Writers Ball – Jaipur Literature Festival 2009

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:27 PM

25th Jan 2009
Lawns of City Palace

21:30 hours : Amidst the regal ambience of City Palace, I was greeted by a fragrant rose garland delicately flung around my neck by pretty foreign women standing at the entrance, all dressed in our tradition ghaagra-choli. Next I was offered a pair of shimmery laakh bangles to adorn my wrists. A little unsure about whether it would go well with the casual jeans I had decided to turn up in, Sanjoy Roy saw the discomfort and cajoled me into wearing them as they were “traditional”.

I was attending the Writer’s Ball hosted by DSC as the last leg of the 5-day long ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival (Jaipur has been playing host to the event for the last two years) and was pretty thrilled at the prospect of meeting the established brigade of writers, historians and intellectuals in informal settings. Unlike the rest of the festival that was organized at Diggi Palace where the entry was free, admission tonight was strictly by invitation only. That filtered out most of the crowd and I realized that the time was ripe to indulge in some heavy duty interaction with the people who define our literary world. Notable authors who had attended the festival were Dr.Shahi Tharoor (my favourite author whose sight eluded me on that particular day), Gurcharan Das (a Harvard graduate whose next book is called ‘the difficulty of being good’), Gulzar (padma bhushan awardee), Kapil Sibal (noted lawyer, union minister and now poet), MJ Akbar (founder Asian Age), Mohammed Hanif (‘a case of exploding mangoes’ fame), Nandan Nilekani (recent node on the writing sphere with ‘imagining india’), Nicholas Coleridge, Prasoon Joshi (ad-guru and chairman McCann-Erickson), Sam Miller, Swapan Dasgupta (managing editor India Today), Tarun Tejpal (founder ‘Tehelka’), Tina Brown, Vikas Swarup (‘q&a’, ‘six suspects’) and Vikram Seth (‘a suitable boy’, the 1500 pages novel that took him six years to write while he was staying at his parents house). View the complete list here. Although to my disappointment, a lot many of them were not attending the ball that night.

22:00 hours : The ‘ball’ turned out to be a qawwali session but I was trying not to get too disheartened because many authors were still out there somewhere. The darkness and the lack of introductions was a hindrance in making out who was who, but a couple of faces were hard to miss. Tarun Tejpal, with his tall built and imposing personality, was very noticeable. But I had to withhold my urge to go up and chat with him because he looked all too happy standing by the bar counter with his female accomplices. Next time maybe, I thought. For the uninitiated, his latest book is on India and is called ‘the story of my assassins’.

Sitting on a comfortable couch with a close friend, I listened to the qawwalis and continued gaze-skimming through the crowd to find some familiar faces. The Rooshdie (Rushdie, but that’s how its pronounced) fan in me kept seeing a vague resemblance to him in a host of old faces, while my pardner relentlessly reminded me that he couldn’t and wouldn’t be here. I cursed fatwas and fundamentalists.

This brings me to telling you the main theme of the festival this year: Terrorism, Fundamentalism and Pakistan. William Dalrymple, the founder and co-director of the festival, was gracing the occasion with his presence too. A Cambridge graduate brought to fame by a host of books including the ‘City of Djinns’, he looked absolutely at ease under the huge turban that he was made to wear.

22:15 hours : As if answering to my pleas to call the famous ones from the amongst the guests for a formal introduction on stage, Sanjoy Roy (who by then I knew was the Managing Director of Teamwork Films) picked up the mike and started the usual round of expressing gratitude to everyone present. While he did not call the authors on stage, he did thank all 116 of them for attending the fest this time. He thanked the moderators as well for their cooperation (list includes Barkha Dutt and Indrajit Hazra). He also called upon his co-organizer Namita Gokhale, writer of ‘Paro: Dreams of Passion’, who had helped him put the event together. The vibrant team smiled away 1000-watt smiles to the various cameras pointed at them.

22.30 hours : Still unable to spot any famous, talk-worthy faces in the herd of personalities (most of them that night were small time writers), I reluctantly starting dragging myself to the food stalls for dinner. It was then that I bumped into Barkha Dutt who was busy punching keys on her mobile keypad. A brief conversation followed where I realized that the lady was actually very sweet to even complete strangers. It ended with a ‘mail me!’ from her side, and photograph from mine (see above).

