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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

barkha dutt got on my nerves too.