At the 2010 Lit Fest;
1. Catherine Clement, French intellectual and author of ‘Edwina and Nehru: A Novel’ and Nayantara Sahgal, Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece discussed the roaring affair between Jinnah and Sarojini Naidu. “It is well known in France. Why is it not spoken of in India?” asked Clement. Came the reply, “Because our national leaders are not allowed to have sex organs.” Sahgal and Clement also agreed that Sahgal’s ‘maamu’ was a beautiful man while Edwina was ‘nice’.
2. The toothsome Bangladeshi author Shazia Omar had to be shepherded through crowds of autograph-seeking men. Subsequent to getting her autograph on brand new notebooks came the question, “What is your name, madam?”
3. Hanif Kureishi, irritable about being on a panel called ‘Migrant Words’, snapped, “I have moved a few kilometres within London. That’s the extent of my migration.”
4. At one Litfest venue (the Mughal Tent), speaker Amitava Kumar stopped to salute William Dalrymple, who’d just entered. He went on: “I hear Dalrymple is soon taking over the world. This is how the East India Company began; one Mughal tent at a time.”
5. Hearing a ‘whoosh-whoosh’ sound, Wole Soyinka paused mid-reading to peer down his chin at the mike: “Is my beard doing something?”
7. During a session titled ‘Bin Laden after Bush’, Javed Akhtar jumped out of the audience to accuse Steve Coll of being part of an American conspiracy to pretend Bin Laden was still alive. This, in January 2010.
At the 2009 Lit Fest;
1. Authors Ira Pande and Namita Gokhale, cousins, began a session by chattering jovially amongst themselves, completely oblivious to the audience, and apologising for the same later: “Sorry about this, when Namita and I get together we turn into a Johar Mahmood show and forget all about the audience.”
2. Bruce Palling, a journalist for over 40 years and well-known travel writer, recalls seeing Colin Thubron being addressed scornfully by a visa officer at the Indian High Commission in London.
Thubron, whose novels and travel books have stopped just short of the Man Booker Prize but earned him the sobriquet of “gentleman traveller”, was apparently trying to assert himself as a delegate for the Jaipur festival but the documents he was presenting, rather than earning him a visa, seemed only fit to draw derision. Bruce, with all his experience of India pulled him gently aside and counselled in a whisper, “Colin. Just go back home and come again tomorrow with an application for a tourist visa.”
3. Amitabh Bachhan, attending the festival to release ‘Bachchanalia’ (a book in his honour) was seen brandishing his trademark native wit. When a crowd gathered on an overhanging terrace came too close to the edge and an announcer requested them to move back, Amitabh translated, “Peeche hat jao nahin toh aap meri godh mein giroge!” (Please get back, lest you fall in my lap)
4. When a young school girl asked Nandan Nilekani, what prompted him to write a book, the Infosys co-founder replied, “I wanted an invitation to the Jaipur Literature Festival.”
5. Vikram Seth revealed that he had to buy a copy of his own book to read in one of the sessions, as he’d arrived at the festival without any copies.
As India’s young rock-star novelist tried to convince the cranky genius (who sat there fretting with a wrinkled brow) to write something meaningful on a scrap of paper for his sister (or someone), a journalist (standing with Seth) noted that he might consider adapting the kind of line Asimov is reputed to have taken in such situations: “I’ll never forget our marvellous night on the beach.”