A little charged up from the brief tête-à-tête, I decided to put off food for a little more while and kept up my with the task of skimming through the crowd. With a friend and glass of water for company… I noticed that a fusion dance-and-sing group had now replaced the qawwalas. Expectedly, they were pleasing the crowds to a far greater extent than their predecessors.

23:00 hours : By then I was sleepy and tired from a long hard day out in the sun (I should’ve mentioned my long bus journey from delhi to jaipur before). Dinner finally got the respect it deserved as I poured myself rich servings of tadka dal, dum aloo, shahi paneer and pasta. And of course butter naan. Good food, I say, is the best way to end a tiring day.

23:45 hours : One last glance around and I decided to leave the venue to head home. Just as I reached the gate of the palace, I noticed a brawl that had broken out between two drunken men. One face from amongst the onlookers was that of MJ Akbar. I cursed my luck some more for not having seen him inside. Keeping the setting in perspective, I deduced that that was probably not the best time to strike a conversation with him, and kept proceeding towards my car… Yawn. Pack up time.

00:00 hours : I reached home and made a mental note to attend the entire festival next year. I even made an organizer entry in my cellphone to that effect (the dates, as Sanjoy had announced, had worked out to be 19-24 January in 2010). With that thought in mind, I also decided to write a blog post about the night to file my memories… and here you are reading it.


Fest facts:

- The fest is being called lucky for film premiers. While Ian McEwans ‘Atonement’ that premiered here last year eventually managed to garner its fair share of awards globally… ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that premiered this year already has four Golden Globes under its belt. The film also promises to be a winner at the Oscars with ten major nominations to its name.

- The fest garnered bigger proportions this year. It was flagged off by the Governor of Rajasthan and the ‘attending-author tally’ had notched up to 116 from just 60 authors attending last year.

- The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) played a key role in making the festival a global confluence of writers by helping Pakistani writers like Nadeel Aslam and Daniyal Mueenuddin with their visas. Kudos to them.



Just a random first comment. More of a question.
Was Barkha Dutt THE closest that you came to a celebrity? :P
I was almost convinced into believing that Tunisha is the more popular one :D
Anyways, detailed comment later !

nice crisp post - people tend to dawdle along in diary entries which you clearly managed to avoid...although had i been in your place, i would not have exercised such caution in such an august gathering and would have made myself quite 'sticky' to the authors around :)
regretting they dnt hold the festival here in delhi...perhaps i can sneak up there next year, there are few gifted minds that i would want to engage there...
keep writing btw...and i wonder how tuna felt all through it :D :P

@arunabh: im gonna wait for the detailed comment :p
@affy: thx, n i had my inhibitions being 'sticky'. n you should ask tuna yourself how she felt. seemed quite composed to me, she had been attending the fest for 4 days :)

Aditi says:

Wow, that was definitely one hellava gathering!! Why I never get to attend such fests, I wonder. Ek mauka mila tha Jefferey archer se milne ka, in mumbai, woh bhi miss kar diya! :(
but good for you!!

@aditi: shudnt have missed. keep visiting :)
p.s. prompt comment this time!

Hey Yashika. Reading your blog after a looooooooooong time and its also about time that I knew:

- How to pronounce Rushdie!
- How pronounced is the number of pages in the "Suitable Boy"
- Your utter dislike for 'small time writers'
- Your boundless love for 'famous, talk-worthy faces
- Barkha Dutt is 'sweet' (#$%#%)

Also, I must make an organizer entry in my cellphone reminding me to comment on your next year’s post. With that thought in mind, I also decided to write a comment about the current post… and here you are reading it.

Namita Gokhale!
Aah, had almost forgotten her. Had read "Paro:Dreams of Passion" long back. Liked the way she wrote but then totally forgot her.
You are still to answer my question? What is the name of the latest sleaze that Tarun Tejpal is working on? What was a cheapster like him doing there anyway ? :D

@bo: you'll comment "next year" now!? :P

@aru: 'cheapster'?!? tarun was busy, VERY busy, drinking. to the extend it was scary going up to him to for a rendezvous. abt his latest 'sleaze'... go wiki it urself :P

That was a nice and crisp account.And Shashi Tharoor is my favorite too :)

@aneesha: thx :) tharoor rox!

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