Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jaipur Literature Festival 2009

In a word, uplifting. In a few more words, (and to quote one of the panelists on the subject of art), “…A release from the trivialities of quotidian life…”

Where else would a middle class engineer living in Delhi get to rub shoulders with her heroes - the likes of Shoma Chaudhury and Tarun Tejpal? Listen with enraptured attention to a panel consisting of Dalrymple, Thubron, Pico Iyer – each of whom individually fills a shelf in my library. Discover brilliant authors and books – Michael Wood, Simon Schama, Sheldon Pollock. The event was aesthetically, intellectually, and humanitarially (is there such a word?) – illuminating.

Aesthetically – the setting was spectacular. Diggi Palace is a beautiful hotel set in the heart of Jaipur with wide lawns replete with the necessary peacocks, an adorable poolside restaurant and a huge hall that could only be described as endearingly tacky. The decorations were such as to leave in my memory a pleasurable rush of colors – the place had been curtained and streamered (and the people had been dressed) in tasteful excess. Intellectually, the appeal is somewhat obvious – it is a literary festival after all. But most unusually, I loved the hyper-humanitarianism of it all. The stalls for NGOs, the nod to rural art forms and languages, the abundant jhollas… Oh and the fact that all of this was free and open to the public. Unbelievable, is not it? Just a year or so ago, I paid a couple hundred dollars to see a similar festival in Ubud.

No more gushing! Alright, just a little bit more! I sat next to Nandita Das! She is so completely free of ego - she was at one point shooed from her seat by an usher, and she quickly and gigglingly moved to the floor. In an hour or so, she would sit on the large stage in the front lawns in front of hundreds of fawning souls and discuss her upcoming movie. Shoma Chaudhary napped through a session next to me! And embarrassedly mumbled something about being tired when I afterward congratulated her on a couple of brilliant interviews that she had done. (1 & 2)

I am completely starstruck. Perhaps I will write about the sessions in greater detail some other time – right now I will just wallow in lovely memories.

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