Jaipur Literature Festival: Part 2.

Because I've demolished my iphone, I'm currently using an old Nokia model whose only claim to fame is that it simply won't break. I've tried everything. Nothing deters that phone. You drop it, it neatly collapses into three parts, and then there's nothing to be done except sigh in resignation and put it together again.

The phone also has a loud and annoying ringtone, and call me biased, but I can always tell when my mother's calling because the ringtone gets just a little bit louder (I'm not sure if she reads my blog or not, so I shall desist from using the word annoying. After all, how could anything associated with my mother be annoying. She's such a bundle of calm, deep delight.) It was ringing particularly loudly at nine thirty, the morning of the second day. 

"Hi Mama," I said, without even bothering to check the caller id. 

"Are you awake yet?" 

I was awake, I'd woken up an hour earlier to a trashed room, I'd had tea, and bread that the hotel insisted on calling toast, and a dubious white looking piece of fluff that was supposed to be scrambled egg, but I couldn't have a bath because there was a power-cut on till ten. So I'd gotten back into bed, and was lying there, contemplating the purpose of literature and other high brow things that seemed suitable for contemplation in the hours before attending the talks. 


"The concert last night was terrible. TERRIBLE!" She'd arrived with her book club the previous evening - and as soon as they landed, they went to their guest house, put their lipstick and concealer on, and went off to the evening concerts which I'd already warned her were going to be bad. 

"I told you it would be," 

"Yes, well. But then we came back and we were all talking till past midnight,"

My mother....she's a wild one, isn't she? 

"Anyway," she said, "what are your plans?"

"Waiting in line to have a bath, and then we're heading to the fest." 

"Okay. I'll see you there. Want me to buy you lunch?"

"I love you so much, and I've missed you so much," I said fervently, genuinely meaning it from the bottom of my heart.

The nice thing about my mother is that she doesn't snort when I say things like that, she gets equally soppy, and a few I-love-you-and-I've-missed-you's went back and forth before we hung up. 

I went in for a bath after Mawii and Rohin. Rhea was nothing but an immobile shape under the bedsheets - the only signs of life were even, well paced snores. 

Jaipur was cold. Especially at night, and inside our hotel room. Therefore, taking a shower had to be a very careful process. Mawii came out, looking very relaxed, saying the water was boiling hot. Rohin repeated this observation. I went in with a light heart. Turned the hot water tap on. Shrieked. It was not boiling hot. To be fair, it wasn't freezing cold either, but because the bathroom felt like an igloo, the lukewarm shards of water falling on me made me feel like I was repeatedly being stabbed by icicles. 

I could write an entire separate blogpost on this experience, but I will carry on to us getting into an auto, and heading to Diggi Palace. Rhea, when we left the room, had managed getting out of bed, but she told us to carry on.

"We can wait for you," said Mawii. 

"Nah," said Rhea, staring at a wall. "I'm really slow in the mornings. I stand around and stare at things a lot." 

She's always had a flair for stating the obvious. 

I called my mother when I got to the fest and told her I was standing by the deep pit where the installations were.

"I don't know where that is,"

I sighed and asked her where she was. 

"I'm sitting on a bench under a tree in front of the British Council reading room," 

I knew where that was. I went to the bench under the tree and saw, not my mother, but Teesta Nayak's. Mawii had spotted her earlier and they were in deep conversation. I said hello, and then set about searching for my own mother. 

After a long phone call which involved raised voices towards the end, I found her on a bench, that was not under a tree, to the left of the reading room. But why quibble. 

She'd made friends with a Chinese lady and they were both enthusiastically discussing Amy Chua and Ben Okri. I introduced myself, made small talk. 

Finally I managed dragging my mother away but just after they exchanged addresses, with my mother commenting on her unusual name, the lady said, "I'm Chinese from Singapore, yes?"

I nodded because I didn't know what to say to that.

"The Chinese from China are very different. They are brainwashed. They're not like other Chinese people." 

Okay then. My mother passed a remark on how cosmopolitan Singapore was, and then we departed. 

Mawii and I went off for a talk by Steven Pinker on declining violence in human history, and I told my mother I'd see her at lunchtime. The talk was disappointing because it was really nothing more than statistics. Left halfway, found my mother, dragged her to the bookstore, bought so many books that she started grumbling, but not really, because the fantastic thing about my parents is that they always let me get as many books as I want, and never say things like, "No more than three now," or, "Oh that's too expensive and not worth it." 

So I came away with a bagful of books, and then she fed me lunch ("THE FALAFEL! THE FALAFEL! YOU HAVE TO EAT THE FALAFEL!") and then I went in for a talk by Jamaica Kincaid and Anna Pavord which, disappointingly, was on gardening, but it was still pretty good - just because of their personalities, especially Ms Kincaid, who never looked at the other speakers, nor at the audience, but straight ahead towards the ceiling, and whose face was one of those faces that have thoughts written across them, and so are incredibly interesting to watch, because the expression changes so frequently: sometimes smooth, sometimes jarring, but always distinct, from one minute to the next. 

