I say again, lest my last post failed to register with the ‘deaf futtbucker’ demographic hiding amongst you: The Jaipur Literature Festival 2012 is about to get underway.
There are Lit Fests and there are Lit Fests. This one, though, is not your average overdose of book readings and (equally lackluster) panel discussions. The authors will not brood and the audience will not snooze.
For one, it’s a free festival.
So you see..? It is a chance for bottom feeders (like you) to approach Salman Rushdie, sip coffee with Michael Ondaatje, rub shoulders with Amish Tripathi, or admire Fatima Bhutto in toto for her, er, literary excellence.
Choosing what events to attend may be the only stress of the day for your cheap derriere. You’ll pay nothing to get in; then mull difficult session choices over a free lunch.
The atmosphere will be informal, interdisciplinary, and infectious. Actors, directors, fashion designers, economists, travellers, politicians, scientists, students, bloggers and all manner of urban hipsters will congregate in the gardens of an old and intimate Rajasthani palace to spend 5 days “in conversation”.
At night, the wine will flow. Expect the stage to come alive with the Dionysian revelry that typically follows a literary salon.
But there’s a catch.
Thanks to a rise in the number of programmes (and an ever increasing attendance) over the years, the venue is straining to breaking point and the nature of the event is changing. Last year, J.M. Coetzee had to clamber over hundreds of people squeezed next to speakers, crouched next to seats, or sitting on folded newspapers on the churned-up grass.
To reach the stage.
Those who have experienced the intimacy of earlier editions of the JLF lament that it is now impossible to have conversations with their favourite writers. The authors, too, may bemoan the festival’s increasingly unwieldy size.
Junot Diaz, a witty and thoughtful commentator on the lot of migrants in America, used one session to blame capitalism for encouraging writers to pursue their work not because they have something important to say, but for the sake of getting approval from the largest possible audience. “We know that we need less applause and more conversation,” he told a packed room.
Promptly—inevitably—the audience clapped.
One can certainly nitpick, and criticism has always been a blood sport in India. My money, though, is still on Dalrymple (co-Director of the event) to put up a great show. The self-confessed “Indophile” has always had an acute understanding of the way things work (or don’t work) in India (a fact amply demonstrated in his books). Vikram Seth may well buy George Herbert’s house and own an umbrella but he won’t ever really be ‘British’; while one may safely proclaim Dalrymple is more ‘Indian’ now than when he first came here (as a backpacker in 1989), and less of an anglophile than a lot of us.
Ergo: Mister William aage badho, hum tumhaare saath hain.