Jaipur feels good in the morning. The air is as clean and fresh as I remember. The ‘kulhad’ chai (tea that is served in tiny terracotta pots) is piping hot and much-needed after a 5-hour flight from Bangalore, for which I left home at 3am. The tea is chargeable now though – 10 bucks.
It’s 11am and I’m racing from the airport to make it in time for Michael Ondaatje’s session, who is the author of the magnificent ‘The English Patient’. I manage to make the last 15 minutes. Ondaatje spoke about how he wants his books to be ‘montages’, about how he is influenced by Japanese art – to ‘follow the brush’ and see what comes of it – and how this frees his pen from the dictates of plot, storylines and structures. Made me want to pick up my pen and start writing right away!
Managed to also hear Rosamund Bartlett, a biographer, speak about Leo Tolstoy, who is one of my favourite authors. Learnt that he was a vegetarian pacifist, who gave up his copyrights (and subsequent earnings from them) on moral grounds, even though he had 13 children and a wife, who were all but starving! But that’s the worse of it (I think). He redeemed himself in many ways, as a socialist and a reformer, not least when he spearheaded a movement against a famine, that went on to kill millions of people and would have probably killed many more if it were not for his efforts. Today depressingly, Tolstoy is redundant in Russia. They don’t get him anymore. Putin and his bare bodied machismo is in. Vegan pacifists are out.
After these sessions I took it easy, wandered about a bit, let it all soak in. There are more restaurants this time, more people of course, more foreigners, more Louis Vuittons. No complaints though, it’s all good.
I can’t end without talking about Mohammed Hanif, Pakistani author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes and Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (whose name I confused with our very own Jaspal Bhatti!). Hanif is unassuming, witty, and prone to rambling, and was visibly disturbed when a man stood up in the audience and explained, in halting English, that he was a Hindu from Pakistan, now in exile in India, and wanted to know when Hanif thought things would be well enough for him to go home? It breaks one’s heart, this business of living.
And of course, Salman Rushdie has confirmed that he is not coming to Jaipur and will probably talk to us via a tele-conference or some such thing.
In one of the sessions, Hari Kunzru read a few lines of the banned Satanic verses in protest – and then was promptly told to stop reading that as well! He went on to read an excerpt from his book, Gods Without Men – which was not such a bad idea actually, as he’s a super writer (and very pleasant on the eye!) My only complaint was that the moderator insisted on calling Kunzru ‘”bro” at least three times. Eeks! Get a life “bro”.