Togged out in trendy clothes, the beautiful people are having a great time as the so-called greatest literary show in Asia winds down, munching samosas, sipping the famous Pushkar chai, quaffing a glass of wine or soaking in their double Scotch.
The literati are there in plenty, but giving them fierce competition are glitterati, twitterati and fritterati (those who find book shows a nice way to fritter their time)!
Nothing can come in the way of their irrepressible appetite for partying, not the biting chill and surely not the shame of a controversy circling around Midnight’s Child and the author of ‘The Satanic Verses’.
If you care to eavesdrop, you can hear them talking about Cannes, the biscuits for their dogs, the latest gadget in their armoury, their messy love life, divorces and heartbreaks. Only the diehard highbrows will scorn at such blithe spirits making literature a celebration of the word and the world we live in. The pious fable and the dirty story, all share in literary glory at the Jaipur Literature Festival!
Is it goodbye to Jaipur’ With the unholy row about Salman Rushdie casting its long shadow over the festival, speculation was floating around that next year it may move to some other city where politicians don’t pander to ‘fundos’ (fundamentalists).
William Dalrymple, an organiser and a novelist in love with India and its forgotten kings, only fanned the speculation, albeit with a dash of humour. After a mind-blowing performance of fusion music blending turbaned Rajasthani singers with a firang jazz band, Dalrymple came on the stage for ‘thank yous’. ‘I hope the Rajasthan government gives us permission next year,’ said Dalrymple, half-jokingly. Sanjoy Roy quickly butted in, gently chiding his co-organiser. ‘That’s why I don’t give the mike to William.’
The lit voyeurs
Crush. And mush. The crush of crowds. And the crush you have for the writer whom you read in the privacy of your mind and suddenly find yourself face to face with, smiling, his lips twisted in gentle irony. ‘Oh, he is my god,’ a pretty 20-something, a pink fedora perched stylishly on her petite head, gushes forth about Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje, the author of ‘The English Patient’.
Besides spontaneous adoration that comes to some literary souls, there is no dearth of voyeurs and lechers at the sprawling Diggi Palace. You can call them ‘lit voyeurs’. The sessions with pretty women authors are invariably jam-packed, with not an inch of earth to stand on.
‘Fatima Bhutto is gorgeous, you saw her. She is simply terrific,’ says a besotted gentleman, hair graying but heart as young as ever. Another man with poetic pretensions rhapsodises: ‘Pola – did you see her’ She hits me like a UFO!’ He was pining for the stunningly beautiful and fiercely intelligent Argentinian writer Pola Oloixarac, a philosopher, novelist and cabaret singer.
One can only hope this literary romance goads them to go beyond the pretty exterior.
Fall in love with Africa
Many of them may not have heard much of Africa except as the cursed place where terrible things happen, genocide, violence, disease, hunger. ‘It’s always famine in the heart of Africa’ — Nigerian novelist Ben Okri mocked the bleak stereotypes that have been mass-manufactured by the Western media and fed into the consciousness of millions of passive consumers of news.
Reading out from his new book ‘A Time For New Dreams’, Okri said in his inimitably rich baritone that it was time to rediscover Africa through the eyes of a lover. Okri’s magic was in full flow, with fans making a long queue to get their books signed by the Booker-winning novelist who unravels dreams and reality in his novels. Fall in love with Africa, you will not repent. Make Africa smile. It’s all about seeing and loving the people for what they are, said Okri in a lyrical strain.
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)