[Have spent the last few days putting together longish feature stories about the literary festival and such, so it was a nice break to do this lightweight “My Week” column in personal diary-form, for the Sunday Business Standard.]
A freelance writer is more likely to be going to bed at 3.30 AM than waking up at that time, but I have to be ready for the early-morning drive to Jaipur – I'm going with a group of friends (fellow bloggers and journalists) for the annual literary festival and have decided to take my car, having suffered motion sickness on the bus journey last year. Co-travelers offer to share the driving if I get tired, but my insides can stand a long road journey only if I’m behind the wheel myself. (This makes life very complicated. Midway through a journey from Shimla to Kalka once, I had to ask a startled cab-driver to stop and allow me to drive the rest of the way.)
Once on National Highway-8, I briefly regret my decision as we find ourselves in the middle of a bizarre (for this time of day) traffic pile-up just outside Gurgaon; I ruminate darkly on all the things I've heard about improved roads and infrastructure. Later, alarm bells ring when we see a long line of trucks heading back towards us on our side of the road, but the traffic clears and there are no further problems. Unfortunately we reach Jaipur only around 11.30, having missed a session I badly wanted to catch - the one featuring domestic worker-turned-author Baby Halder.
In the next three days we attend readings and discussions, laze in deckchairs on the Diggi Palace lawn, chat with writers and publishers and go out for non-literary dinners each night (note to anyone visiting Jaipur: try Cafe Kooba, it's excellent). While shopping in the Walled City, a prominent blogger friend who shall remain unnamed is miffed when a crafts store assistant asks him in polite English if he "would like to try a sari". (Immense emasculation proliferates.)
At an otherwise excellent session featuring author Amit Chaudhuri in conversation with editor/critic Anita Roy, I hear the former use the phrase "the Penumbra of the Self". Having long believed that "penumbra" was either a gruesome inner body part or a six-headed mythical monster, I am stunned into reverential silence. These literary festivals really do expand one's mental horizons, even if the coffee is below par.
“I am truly mesmerised!” the short balding man in the audience says to the beautiful poet who has just finished a reading. “You seem obsessed by the human body. Can you tell me your worldview please?”
Jade Goody, who said all those mean things about Shilpa Shetty, has been evicted from the celebrity house and India has once again chastened the rest of the world with its Moral Superiority. A newspaper quotes Shetty's family as saying "good has triumphed over evil, just like in Bollywood films". I shake my head so hard it falls off.
In the evening we are entertained by a stream of quotable quotes by Salman Rushdie as he holds forth on faith ("my mother developed religion in her old age – but it was like arthritis"), censorship ("you can't burn a thought"), the Indian Army in Kashmir, and many other topics.
I reach Delhi around 12 PM after another long morning drive, and with fever and a bad cough to show for my pains. The rest of the day is spent staring listlessly at the TV screen. Outstanding match between two of tennis's finest youngsters, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, and I wonder philosophically whether you get more brownie points in the afterlife for writing a dozen good books, winning a dozen Grand Slams or participating in a dozen reality shows.
The "We support Shilpa" messages on the tickers of news channels read: "My sentiments, and the sentiments of millions of We Indians, have been offended". Seeking comfort in numbers, what? I consider possible National Mottos to go with our national anthem and national song: "I am Indian and my sentiments are always hurt." Pleased with this small contribution to the national cause, I sleep, only to be tormented by nightmares about Amit Chaudhuri's penumbra chasing me through a cold and dark forest where the trees are all painted in the national tri-colour.
The features department in office is abuzz with talk about a grand new concept called "Key Result Area" (KRA), conceived by the human resources team as a way of measuring employee performance. It sounds very promising, but a senior editor tells me the acronym makes much more sense when you add the letter "P" to it. Another sniffs, "How can you quantify a writer's work or reduce it to cold figures?" It feels like I'm back at the lit-fest.