The Jaipur Literature Festival (20-24 Jan ’12) is about to get underway.
It’s been a bumpy ride - The inaugural event in 2006 drew a crowd of about 100 attendees, including some who “appeared to be tourists who had simply got lost,” according to the event’s co-director William Dalrymple.
And the naysayers feel the festival is all about pretenders and post-colonial sahibs. Like Hartosh Bal; in a caustic piece appearing in Open Magazine in 2011, he wrote the festival “works not because it is a literary enterprise, but because it ties us to the British literary establishment”—exemplified, first and foremost, by Dalrymple himself (whom he went on to deride as the “pompous arbiter of literary merit in India”). Incidentally, Bal is an Oxbridge-educated Indian who sounds more British than the Queen herself.
Dalrymple hit back immediately, lambasting Bal’s screed as racist cant akin to “pouring shit through an immigrant’s letterbox”.
Sadly, things are less acrimonious now.
Let’s take one final, longing look back at some of the funnier and more candid moments from events of years past. To set the mood for the serious business that follows.
Literary foreplay, if you will.
At the 2011 Jaipur Lit Fest;
1. Orhan Pamuk, that grave purveyor of melancholy, is evidently also a funny man.
During the Q&A session, someone asked Pamuk if the theme of his new novel ‘Museum of Innocence’ was whether philosophical love was deeper than physical love. Without skipping a beat, Pamuk responded, “That depends on the penetration.”
2. Junot Diaz (author of ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao‘), during a session titled ‘Storyteller-in-Chief’, told a packed crowd under the Mughal tent, “I can’t imagine anything more foreign to Indian readers than the Dominican Republic or New Jersey. But white people were looking for YOU when they found US.”
3. During one of the interactive sessions, Gulzar amused the audiences with little anecdotes on the birth of songs in Hindi cinema before Javed Akhtar (who arrived 20 minutes late) could join him. He later apologised to Akhtar saying,” ‘Maaf Kijiyega, main inhe behla raha tha (Forgive me, I was just managing them).
4. During a Q&A session, a school girl asked Gulzar, “There was simplicity in our old songs. The vocabulary was simple and it touched our hearts. Why can’t we have a similar vocabulary in new songs?” Gulzar shot back, “You have used ‘vocabulary’ twice in your question. Can you tell me what it is called in Hindi?
5. An angry Indian editor from a well-known and respected publishing house was heard describing Dalrymple (who at last year’s festival was reading his own texts while Paban Das Baul sang and swayed, even as certain sections felt as the Director of the Festival he should not have been hogging so much of the limelight) as “that self-promoting ‘White Mughal‘ who has turned down all my authors”.