Sunday, January 25, 2009

Festival notes 1: general reflections

Back from Jaipur yesterday. Had a very good time at the festival, which was extremely well-organised despite being bigger and more crowded than ever before (note: I attended the 2006 and 2007 editions, couldn’t make it last year). Given the large number of authors, moderators and journalists whose schedules had to be coordinated, the big crowds that showed up each day, and the many events running simultaneously, plenty might have gone wrong but everything ran quite smoothly – credit to co-directors Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple and Sanjoy Roy, and their teams of efficient young people responsible for the festival’s daily functioning.

I have ambivalent feelings about the literature fest having grown into such a big event from the cosy little thing it was in 06. It’s very good for book-lovers, writers and publishers, of course, but the current scale can get overwhelming if you’re anything other than a social animal who thrives on human company round the clock. At almost any given time during the four days I was there, the lawns of the Diggi Palace were packed end to end with bodies – socialising, conducting interviews, watching the evening concerts, eating and drinking. On balance, I think it was a wise decision to leave for Delhi on Saturday afternoon and miss most of the weekend madness.

I was a bit frustrated when two or more sessions I wanted to catch were running simultaneously (on at least one occasion, much flitting occurred between the three venues - the Durbar Hall, the Mughal Tent and the Baithak -
during the space of an hour), but this isn’t really something to complain about. The variety of the programme only made the festival more eclectic, and it also makes sense because none of the venues is built for a huge audience; it's better to spread things out a bit.

With so many members of the “literary community” being present, most of the writers, publishers and journalists spent their time catching up with friends or making new acquaintances, rather than attending the talks. (I plead guilty: I only saw three sessions in their entirety, not counting the ones I was directly involved with. Caught some of the others in bits and snatches, and on the TV screens that had been set up outside the Durbar Hall.) Most of the seats inside the halls and tents were filled by book-enthusiasts who aren’t lit-circuit insiders, so to speak – including the groups of schoolchildren and college-goers who had been invited for some of the sessions. This is a good thing; these discussions and readings are meant primarily for people who don’t have regular access to literary events. I thought the response to most of the sessions, including the low-profile ones, was very encouraging.

If I’d gone alone I might have become restless after a point, but Abhilasha came along too (and got more journalistic work done than inefficient little me did, despite the fact that she was officially on leave and I wasn’t). The Diggi Palace is a comforting, homely place even in the midst of such hustle-bustle, and a non-literary highlight of our trip was renewing contact with the canine members of the residing household, including the little Jack Russell terrier whom we met on our last visit more than a year ago. Here’s a picture:

Bindiya is the small one on the left; pictures of her as a puppy in this post. The Diggi Palace is a very animal-and-bird-friendly place. Even with all the human activity on the lawns, the feeding bowls for the sparrows, parrots and squirrels were in place – except, perhaps, during the Amitabh Bachchan session, which the birds and squirrels watched intently from up in the trees.

(More posts coming soon)


  1. overheard at the JLF, when a teacher ambushed a group of schoolchildren standing next to the small cafe counter -
    "so, i hope you're learning something here. how much the sandwiches cost and how coffee is made..."
    i fled trying to keep my muffin in my mouth, having attended the fest only to bunk most of it. jaipur is a distracting place for a student!
    (was sort of disappointed to find hardly any sessions with writers in other indian languages on the schedule. maybe in the future!)

  2. The weekend sessions weren't quite maddening. In fact, yesterday the crowd was very slim. I suppose not many people were interested in the AIDS Sutra sessions. Also, I overheard quite a few authors and delegates making travel plans.