This is an entry that conceivably could take up many pages, there was so much on offer, so I have promised myself that I will try and convey as much as I can succinctly.
Energizing, egalitarian and exciting – that is what it was for me.
Energizing because it was full of the great and the good and we were so privileged to have the chance to be inspired and energized by their presence and sometimes their humbling struggles to print their thoughts and their words. They spoke eloquently and movingly from the likes of Ayan Hirsi Ali "Infidel", to the honesty of Sister Jesme's account of the failures of the Catholic church, to OM PURI reciting passages from TUQLAQ.
The first Dalit writer to write a novel, Sivakami, spoke of the need to create a collective public conscience by Dalits to enable them to fight against the caste conscience. Steve Coll, author of the “Bin Ladens" and“Ghost Wars” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize spoke of the impelling need he felt after 9/11 to try and explain why it happened and he was able to draw upon his experience as a foreign correspondent in Delhi and in other parts of Asia.
Steve Coll and William Dalrymple
Sadia Shephard a writer and documentary film maker paneled a discussion with Hanif Kureishi , “My beautiful Laundrette” and "The Buddha of Suburbia" and Tania James, with her debut novel “Atlas of the Unknowns” speaking of their mixed identities, which were an impetus for them to explore their roots and to understand them.
Ma Thide, a Burmese writer who movingly told her story of her imprisonment in a Burmese jail where she stuck to her principles and her convictions while near death which made even her jailers say that she was the free person as she was free in her thoughts but they were not.
Shazia Omar, Malashri Lal and Ma Thide
India's changing face was discussed by Lord Desai who was emboldened by the changes and Nayantara Saghai, related to Nehru, who was disheartened by the culture of getting rich quick and the absence of "wonder" for the young.
The compelling story of Lawrence Wright and the “Looming Towers” and how he set about to write the human story of the 9/11 tragedy. The life changing moment for Shazia Omar who also witnessed 9/11 that investment banking was not for her and which made her rethink her priorities and her convictions and her subsequent involvement and support of a group of recovering heroin addicts in Bangladesh which became the subject matter of her first novel “Like a diamond in the Sky.”
Lawrence Wright and Shazia Omar
Egalitarian because this must be the only place in India where it does not matter who you are and what you do. You are no different from the person next to you who walked in off the street. I found this hugely invigorating, democratic and a fantastic opportunity for all those participating to enjoy what was on offer for free. This was of course due to the many many sponsors who support the Literature festival and who deserve heartfelt thanks as do all the organizers.
The likes of Rahul Bose,Vikram Chandra, Shabana Azmi and Suresh Kohli mixed with Tina Brown, Wole Soyinka, Roddy Doyle and Christophe Jaffrelot and adoring fans and children from schools and universities in the area for whom such opportunities are far and few between. The venues were often crowded but it was first come first serve and if you were a celebrated author or an actor and there was no chair you sat on the grass like everyone else. How refreshing that was. I met a young man who was one such inquiring citizen, a young professional teaching engineering at one of the universities of the region who came to enjoy all this with everyone else. This is Gaurav.
Exciting because it was truly that –meeting so many impressive authors and poets, columnists, journalists and activists was such a treat and to hear them close up and enjoy their thoughts, readings and sheer wit. Exciting because you never knew who you might be sitting next to at lunch or dinner as you say "excuse me I am not sure I have met you before" and look sheepishly down at the badge to discover that you are talking to no less a mortal that Steve Coll the author of Ghost Wars or the ever delightful and prolific Alexander McCall Smith.Exciting because Niall Ferguson is as sexy a speaker as you will ever come across and his ability to make the history of money come alive on television was a phenomenal success. His "Ascent of Money" and a "Financial History of the world" were betsellers.
There were so many amusing moments in the festival beginning with the liveliest of conversations between William Dalrymple and Alexander McCall Smith where the latter explained that he is also the creater of the RTO, the Really Terrible Orchestra which has gone on three successful tours already. He writes 3-4000 words a day and rarely revises his writing and even has a daily column in one of the Scottish newpapers weaving in and out of characters' lives and plots. He is of course very famous for the creation of the series "No I ladies Detective Agency" about a well appointed woman detective from Botswana a country that is dear to him.”Willie" and "Sandy" as they are known to their friends engaged in banter and jokes like a pair of naughty school boys and had the audience rolling around with laughter. Authors like Geoff Dyer, Isobel Hilton and Brigid Keenan captured their audiences with readings from their works which were riotously funny and poignant.
William Dalrymple and Alexander McCall Smith
It was not just about the written word. We listened to Ali Sethi singing in a tribute to the Pakistani Poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Darohar in the Rajastani Oral Tradition while Susheela Raman who is an acclaimed Tamil performer got the audience up and dancing to her beats. I loved the band Rajastan Roots who mix traditional instruments like the khamaicha and the algoza with the guitar and the saxophone. I absorbed the atmospheric readings of William Dalrymple from his excellent new book “Nine Lives” accompanied by the Bauls from Bengal . The Bauls according to the programme “venerate feminine energy, decry the caste system and the fanaticism of the mullahs". Kanai Das Baul and Debdas Baul are real characters from the book in the story of the Blind Minstrel.