I'd gone really early for that talk, with Mawii, so we could keep our seats for the next one, which was called 'After Bin Laden" and had MJ Akbar, Jason Burke, Max Rodenbeck, and Ayesha Jalal among the panelists. Mawii went out after the Kincaid and Pavord talk to get tea, and couldn't get back in because of the crowd. But I stayed and listened and enjoyed it so much. 

After that, everything else was really crowded, so we wandered around. I kept bumping into various members of my mother's book club (including Pixie, who was kind enough to feed me and Mawii patties and tea), and I kept seeing visions of my mother everywhere especially when we lit up cigarettes. 

And then we went home. The others went out to get dinner, but Rohin and I stayed in, and we started on tea but by the time the others came back, we'd moved on to whiskey and rum, and I was feeling pretty happy. But as usual, exercising admirable self restraint, I got myself into bed by eleven (okay, so maybe I was drunk enough to force poor Mawii to tuck me in, and also drunk enough to inform her I was switching beds because I refused to sleep next to her if she was going to cuddle her Vikram, a different one from mine naturally, all night, which she violently denied she was going to do but she did) and then I rolled over and fell asleep. 

I wish I could think of a more interesting way to end this. 


Jaipur Literature Festival: Part 1.

We travelled to Jaipur in style by car. Myself, Mawii, the Dubeys: Rhea and Rohin, and their stud driver whose name I forget but who can put away rum like no one's business.

As usual, I packed last minute, and I had to rush out of the PG, two bags slung around my neck, and my toothbrush held firmly between my teeth.

The drive was very long. We ate KFC burgers and fell asleep half an hour into the journey. The sun was out, Rhea was snoring - loud, long, content snores - and all was right with the world.

Stopped for a pee break and I mention this because it's worth mentioning.

"I need to pee," said Mawii, and this was a sentence which she would echo continuously, on the way to Jaipur, and on the way back as well. Mizos can hold their alcohol, but not their urine.

So we stopped at a petrol pump station and went to the bathrooms. Rhea went in first and when she came out, she had a look of horror on her face.

"Someone's pooped in there," she said, "and the flush isn't working, man. The flush isn't working."

I peeped in. Indian style toilets - you know, hole-in-the-ground and all that. I don't usually have a problem with them but I did have a problem with the brown gooey mass that was occupying most of the marble pit.

I backed away nervously and looked at the others.

"No," I said defiantly and walked away. Mawii, braver than I, went in.

There was a little tea stall nearby, and in front of it, a bunch of men were playing cards on a cot. Rohin was standing by and watching them, they asked him if he wanted to play, he politely declined, and went to get all of us some tea.

I ambled over to where the men were sitting and watched them. All of them - all of them - turned to stare at me. Alright then. Women are not supposed to observe men. I hastily turned away.

By this time, I couldn't, I just couldn't, ignore the damn-I-really-need-to-pee-and-a-state-of-emergency-has-been-imposed feeling in my gut.

"I need to pee," I said to Mawii.

"Just go pee then!"

"I have problems with peeing on other people's poop."


At which Rhea launched into a hugely uninteresting story about holes in the ground and poop underground and goodness knows what else, it was making me feel ill, I am barely comfortable with my own poop let alone the rest of mankind's, so I snatched Mawii's scarf, wrapped it around my mouth and nose, and shuddering with distaste, stepped into the bathroom. I didn't look, I had no wish to look, I just crouched slightly, did my business faster than I've ever done before, and ran, slathering that anti bacterial hand gel thing fussy people like Mawii (but oh, how grateful I was for her fussiness then) carry around with them all over my hands.

And then we got back in the car and carried on. On and on and on and on and then we stopped by an English-Wine-and-Beer-Shop, and Rohin and I bought lots of beer and staggered back to the car holding them bottles by the neck and I really wished I could have captured that moment, just walking from the shop to the road, crossing a ditch, surrounded on all sides by mustard fields, no one in sight except the owner of the shop peering at us through his grills, Mawii and Rhea pressed up against the windows laughing at us.

And then naturally we got a bit drunk and by this time it was dark and Mawii decided she needed to pee again (fourth time, just for the record) and this time Rhea and I joined her, and we had to content ourselves with a field, and we held hands and ran across the field, and the stars were majestic above our heads, and I pointed out the wonderfulness of that moment, but the others ignored me and then Rhea fell into a ditch.

And then we reached Jaipur. Couldn't find the hotel, the Dubeys started fighting because Rohin didn't trust Rhea's Google Map, and Rhea was highly insulted by this, and instead we asked various people directions getting a different one every time, but in the end it turned out that both the Dubeys were wrong, and we reached Hotel Swagatham, which was as shady as it sounds, eventually so it was all for the best.

