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Jaipur Literature Festival The crowds—200,000 people—came en masse


Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.

The pornographer and the Palestinian

Stanley Moss gives his impressions of the 2015 ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival
photographed by the author

 

 

Suppose they gave a party and everybody came. An estimated 200,000 avid readers descended on the Diggi Palace in India’s famed Pink City from January 21 to 25, 2015 to attend the eighth edition of what organizers billed as ‘the world’s largest free literature festival’. From all appearances, they did not exaggerate their claim. Over 100 live panels and discussions occurred during the five-day gathering, most of them standing-room only affairs, running simultaneously, touching on a range of topics, far more than one jet-lagged reporter could easily cover. Simply navigating the droves from venue to venue was arduous enough. Also, it rained the first two days, turning the gardens into a biblical ocean of soggy guests, energetic spirits undampened by the inclement skies.

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Above, from top, left to right The authors’ lounge. Waheeda Rehman. Rick Stroud. Joanna Rakoff. Dave Goulson. Kate Summerscale. Hanif Kureshi. Nicholson Baker and Raja Sen. Chai wallahs.

 

Throw a bash like this one in any other city and you won’t get the turnout Jaipur delivered; the community obviously loves to read, judging from the enthusiasm of the students, families, the famous and the elderly who attended. Amazon’s bookstore was clogged, mobbed, packed to the gills, jammed, claustrophobic, filled, nearly impenetrable. India’s vast literate public, estimated at 400 million book buyers, admires a host of author superstars, half of whose names aren’t yet recognized in the west, but whose formidable achievement is well known in their homeland. Here illustrated is a succession of encounters with international luminaries taken from a blurry landscape, one which never yielded enough time, lubricated on a roaring river of scalding chai. Witness these fragmentary impressions of the illuminati, who inhabit a rarified world of mysterious process.

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Above, from top, left to right Kalyam Ray and Basharat Peer. The queue for the author signing table. Signing away: Hanif Kureshi, Sarah Waters, and Nicholson Baker. Nicholson Baker’s autograph. Selfie with Hanif Kureshi. Valmik Thapar. Gideon Levy and Fady Joudah. Dave Sanford and Kai Bird. Raja Sen and Anindita Ghose. Chandrahas Choudhury.

 

Festrval organizer William Dalrymple (everybody calls him ‘Willy’) didn’t come to rest until the last night, observed gyrating on the dance floor at the Writers’ Ball. The legendary Paul Theroux remained aloof at his multiple panel appearances. Superstar author Hanif Kureshi upheld his role as resident curmudgeon, wisecracking from the stage, glaring from the author signing table, grudgingly aquiescing for a selfie. Nicholson Baker, whose provocative novels—ahem—titillate, proved to be a crowd-pleaser, charming audiences, graciously signing books and posing for photographs whenever asked. Author of lesbian vampire bestsellers Sarah Waters discovered waves of bloodthirsty fans in India. Chandrahas Choudhury, whose brilliant novel Arzee the Dwarf is considered a modern classic, watched with amusement from the sidelines. Dave Goulson, beekeeper extraordinaire, delighted attendees with excerpts from his latest, A Sting in the Tale. Robert Ames biographer Kai Bird traded clandestine notes with cross-cultural trainer Dave Sanford while waiting for the author bus to arrive. The remarkable Palestinian poet Fady Joudah searched for common ground with Ha’Aretz’s Gideon Levy on- and off-stage. Joanna Rakoff looked beyond her memoir of a friendship with the reclusive J. D. Salinger. Kate Summerscale searched for a new murder to report, fresh on the heels of her success with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, adapted on the BBC. Kalyan Ray lunched with Basharat Peer, who talked about his well-received film version of Hamlet, set in India. Rick Stroud of London discussed his forthcoming book on the capture of a German general on Crete in WWII. Valmik Thapar wanted to talk only about Wild Fire, his latest volume on tigers, the ‘most mesmeric, powerful, visceral things on earth.’ Young superstar cinema critic Raja Sen and Vogue India’s Anindita Ghose kept up a breakneck itinerary, seemed to be everywhere. Adoring fans wouldn’t let cinema legend Waheeda Rehman alone as she promoted her new memoir. And a bunch of kids milled around a decorated convertible Mini bedecked with pictures of the famous and notorious. •


 





Above, from top At the venue. The crowd as seen from the authors’ table (or nearby). Young people and their Mini convertible. Students visiting the Festival. Another view of the venue. Spontaneous dancing. The crowds at the Festival. The authors’ ball.

 

 

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