A day of glittery, winter sunshine, hushed reverential silences, hot cups of tea and books, books, books. A day of magic.
The inaugral address by Dr Karan Singh, who floored us with his recital of many famous couplets in Urdu, Hindi, English and Sanskrit; and Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies,who impressed upon us the urgency of protecting the age-old literature found in these myriad tongues that is slowly being lost forever, set the tone an introspective yet fun day.
As we were listening, a small red-faced man quickly walked by, a parrot, in myriad shades of green from head to toe – stripy yellow-green socks, neon-green coat and little olive bow-tie with a green beret – and seemed to have flown off as quickly, when we went looking for him later. Probably bored by all the dull browns, blacks and winter blues that he saw everyone else wearing.
Orhan Pamuk asked for questions and insisted on them being ‘short, very short.’ And then proceeded to shoot them all down anyway. I listened to a wonderful folktale by Rana Dasgupta assisted by Tishani Doshi, an adaptation that he wrote of a popular classic ‘Woodfinger’ and came away with a new understanding of how one can re-work age-old fairy tales to incorporate modern realities like energy conservation and concern for the environment.
Lunch began with thick glasses of lassi, which we spooned out of earthen glasses. Fresh, soft paneer, kaju curry and buttery lacha parathas completed the meal, at a tiny little dhaba in the old city.
The afternoon session with Liaquat Ahamed and Gurcharan Das – the sweetest looking old man and the one of the best speakers – was all about finance, the global economy and the like. Super, if you enjoy that stuff. The birds, who had listened patiently all this while, suddenly decided to join in the fun and were soon chirping their heads off. A nice little background score that one could listen to, when the mind began to wander.
Javed Akhtar was holding fort at another venue, and rather tragically, explaining how Urdu is as much as Indian language as any other, and is not, and never was connected to the Muslims alone. It was not a ‘Mughal’ language and came into it’s own after the decline of the Mughals. Apparently Akbar spoke Punjabi, Awadhi and the like. Not Urdu, unlike what Mughal-e-Azam would have us believe.
There were many other great sessions – Jon Lee Anderson spoke about Che Guevara, Jung Chang was passionately discussing the devastation Mao wrought on China – but one could only take so much.
So we called it a day, went shopping (what else) and returned to the hotel. Tired, happy and greedy for more.
p.s. We did go back for dinner. And it was the best decision of the day. A local Rajasthani band brought the house down with their rendition of folk songs and old favourites like ‘dama-dum mast kalandar’. Cheered on by the likes of William Dalryrmple, who sitting cross-legged on the ground right up in front of the stage, the crowd was very soon on its feet and everyone was dancing, dancing, dancing.