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Jaipur Literature Festival

Sights & sounds

Grandmothers and aunties can never stop telling people to have children as if that will solve every problem from who will take the garbage out to the arms race. At the Jaipur Literature Festival, Kiran Desai was talking about what fuels her writing and one of them was her fear of growing old in America. "I have an extreme terror of loss of ties. The thought of growing old in America terrifies me. This informs my writing, " she said. At the end of the session, an elderly woman, her hair pulled back in a severe bun, stood up and told Desai, "I have lived in America for 40 years and I spent my 30s being terrified of growing old in America too. So I have some advice for you. Follow my example. I have four children, six grandchildren and a wonderful family. I'm not afraid anymore. " Desai just smiled politely and moved on, while partner Orhan Pamuk who was in the audience, right beside the woman, studied his festival brochure.


After a discussion with graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee on 'Word, Image, Text' at the Jaipur Literature Festival, photographer Dayanita Singh wandered around the lawn outside the Durbar Hall, where the event was held, handing out eight-page pamphlets to bemused coffee drinkers and newspaper readers who had not attended the session. When someone stopped her saying, "May I have a word with you, " Singh's response was: "That's my word. That says it all. " The paper turned out to have eight reproductions of photographs from her latest photo book Dream Villa each captioned with the title of a book. "It's my reading list," she said. Singh seemed to be invoking that old adage about a picture being worth many, many words.


All the spiel around the Jaipur Literature Festival has been about 'bigger and better' than ever before. With 60, 000 people pouring in this time and the organisers budgeting for double the space next year, it's definitely growing. But bigger could just mean more people stepping on your toes or elbowing you in the ribs on their way to grabbing a chair or a piece of parantha. Better could mean that they smile politely while doing so. The same people, in a Chennai bus or a Delhi store, would just trod or jab a bit harder with absolutely no second thoughts about apologising. Is that what all the writers meant when they said literature is a good influence on people, keeping us in touch with our humanity?


Authors are known to be solitary souls who spend hours scratching away at paper - or tapping away at a computer - so how do they handle huge crowds of readers and media clamouring to ask questions? Some authors are given media training by publishers, the others just sip red wine to get into the right spirit. Irvine Welsh and Jeet Thayil sipped red wine throughout their hour-long discussion of Welsh's new book Skagboys. Welsh got himself another glass before the mini press conference on the roof of the Diggi Palace. "It helps me talk, " he said. Vikram Seth is known to have a "glass of colourless liquid", as a book buyer put it, beside him whenever he does readings and talks. Kiran Desai said she'd had a glass of wine before she got on stage to talk about 'The Inheritance of Books' with Jai Arjun Singh. "I've never been for media training like some authors. So I just have a glass of wine before I get on stage, " she said. The first thing Pakistani author HM Naqvi did when he got off stage after receiving the $50, 000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature was call for a drink. "I also need a smoke, then I'll answer your questions, " he said. Maybe JM Coetzee should have followed their lead;it might have got him to talk to the hundreds who turned up to meet him.

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