(Continued from Part 1)
The problem was trying to be in five places at the same time and also do my own interviews. So there was a certain amount of mad scramble plus onsite buffet lunches and evening parties. I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet people like Christopher Ricks, Ian Buruma, Yiyun Li, the artist William Kentridge, and even festival founder William Dalrymple himself, all of whom I had interviewed before but not face to face. And to catch up with many others, such as Pico Iyer, Gary Shteyngart, Ashok Ferrey, Howard Jacobson, Ahdaf Soueif, and Ariel Dorfman who told me he'd just finished a libretto and was now writing love poems. And of course to meet new people (a.k.a. not yet on W & C) like Elif Batuman, John Burnside, Chandrahas Choudhury and Timothy Garton Ash. It all sounds a bit like name-dropping, I know, but there were at least a dozen more I had hoped to encounter. An added treat was spending time with Sirish Rao, organizer of the Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver and its supporters, as well as writers such as Anosh Irani and Shauna Singh Baldwin.
It was exciting that the finalists for the £60,000 Man Booker International Prize were announced during the festival -- a list that includes Concordia University prof Josip Novakovich, as well as Marilynne Robinson, Lydia Davis, Peter Stamm, U.R. Ananthamurthy, and Aharon Appelfeld (all W & C alumni, so to speak). The Man Booker party that night was held in the City Palace, a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. This time we were greeted not by antique cars but by ceremonial horses, painted elephants and decorated camels.
The next day, I made a point of attending the award ceremony of the $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The MC was a tall, baritone Bollywood actor who had clearly ripped out the page on writing from the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations. "As Thackeray said," he intoned... "To quote Emerson..." I was thrilled when Jeet Thayil was declared the winner, whooping with excitement, then I realized that audiences at the JLF are quite subdued. But he was a popular choice. The only nominee in attendance not to be seated onstage, because of security, he walked up to the platform and talked about how important it was to him to win -- the money too, that also matters for a writer, he said.
Earlier that afternoon, I ducked out to a fabric shop. Jaipur is famous for its block printing, silks and cashmere. A friend had hired a car and driver for the day, but almost as soon as we arrived at the store, we found ourselves literally on the wrong side of an endless demonstration of Muslim men waving green flags, on motorcycles, trucks, any kind of vehicle, protesting a major meeting of Hindu fundamentalists. It was a Friday. After about an hour, we were told that traffic would remain blocked to cars for at least another two hours so the only way back to the festival was on foot and then tuk tuk. As we picked our way along the treacherous sidewalks beside the demo, I was suddenly pelted on the back of the head with an orange segment. Startled, I spun around to see a man laughing, on one of the trucks. Rather than interpret this gesture as xenophobic, misogynist or worse, I decided that answers as well as questions were all to be found at one of the 175 sessions of the JLF and there were still at least a hundred awaiting me.