Third Time Unlucky

Published: Jan 25, 2010

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.
~ Francis Bacon

JLF has been sensory overload. Session follows session in rapid succession. Fascinating conversations are to be had at every pause. You’re literally stumbling over some of the most intelligent, eloquent people on the planet (busy in conversations, I unintentionally trod on a leading novelist’s toes, and almost jostled a well-respected editor into the pool).
And, amidst this parade, if, like me, you lead a quiet life most of the time, and if, like me, you have a memory like a colander, and if, like me, you got so involved listening to a discussion on stage that you forgot to take notes, like me, you have a problem, Houston.
Sorry, Dear Reader, Day Three is sketchily reported.

***

Who said authors were people best experienced on the page? One has, over the hours, rested one’s weary eyes on many, many extremely attractive specimens of humanity. We may name names later. As we write this, there’s still a lot of festivalling left to do, and we don’t want to be identified as the lech blogger just yet.

***

Every darn session was full way before starting time. One stood through whatever one managed to get into, barring one session --- Wanderlust, and that because two very slim young lasses one knows slid over and made space for one's much larger posterior. And, mind you, the sessions I chose to get into had no film stars on stage or Page Three types in attendance.

***

At Wanderlust, with Geoff Dyer, Bridgid Keenan and Isabel Hilton, with William Dalrymple.

WD set the ground with a brief run through the evolution of travel writing. Dyer started by talking about the kind of writing he doesn’t do. Not ‘in the footsteps of,’ not a journey ‘in an inconvenient form of transport.’ (Later, when Dalrymple reads from his first book, he tells Dyer that it was an ‘in the footsteps of’ kind of travel book.) Dyer reads from Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. He is a fun writer, with a self-deprecatory wit and an eye that observes keenly, but with kindness. His reading, a passage that talked of India’s attitude to queues and an experience waiting in line at an ATM, had the audience in splits. Hilton read from her book, a passage about Greenland; how it got its name (when the Vikings landed there, during a warmer climate cycle, it really was green; when the climate changed, they eventually had to abandon farming and the community died out) how, now, parts of the south had become cultivable again. Keenan says ‘Some people are born to travel. Others have travel thrust upon them.’ A diplomat’s wife, she has lived in nine countries over 35 years, and has attempted, she says, to create a little bit of England in her home wherever it was in the world at that time.

***

After lunch (which is back to  the usual things-in-oil that everyone seems to love) I fail to get into any of the three venues. Which is bitter-sweet. It’s so glorious to see lit events packed to the rafters, but dammit, I want in!

***

I retire to the lawns, typing up notes from Day Two, and getting me some sun. A massive flurry next to me. Chetan Bhagat has walked in. He is mobbed by press, fans and a huge gang of school kids. The entire bunch circle his table five deep, and I, at the next table, have a variety of posteriors bumping into my  chair as their owners jostled for space around their idol. I sigh, shut my laptop, and scoot for the quieter corner where the a gentleman in a bright Rajasthani turban is handing out slightly earthy khullad chai.

***

I text Bhagat, wishing him luck for the session he is to moderate later. He messages back, telling me his room number and inviting me to drop by. I stroll over, and find him in mid-interview. His minder bars the way, but Bhagat waves me in. “You should read the Forbes India story,” he tells the young lady interviewing him. “Two hours it took me to answer their questions ,” he says in mock complaint, “and then we met for another two hours.” They talk while I try to recede into the background. A few minutes later, the minder pokes his head in to indicate they had better move towards the stage. Since he is moderating, and three very attractive young women are the panellists, the organisers are expecting a crowd and have moved the session from the Durbar Hall to the much larger stage on the lawns. As we stride down the corridor that runs along the side of the lawn, he tells me that he has had heard from people in extremely unlikely places that they have read the Forbes India profile of him . As we reach the wings, I see that even this larger venue is full to bursting, with people sitting on the grass below the proscenium, standing along the sides and back. The three authors who are the panellists in the talk the Festival has named Teen Deviyan, Anjum Hasan, Ira Trivedi and Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy, are ready on the other side of the stage. As Namita Gokhale introduces them, the crowd welcomes them enthusiastically. Om Puri, sitting in the front rows, puts his powerful voice to use leading the cheering: “An! Jum! An! Jum!” and “Eee! Ra! Ee! Ra!” and “Mee! Na! Mee! Na!” And then Ms Gokhale calls on Bhagat. And the already loud applause gets even louder. Bhagat is a showman, and no matter what people say about his writing, he has a natural affinity for audiences. He starts off with a sly reference to the recent kerfuffle about 3 Idiots: “I checked to see if my name was on the programme. After all, I want to make sure I get credit.” He’s got them eating out of his hand already.

**

I have to vanish for a bit, for a meeting with a number of young poets and authors. By the time I get back, I just about get myself some dinner and eat it standing while the Baul musicians that had the crowd roaring swung into its last number.

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