Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019: On Day 3, discussions about need for atypical gay love stories, travel writing
The third day of the Jaipur Literature Festival saw a packed audience waiting to listen to Jeffrey Archer, and André Aciman speaking about Call Me By Your Name
On Day 3 of the Jaipur Literature Festival, André Aciman explained that his book Call Me By Your Name was an attempt to capture the flavour of an early Italian afternoon.
Jeffrey Archer said his favourite Indian author was RK Narayan, and that he should have won the Nobel Prize.
Sohaila Abdulali, Sunita Toor and Simar Singh were in conversation with Pragya Tiwari to discuss how we can learn to identify, discuss and counter violence against women in all its manifestations.
Lasy, distracted, self-doubting and without any discipline: This is how author André Aciman described himself on the third day of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival while talking about his book, Call Me by Your Name, with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi.
Born out of boredom, the book was Aciman’s attempt to capture the flavour of an early Italian afternoon — something that he described as one of the most sensual experiences. The author said he does not know how to live in the present (and didn’t like people who said they did), but is always slightly in the past or the future.
Talking about the book itself, Aciman said he wanted to ignore the tropes of typical gay love stories, which he describes to be the same as 19th and early 20th-century opera — a tragedy with someone dying at the end. He also pointed to the fact that the characters in the book had no ‘coming out’ moment.
Moving on to the film adaption of the book, Aciman gave a timeline of how things unfolded over the years, his unflattering suit in the movie (adding that he will never act again) and how he had no problems with the final result. He did point out to how the conversation between Eilo and his father towards the end of the story was interpreted as something he had not intended, but was nonetheless pleased with it.
The author also revealed how previously, his intention for Oliver was to die by drowning while out on a fishing trip, and how the title of the book was inspired by two women lovers he knew who had the same name. As for any sequels, Aciman said that he will be returning to the lives of Elio, his father and Oliver for a follow-up.
Not very long after, the same session's venue hosted one of the most popular writers of fiction across the globe, Jeffrey Archer. And it was a strange one.
The place was so packed that one of the co-directors of the festival had to step up on the stage to urge people to settle down. When Archer did make it to the stage, it was a man who had been there and done that way too many times. It was more of an elaborate performance, than a casual conversation.
Never settling down, the author strolled around the stage, rousing the crowd from the get-go by professing his love for Indian cricket and the likes of Rahul Dravid, denouncing the T-20 format and professing his love for the Test format. Barkha Dutt, who was in charge of steering the conversation, had to gently bring him back to the subject of his writings and books.
Archer kept breaking into long, boastful stories about how he came to sell millions of copies of his books, which although mildly amusing to a certain degree, could have well been left out of a 45-minute session. When asked about the things other than his books — from Brexit to dealing with personal struggles — the author was either elusive or gave answers which often sounded hollow and rehearsed.
Between all of this, there was a small fire next to the stage, which was quickly brought under control, but not before the stage was engulfed in smoke.
Among other things, Archer touched upon his work during the Thatcher years; how extensive scrutinising of personal lives is driving people away from joining politics; his writing process (which consists writing every two hours, from six in the morning to eight at night); and how he always wanted the characters Kane and Able to be on an equal footing, neither one better or worse than the other. Answering a question from the audience, he said that his favourite Indian author was RK Narayan, and that he should have won the Nobel Prize.
The annual travel panel, which more or less has had the same lineup and authors even reading the same excerpts from their books over the years, had a set of fresh faces this time around. So far, the winner for the best dressed, the panel consisted of authors Carlo Pizzati, Eliza Griswold, Isabella Tree and Ramita Navai, in conversation with Molly Crabapple.
Crabapple began with a call for redefining the travel writing, taking it away from experiences of the elite and the exploitative, to the more rooted experiences and memoirs of the likes of migrants and escape artists. The panel then read an excerpt from their books to the humming of a nearby power generator.
Pizzati read from his new memoir, Mappillai: An Italian Son-in-Law in India, and talked about his experience of being married to an Indian woman, the idea of “counter-travel”, and writing about how one is transformed by experiences of something new. Tree read from her new book, The Living Goddess: A Journey Into the Heart of Kathmandu, which she spent over a decade working on, and tells the stories of Nepal's Living Goddess or Devis — a child as young as three who is chosen from a caste of Buddhist goldsmiths to watch over the country and protect its people. She also talked about the value and desire of investing time, in today’s Instagram age, in understanding and telling stories more deeply and with patience.
Navai read from her book City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran, which explores stories from the underbelly of the capital. She discussed the ideas of rediscovering one’s roots and country; removing herself from the narrative; and finding herself in the unique position of being an outsider, as well as an insider in her home country of Iran. Griswold’s new work, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, tells the story of the energy boom’s impact on a small town at the edge of Appalachia. She expanded on how it was like working on her book and time she spent in Iran.
Crabapple concluded the reading with her own piece on war, Puerto Rico and Al Andalus, No Victor But God.
Later, Sohaila Abdulali, Sunita Toor and Simar Singh were in conversation with Pragya Tiwari (in a short, half-an-hour session) to discuss how we can learn to identify, discuss and counter violence against women in all its manifestations. Abdulali talked about the difficult situation she found herself in when she wanted to report her rape and how there are always elements stopping one from doing that. She also discussed the need for understanding the dynamics behind the voice against women and talking about not just the victims, but also the perpetrators.
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