29 January 2011

Jaipur Literature Festival 2011

Disneyland for the reader – again
Why am I posting this four full days after the fabulous Jaipur Literature Festival ended? I suppose it’s because this year I was there on holiday, not work. As a result, I attended very few sessions and didn’t interview anyone. Still, there were precious moments in abundance and this one was one of my favourites. It also shows you what the festival is really like – a place with quiet corners too, and here we sat and chatted – my mother and my daughter and a very close friend who we hadn’t met for several months. And yes – that’s my knitting on the seat and I was going to pick it up the minute I finished taking this photograph and go clackety-clackety-clack once I sat down again. Because, and pardon me for bragging, particularly because this is nothing to do with Jaipur or literature or festivals: I can knit pretty much as fast as I can type. Ahem.
Well – I think I’ve proved how much I love this event and admire the way it is organized and written endlessly about how grand it is and made everyone I know want to go too by praising it without cease. In fact, to me it’s pretty much perfect – it has a true festival atmosphere; the participants and spectators are relaxed and friendly; the setting is beautiful and exotic; you get to hear writers whose books you’ve enjoyed tell you about themselves, their work and their ideas and often even to meet them one to one; everyone has special encounters and hears special people say special things that they can put in their memoirs. Best of all, the Jaipur Literature Festival is completely democratic and everyone there is equal in their aspiration to a Life of the Mind!
Having said all this so many times, there’s only one thing I can do that would be different, and that is to list here what I would wish for to make perfect even better:
  • More space. This year, as anticipated, the festival venue was badly overcrowded with people from all over the country and many from abroad who had heard about this wonderful event and naturally wanted to be part of it too. Over the weekend it was apparently claustrophobic.
  • More security. In a crowd, even in a place where everyone’s heard of Baudelaire, nasty things can happen. My friend the poet, novelist and journalist CP Surendran was hit on the face by someone he asked for a light. More here
  • Better interviewers. Most of the people the festival authorities invite to conduct sessions are intellectuals with doubtless a great deal of reading and teaching experience. However, they are not performers. Many of them have a diffident stage presence. Many of them miss question cues that even the audience wants to jump on. This is one of the biggest differences I’ve found between Jaipur and the Hay Festival where every single event is entertainment of the highest quality. Naturally everyone can’t be as compelling and articulate as William Dalrymple – but most, barring a few professionals, are really rather mediocre.
Back from the festival, the only thing I ever want to do is read and read and read. And write and write and write. And I’m waiting eagerly for next year …

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