It’s one of those slightly windy winter days where it’s a bit too cold if you are in the shade or indoors but when out in the sun, the heat just stings you like a thousand needles as your bones melt away.
It’s also the third day of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival. The morning crowd slowly shuffles in at the Diggi Palace Hotel, as I wait for travel session to kick off. With all the sitting space already occupied, the standing bunch keep shifting a few feet every now and then with the moving shadows of the trees and the tents as the sun climbs up in the sky.
‘The Travel Session’ is one of those which takes place every year, with six or so authors joining William Dalrymple on the stage. The format is simple enough — each author gets about seven or so minutes to give some context about his/her writing and then read a travel passage from their books or articles.
This year’s lineup included Hugh Thomson, Pico Iyer, Raja Shehadeh, Redmond O’Hanlon, Bee Rowlatt and Robert Dessaix.
Dessaix kicked the procession off, discussing what travelling means to him, his most essential considerations when looking for a travel destination and finally reading a passage from his book The Pleasure of Leisure, where he talks about a surreal moment of finding a shrine in Thar desert and how in that moment, his idea of home just falls away.
Shehadeh read from his book Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape. The particular passages talked about walking through the unspoilt hills of Palestinian which would be gone one day and contemplating on what that would mean. The book also talks about his desire to preserve, in his writing, what has been lost forever.
Next up was Rowlatt, the only female author on the panel who duly started with proclaiming that women travellers do exist. She read a part from her book, In Search of Mary: The Mother of all Journeys, where she writes about awkwardly finding herself naked in a pool in California, but ending up feeling just like a baby at the end of the day (buy the book for the entire chain of events that include a not so trusty looking gentleman and an equally naked, large breasted woman).
Dalrymple, for the umpteenth time over the years, read the same passage from his From the Holy Mountain, involving a monastery, a Father, the devil, the Pope and the 35th President of the United States.
Thomson read from Nanda Devi: A Journey to the Last Sanctuary, a book published more than a decade ago, but only now set to release in India. The reasons for the book not to release in the country for so long, you ask? Well, the answer involves the 1962 India-China war, a bonkers CIA plan, a so-called “Operation Blue Mountain” and a lost nuclear-powered spying device. The result? One of the earthly paradises being sealed off the government forever.
Iyer read from one of his travel articles, talking about the notion of bucket lists, but more importantly, why one should stay away from those. And lastly, O'Hanlon read a passage from his book, No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo, where a tribesman, rather furiously, denounces the Catholic practices of the author and preaches his own land’s chief spirit.
I shuffled along through a crowd in the process of filling into the various drinking spots (the clock had barely hit the 12 o'clock mark) into to the next session — ‘Armed and Dangerous: Of Words and Lovers’ featuring Amitava Kumar and Manu Joseph, talking about their latest works.
Although the conversation was interesting, and at times, even insightful, a bit too much of the time was spent by both the authors complimenting each other and what came off as scripted banter.
Joseph talked about drawing inspiration for his work and characters from the going ons in the country, the political establishment, and more specifically, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While Kumar talked about deriving his from Mahinder Watsa’s (Ask the Sexpert) columns, among other things.
The duo also discussed how reality can often be stranger than fiction, so much so that there is, at times, even a need to tone it down in writing to make a story more believable. The subjects of researching for a book, love and sex were also talked over at some length.
The lunch break was mostly spent in trying to figure what’s the best place to eat (the criteria included where one could sit, not get robbed by the overpriced menus and avoid food poisoning at all costs). The consensus soon was there existed no such place.
But soon hunger was the last thing on my mind because after the lunch break was arguably the stellar session of the festival with an all-star lineup of Amy Tan, Michael Ondaatje, Mira Nair, Nicholas Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard, in conversation with Chiki Sarkar.
The panel discussed the adaptations of books and plays into movies and how the pages of a screenplay finally makes it to the silver screens.
Ondaatje talked about how his Booker Prize-winning book, The English Patient, was turned into a nine Academy Awards winning movie by director Anthony Minghella, while Nair, on the other side of the coin, talked about turning author Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake into a movie.
Stoppard, perhaps the most familiar with the screenplays of all, talked about walking the fine line between being loyal to an author’s text and the duty toward a director. He also expressed his utter irritation over the use of formulastic and risk-free methods of writing screenplays for the movies.
Tan and Shakespeare, both who have adapted their own books, The Joy Luck Club and The Dancer Upstairs, respectively, talked about what they had to let go, add or change for the translation; and what they learnt from the experience.
The panel also talked about the sudden revelations while watching their works on the screen, and the experience of working with film directors and screenwriters.
The day was concluded with a taste of utopia, leaving your’s truly a bit disoriented. The session was called, ‘Nordic Lights’ and had a panel consisting Carin Gerhardsen, Gerður Kristný, Josefine Klougart, Minna Lindgren and Zac O’Yeah in conversation with Odd Harald Hauge.
The lineup of authors and poets representing some of the happiest countries in the world talked about their rarely tested faith and trust in their government, universal health care, clean air, and the generally high standards of living.
The biggest problems it seems the region is facing are the debates over immigration (although most are in favour of, and need of immigrants) and eroding family values as people are too self-sure as the government takes care of everyone. So, yeah.
The final hour of the day was spent experiencing the poor man’s ‘Music Night’ at a venue restaurant itself where a band sang the covers of popular '90s songs to an exceptionally elated crowd of 40 or so.
Finally, with the chill in the air becoming unbearable, the approach for the exit was made.
Updated Date: Jan 29, 2018 15:18 PM