles. Even the two large screens outside the Durbar Hall of the Diggi Palace had fans jostling for space. Names like Gulzar, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri would explain some of the crush, but it wasn't just about film stars. In fact, when Mr Puri made his entrance in the afternoon, strolling regally into the shmooze area between the various venues, the only ones who went overboard were the press photographers. The lit fans --- and these included several gaggles of schoolgirls --- after cursory glances at the actor, went right on with whatever they were doing. On the other hand, many a lovely young lady was seen going dreamy-eyed when Gulzar or K Satchidanandan delivered an exceptionally exquisite line. We [heart] Lit Groupies!

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Aside from a sizeable number of locals (which, friends tell me, is unusual), there was a large Delhi contingent, as is natural, considering that the NCR is the centre of India's publishing industry and just a few hours' drive away. And quite a sprinkling from other parts of the country, as well as a fair number of foreigners.

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Apologies for the barren right-side column: I couldn't tweet as much as I wanted to, because the free WiFi signal was very poor, and kept dropping, and my Reliance datastick was running atrociously slow as well. And the press room, with the fat connections, was always full.

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Delhi's fog meant that many panellists were delayed or couldn't make it at all. Which meant that the printed programme was reduced to a general indicator of who might be there, possibly. Maybe. Perhaps. Jamaica Kincaid didn't make it, and neither did Wole Soyinka or Henry Gates. I mistimed my saunter in, and wound up missing the Art of Criticism session I wanted to attend, which had been moved to an earlier slot (I think!) and wound up on the fringes of a session with Nilanjana Roy, standing in for Kai Bird, chatting with Claire Tomalin, which was actually scheduled for Day Two.

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Lunch on the lawns was shmooze time, lubricated with beer. Not enough chairs and tables meant that every time someone got up to get more food (rich, oily, spicy), or say hi to a pal, they'd turn back to see that their chair had been commandeered by someone else.

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A poet we know came out fuming from the Bhasha Bharat series (which featured poets in Indian languages other than English). Apparently the compere kept referring to it as Bhasha Language Poetry. Rather like 'chai tea,' she said, muttering expletives.

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Shabana Azmi's reading from her mother's memoir, Kaifi and I, was packed, but since a little bird had told me that she would be doing a similar event at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival back home in Bombay, I scampered off to Alexander McCall Smith's chat with William Dalrymple. Which started off unpromisingly, with the two Scots laughing loudly at things that didn't seem that mirth-provoking. But then, as Smith warmed up and began playing off the audience, it got genuinely entertaining. he spoke of his No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and its origins, and the many others he has written. He has a phenomenal work ethic, doing four novels a year, writing 3,000 to 4,000 words a day, every day; he said he'd gotten up to write at 3a.m. in the morning in Delhi, to write, before getting in to Jaipur. He also talked of his The Really Terrible Orchestra, an initiative I think we should emulate in this country. It basically consists of musicians who aren't very good, but who enjoy making music. They often even play the same tune. (Which reminds me: do check out the Rock Bottom Remainders.)

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The evening musical entertainment started off with Darohar, the fascinating Rajasthani folk tradition, which has a singer-musician performing epic tales passed on orally, against the backdrop of a hand-painted tapestry. (Dalrymple writes about it in Nine Lives.) The session was somewhat marred by a gentleman who insisted on delivering long explanatory speeches rather than just letting the musicians perform. The Jaipur Kawa Brass band came on next, and while they were fun, and certainly energetic, the clarinet player's position in front of one of the microphones meant that he pretty much drowned out everyone else. A number of other Rajasthani musical acts followed, including a lovely percussion set with some great sawaal-jawaab interaction, and a fire dancer. The evening was to close with Rajasthani Roots, but the police played spoilsport, shutting down the sound at the dot of 10p.m.

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  • Ashish Jha

    Hmm... an okay review. "Apologies for the barren right-side column: I couldn't tweet as much as I wanted to, because the free WiFi signal was very poor, and kept dropping, and my Reliance datastick was running atrociously slow as well. And the press room, with the fat connections, was always full." Why the excuses all the time? Next time, keep an extra data card and don't make excuses.

    on Jan 22, 2010
  • Murali

    Thanks Peter, had a good time reading it. Ashish, I hope you are not Peter's boss.

    on Jan 22, 2010
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