Half our college was staying in that hotel, and everyone landed up that night, and promptly took over, and there was lots of drinking and yelling and running around, but I was determined to get to the lit fest on time the next day, so I was out like a light by midnight.

Aaaand the literary festival the next day: Rhea could not get out of bed, but Rohin, Mawii and I carried on. We got taken to City Palace, and it wasn't the last time someone tried to take us there because all the auto and rickshaw wallahs in Jaiupur seem obsessed with City Palace, but eventually, we reached Diggi Palace which was where we were supposed to be and there we were.

It was so crowded. We had to stand outside the tent during our first talk, but it wasn't too bad because they put television screens up. It was called 'The Disappointment of Obama' but David Remnick didn't seem too disappointed in him, and it was a really good talk, but I won't go into the details here, although it really brought up quite a lot of interesting things. Oh, interesting tidbit -

"Do you know," said Remnick, "what Obama said when he heard he was getting the Nobel Peace Prize?"

"No," said the moderator, and encouraged him to go on.

"Well, I got this from a really close source. He got the call in the morning, first thing in the morning, and what he said was, "get the fuck out of here."

A sentiment shared by quite a few people then.

After that was lunch, which was a nightmare in itself, because Mawii and I were starving - STARVING - and it was so crowded we couldn't get anything to eat, and then we went outside, but turned back halfway because we'd miss the post-lunch session, and then we went from stall to stall, and we were reaching cranky stage when we finally got hold of some food, gulped it down, and then dashed over to the front lawns to attend 'The Arab Spring: A Winter's View'. Unfortunately, I only remember the names of two of the panelists: Max Rodenbeck (I fell completely in love with him, he was just so good) and Karima Khalil (found out later through William Dalrymple that they're married), but the others were really good too: very nuanced in their views. Unfortunately it was moderated by Barkha Dutt who has got to be one of the most annoying women on the planet, and she kept dragging it back to Salman Rushdie being banned from the fest, which was just really annoying, because we didn't want to hear about Rushdie, we wanted to hear about the Arab Spring, and we didn't want to hear Barkha Dutt, we wanted to hear the panelists. Something interesting that was said, I remember it was brought up by one of the panelists whose name I can't remember, was that the western idea of democracy can't be imposed on any state, and what needs to happen, is for change to take place internally, for new institutions to be formed from within as it were, even if they take the form of Islamic institutions and not secular ones, which then turned into a debate about secularism and democracy and the connection between them, but I won't go into details here.

After that 'Writing the New Latin America' (Pola Oloixarac in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury) which was very disappointing because CC is an idiot who trivialises everything and kept making bad jokes and PO had a really annoying laugh, but I got the impression she'd actually have some very interesting things to say if only she was being interviewed by someone more decent. I have to admit most of my focus was on her legs because she was wearing a short blue skirt with red boots and sheer black stockings and she kept moving her legs about and I was worried (the men, I'm sure, were hopeful) that her skirt would ride up and I would see things I didn't want to see, but that didn't happen.

And then everything else was crowded, I also saw a bunch of random people from Calcutta, and two of them were rolling joints (surprise, surprise), we couldn't get into any of the talks, I started getting grumpy, it started getting cold, we left, bought alcohol, went back to the hotel room, everyone got drunk and rowdy. We started playing this drinking game called Pyramids, and I managed putting away quite a lot of vodka, but I really wanted to get up early in time for the talks, so I crawled into bed by midnight.

Apparently the party carried on till four, and I'm told that there was lots of yelling, lots of singing, lots of people clambering over me, but I slept through it all, and woke up, fresh as a daisy, by eight thirty the next morning to a room that looked like a hurricane had ripped through it, leaving behind empty alcohol bottles and ashtrays and half finished drinks.

And then the second day began, but that's going to be a sequel, and unfortunately, my mother and her book club are going to be in it.


To turn over the hour glass, to neatly slice a sliver of time off and to wrap it up and put it away and pretend it never was, and to leap back over the abyss that is left and fill it up again, wiser this time, more cautious, less vulnerable. If only.



Almost based on a true story.

So there was this boy, at university somewhere in the United Kingdom, and he was pretty average on the whole. Not too good looking, but passable, tried to be charming when the ladies were around, failed regularly and admirably, didn't study throughout term, but frantically the night before the exams, and got okay sort of marks.

Anyway, one day, he was standing outside his college gate, and he saw this girl that he'd seen before - you know how it is, you see random faces at parties, or with friends, and sometimes you attach names to them, but more often you can't - but he saw her this time, really saw her, as she was, except perfect. And since he had nothing better to do, he fell in love with her.

