My Experiences at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

My Experiences at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

The last two days of Lit Fest 24th and 25th Jan at Jaipur was planned by us. Landing at Jaipur at 7:30am from train on 24th started our experience of 50 hours there. Devanshi had excitement brimming from her toes to her lips and both kept moving with rhythm of JLF, Naipaul, Ian Jack, Homi K Bhabha and a couple of other names. Check in into Golden Tulip, bath and breakfast reduced to preliminaries to leaving for the Fest. Three of us reached the Diggi House at 10 am ready for the day. We had registered online as delegates got badges saying that along with a beautiful jute bag stating JLF and having a couple of books and a magazine. 

The first session we attended was the one by Sudha Murthy. The hall was more than completely packed! There were people sitting on the floor in front of the chairs between the chairs and the stage and even in the passage between the chairs. She was interviewed by the writer Namita Gokhale about her writing habits, philosophy and life turning events. Lot of children attended her session and had many questions for her. She prompted primarily the thought that kids should read and write more, watch television for lesser time and that simplicity is the key to happiness. She said one must spend on education and travelling, as both add to knowledge and better perception of the world. She explained how her travelling alone in USA with minimal money made her aware of so many things about life and people. I couldn't agree more but it is so difficult to explain or convince anyone about it. Everyone discovers it in their own way when they travel. And usually it becomes addictive. Sudha Murty insisted there should be some difficulties in life to induce confidence and maturity in a person. Her book 'The mother I never knew' was the one she talked about primarily, where she discussed issues of effect of nature vs nurture. She believes that parents finally mould their children's personality and other influences are smaller, comparatively. We met Mr Ram Jethmalani in Sudha Murthy's session and had a brief talk with him. 

The next session we attended had Sarah Waters discussing with Damon Galgut and Eleanor Catton about writing a historical fiction and then talking about many other things. These two were writers who were successful with their first books itself. My perception now on what means success in the world of writing is when the book is appreciated by an academic or critic or an authority in similar genre and the book is read by a lot of people and makes the readers either happy with the experience or makes them think and question lot of things. For both the authors, it was a lot of hard work and researching that went into writing a historical fiction. What struck me was the contrast in the two of them, Eleanor having a Masters degree in Creative Writing and Galgut having his first book published when he was 17 years, when his school teacher submitted his manuscript to the publisher. Galgut admitted that he might write another genre now as historical fiction was too demanding and almost traumatizing in the discipline it demanded. Eleanor on the other hand was open to anything which gripped her mind, including historical fiction, which seemed to be more in the manner of a scholar ready to undertake the next assignment knowing that each is a challenge.

The session on V S Naipaul was a thought provoking experience. His coming to the Fair was the highlight of the fair according to the ardent Lit fan at home. It seemed his arrogance mellowed down tremendously in comparison with how he was long time back. He was on the wheel chair but his mind and tongue as sharp, clear and full of humour as always. He described his early days, his success and failures with a manner so concise and yet so explanatory! He is a master of words and his charm escapes no one even in a crowd! Although  I lack literary skills and its true appreciation, but I could still appreciate his precision and humour. Farrukh Dhondy was talking to him and addressed him as Vidia. Nadira Naipaul got her chair placed right behind that of V S Naipaul and assisted in keeping the microphone at the right distance and angle intermittently. Mr Naipaul would forget what he was talking after talking awhile and would then inquire from Farrukh very politely, 'where was I' or when he felt he had nothing more to say, 'is that enough for you Farrukh' or 'did I say that well' in the most charming way ever. His experience of his first rejection and his saying that a writer has to constantly learn. He said something which I found very interesting. He said he was never ambitious and would write only because he had faith that what he wants to write, ought to be written by him. This desire and then an unexplainable compulsion to write and a momentum building up gradually and overpowering them is what most authors say in some way or the other. Their restlessness is also quite unnerving and piercing. Eleanor read the first part of her book "The Luminaries" as the first few pages took 6 months, she said. This book was the one which won the Man Booker prize for her and only her second book! The writers also say that you can write many books which get appreciated, but then they cannot be like 'War and Peace' meaning thereby appreciated for generations and becoming timeless. Sudha Murthy had said that all it takes to be a writer is to continuously write and improve and yet someone said there are blank zones extending for years! 

On 25th Jan, we had a session with Bettany Hughes, writer of the book, 'The hemlock cup: Socrates, Athens and the search for the good life'. It was another learning session in Socrates philosophy in a very interesting way. An unexamined life is not worth living is what Socrates had said, meaning we need to continually examine and question our thoughts and actions. He did not believe in written word and believed thoroughly in discussions. The author put it quite emphatically as Socrates was a soldier teaching people to think for themselves which of course was not welcome. His philosophy believed in living life fully and that meaning of life is love. The word love meaning love for life most probably and not love as love we understand in usual terms. Even in his philosophy being good or to be good is to be what we think is good, think about what we are doing and why. Buddha apparently was his contemporary and his philosophy agrees or overlaps with Socrates in saying that setting oneself as good rather than setting the world as good is the way to make things better! It is interesting how she is working on a project comparing philosophy of Socrates, Buddha and Confucius! And all three are supposed to be contemporaries and it is probably a million dollar question whether they knew that either existed! I was also impressed by the fact that she had gone deep into hemlock poisoning and could describe well the progression of signs and symptoms on ingestion of hemlock.

Dinner at Le Meridien Hotel was the final event of the Festival. This was a huge ground, but the crowd from the fest was not small by any standard! Must be at least 2000 people and with drinks and dinner spread on the sides lavishly along with drinks looking like a gathering more than any conference or marriage reception party. To add to it was a stage with a whole music troop performing Rajasthani folk and Sufi music! A few dinner tables were set for candle light dinner for dignitaries. My daughter would later ask me if I noticed how we had our dinner with a Booker prize winner right on our side! But what a crowd and what a noise! It felt unbearable and I now longed for peace and solitude ......... I missed home .........and work.

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