A slightly frazzled digestive system puts paid to my plans of trying to catch Rediscoveries of India (Meghnad Desai, Nayantara Sahgal and Chetan Bhagat), Jai Arjun Singh’s chat with Roddy Doyle, which I expect to be great, and the conversation with Louis De Bernieres. Sure enough, as I walk in, Nilanjana Roy tells me that Doyle was in cracking form, and Jai Arjun, our mutual friend, had done an excellent job as a moderator.
I decide to head to Storytellers & Immortals (Amit Chaudhuri and the ever-smiling Omair Ahmad with Namita Gokhale) but am sidetracked by the sound of laughter and lilting Scottish accents from the lawns. It is Under the Kilt, courtesy the Scottish givernment, with Andrew O’Hagan, Alexander McCall Smith, Niall Ferguson and William Dalrymple. As sessions go, it wasn’t particularly illuminating. But the erudite, cheery banter between the Glasgow (O’Hagan and Ferguson) and the Edinburgh (Smith and Dalrymple) was enough to keep me glued to the little spot of shade I found. O’Hagan, a Burns Scholar, recited from memory A Man's A Man For A' That. Here’s the last verse (see the whole poem, with helpful links to the harder words)
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.
When the Q&A starts, I regretfully decide to scamper off to get myself a seat for The Director’s Cut
, with Stephen Frears, Roddy Doyle and Hanif Kureishi. But, damnation, a full 25 minutes before it is due to start and the Durbar Hall is full. I quickly grab a coffee from the Diggi Café and dive for the last chair in front of one of the large screens outside that relayed live video from within. The space around the chairs, and in front, is quickly filled up. A Bombay editor and novelist squatting in front of the chairs, stands up for a second to stretch his legs, and is rudely told to siddown! No hierarchies here in the cheap seats.
***The sound is patchy outside, not helped along by Doyle and Frears being relatively soft-voiced and frequent microphone glitches. Nevertheless, one noted a few gems for you.
Kureishi, on good ideas: It’s like falling in love. You wait around for a decent idea. It’s like going to sleep. You can’t force it.
Friers (reacting to Doyle’s quick summary of the things he was currently writing, which included several tasks for which he was not getting paid anything): What are these things for which you don’t get paid? How lucky I am to be in entertainment!
Doyle, talking wryly about the respect writers get in Ireland, quotes an exchange with a young man: “Are you Roddy Doyle?” “Yes.” “So what?”
Doyle, after saying how, for many years, despite having several novels behind him, would say, when asked, that he was a teacher, on how his Booker win changed things for him; he would now say: “I used to be a teacher.” It’s like AA. My name is Roddy Doyle and I’m a writer.
***The evening’s music was a varied line up.
The rap poetry was, um, well, not that great. Sarah Michieletto, first violinist for the Venice Orchestra, played some great solo violin and jammed with Indian musicians. Yesteryears music producer Biddu came on to sing rather forgettable versions of “Can’t help falling in love with you” and “Aap jaise koi.” Then Amit Chaudhuri’s “Not Fusion” set had the crowd in thrall. My favourite? The last set, by Mrigya. The crowd agreed. They got standing ovations and encores.
***Dinner is Italian, courtesy that country's government. An Italian translator friend, who samples it early, pronounces it 'fake Italian, but good enough if you're hungry.' Hungry I am. Remembering the French food I didn't get much of, I head off to get a plate before the crowd gets in from the concert. To find a long line of people with the same idea. By the time we get to the business end of the queue, we're all drooling. And, I will say unhesitatingly, fake or not, it was a great spread. Stomach hassles forgotten, I load my plate up, snag a glass of wine from the bar, and sit down to gorge. I'm a happy camper.