His luck was in this time round. He got a mutual friend to introduce them. Names were exchanged, phone numbers, and as the days went by, a lot more - like interests and hobbies and personal histories - and then as even more days went by, real thoughts and real feelings and real dreams: all the usual kinds of things, often disconnected, that miraculously weave together to form a thread, a link, that makes you feel no one has ever understood you this way, and no one ever will.

And then came the special night, and everyone knows what a special night is, and to prepare for it - he wasn't one to leave things to Fate because Fate had, in his eyes, been notoriously unkind to him since the day he was born - he went to his local store, I think it was Tesco's, and he bought twelve condoms and a bottle of scotch, much to the admiration of the fellow behind the counter: a fellow sufferer at the hands of Fate.

And the look the fellow-behind-the-counter gave him, one that was full of awe and admiration, one that said mate-you're-the-man, was a look he'd never received before, not from anyone, and it made him feel, simply put, very good indeed.

He wasn't feeling very good a few hours later, as he lay alone in his bed, with half an empty scotch bottle beside him, and the condoms, all unopened, surrounded by ashtrays (not that he smoked, he just liked having ashtrays around, he collected them) staring unblinkingly at a message on his phone that had just brought his world crashing down forever - or if not forever, then at least for a while.

In a way, he mused, staring up at the ceiling, it fit in with everything else in his life so far. Things always reached a certain point, and then just as he let himself hope they'd keep climbing, keep raising themselves higher, right to where the mist touched the sun, they'd all come tumbling down, and there he'd be, lying on his bed, with a lump in his throat, wanting to cry, but not crying, because after all, he was a man - or trying to be, desperately, blindly, in the only way he knew how.

He went back to Tesco's everyday for the rest of the week and everyday he bought a bottle of scotch and twelve condoms, and the fellow-behind-the-counter came to see him as god on earth.

He didn't drink most of the scotch, and he never had to use any of the condoms, and it was all a terrible waste of money, but when he went to bed at night, despite the ache in the pit of his stomach, it was always easier going to sleep knowing that someone out there thought he was a Man, and that Fate, for once, had to be silent, had to leave things untouched.



Delhi's really cold. I don't remember if it's as cold as last year, probably not, but it's cold enough. Thank goodness for thermal underwear. I'm not kidding - I'm wearing thermal leggings under my track pants, and I'm wearing a thermal vest under my two t-shirts and thick sweater, and I still feel the need to lie shivering under one blanket and two duvets.

It's good being back though. I never realise how fond I am of Delhi, and of college, until I spend a month away from both. The it's-good-being-back-feeling really hit me when I walked into college yesterday, and the sun was out, and I saw all these familiar faces by the dhaba tree, all doing the usual things. One was staring blankly at a book, the other was marching up and down, legs working in military precision as he sipped tea, and the Philosophy students were, as usual, engaged in deep conversation with their professors.

The last non-academic conversation I had with one of my professors, was when I showed Roy my medical certificate and he told me that he had the same doctor. "Very good with lungs," he said, with a smirk. Yes, Dr Roy, you would know, and my own lungs being in a precarious state, or so my mother always (loudly) claims, the news relieved me a bit.

And it's such a relief having Mawii around again. We made a trip to Costa to catch up, and I told her my winter stories, and she made just the kind of remarks I wanted to hear, and laughed just when laughter was supposed to occur, and made what-a-douche faces just when a what-a-douche face was needed.

Anyway, I don't want to brag or anything, but I'm really keeping up with my New Year Resolutions. Have hardly been smoking, I've already got down to work, and I switch my laptop off every night and put it away in its case, and I've locked my camera up. So: 1) being healthy, 2) being productive, 3) being careful with possessions. Sorted.

Anyway, my life is going to be boring for the next few months, but this kind of boring is alright, because it's not boring really, just monotonous, and I've realised that this monotony - which I've become accustomed to over the past three years - will be over soon, and I'll never get it back. In May, I graduate, and then the excitement, the step down that road I believe is called the-rest-of-my-life, all that will happen, and I'm looking forward to it so much, it's like this great big blurry light locked away inside me and spinning madly, but for now I've sort of tucked it away, because this - this moment right here, lying on my bed, with my books spread out around me, and Mawii checking her Blackberry, this is precious, simply because there aren't too many moments like this left, and it's making me appreciate things I've always complained about before.

It's funny how even the dullest, most familiar of things take on a certain glow once you realise that they won't last forever.


The best birthday present ever.

(Apart from my dad walking into the house casually on my birthday morning carrying a giant wooden fish and other knobbly, intriguing, newspaper wrapped parcels).

It was an email from my uncle in Dulwich - and the rest of that family - telling me that their twenty first birthday present to me is a holiday in Europe this summer, once I've graduated college.

Hello 2012, you're already looking a lot brighter than your predecessor ever did. 


Ten minutes before I turn twenty one. What will this year bring, I wonder.