I started coming to the festival three years ago. I have returned this year and nothing about this event palls or bores - its vibrancy and energy, youthfulness and playfulness, discovery and drama is just as bit as pronounced as the first time I experienced it.
What is even more remarkable is that the organisers seem to be one step ahead of the game and the crowds, victims (if that is the appropriate word) of their own success. An event started seven years ago with a few hundred people now attracts thousands and thousands who come to enjoy the wonderful venue and the engaging speakers free and open to all. I have to repeat this in case readers do not know about this because it is the singular most amazing thing about Jaipur and it is not short of a miracle in this day and age, that the sponsorships are found and sustained to enable this great literary show on earth to be put on.
So hats off to you, Willie Darlymple, Sanjoy Roy and Namita Gokhale. Fabulous, fabulous stuff.
What I loved and took in ...
The warmth of the Dalai Lama spreading his message that you don't need an organised religion to lead a life of compassion and understanding.
A Muslim, a reformed hippy and a Buddhist from Sri Lanka talking to us in the session "If I met the Buddha on the road .... and the phrase is completed by the words...I would kill him.Basically the essence being that you can question everything in your life even the Buddha on the road if you met him on your path to finding yourself. Each one came to talk about their own experience with Buddhism and its teachings.
Pico Iyer's magnificent analysis of Graham Greene and why he was such an important figure to him in his book "The Man within my head." His examination of the themes of rootlessness and identity powerfully portrayed.
The panel on India and China in their quest for the top spot from such knowledgeable people as Gucharan Das, Nandan Nilekani and Peter Hessler talking so openly about the challenges but also the surprises in China. While the state is strong in China the people seem to live their lives without being enmeshed in it. Whereas the opposite is perhaps true in India where the State is weak but the society is strong.
The absolute joy of laughing, weeping, writing with the hilarious Gary Shteynghart and Deborah Maggoch a writer of many novels and screenplays but perhaps more recently known for the adaptation of her novel These Foolish Things into the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
A wonderful session on the Jewish Novel with Howard Jacobson, Linda Grant and Gary Shteynghart Their sheer wit and repartee had the whole audience laughing their heads off.
The repeated issues about Kipling. Famous for his poems, and his writings, born in Bombay but clearly it seems, an imperialist in his later years, and how far this affects his legacy from a distinguished panel of Andrew Lycett, Charles Allen and David Gilmour.
I had lunch next to Richard Sorabji an engaging and knowledgeable Fellow of Wolfson College Oxford and he told me about his aunt Cornelia the first woman judge in India and her relationship with the Mahatma. I then had the pleasure of listening to him talk about Gandhi and his interpretation of his character, his philosophy and his behaviour.
The wonderfully engaging session chaired ably by Aminatta Forna on Global Souls where Pico Iyer told us that Home is not a piece of soil but a piece of soul.Abraham Verghese quoted a Napoleonic saying that "Geography is destiny" and cited his own example of his parents taking him to Ethiopia where he was raised.
His own session on "Cutting for Stone" was one of quiet contemplation, how affected he was by the loss of his only homeland Ethiopia, and his life in the US where he works as a physician.
Willie regaled us with tales of British blunders in the first Afghan war of 1839- 1842. The British travelled with their port and cigars and even the grand piano but were squarely and fairly defeated only months later into their occupation of Kandahar on the basis of their rather shameful behaviour there. Only one man out of 18,000 who went into Afghanistan surviving. Lessons for now ?
The fascinating accounts from correspondents who cover war, with Lucy Morgan Edwards pointing out that the fact that she was a woman gave her access to 50 % more of the population. She actually lived with an Afghan family for a some time.
I loved Howard Jacobson telling us how he grew up in Manchester a much loved and cossetted child, and the abject rejection he felt when his more beautiful brother came along. His efforts to turn himself into an English gentleman came to naught in Cambridge, but how he eventually found his voice threw addressing the issues which always put him on the edge, his Jewishness, being stuck in Wolverhampton Poly teaching and writing successfully about them with his first novel "Coming from Behind". Winning the Booker with "The Finkler Question" and his latest which is called "Zoo Time" a book about the end of literature and a failed writer.
Though not something that would be my first choice I attended a session called the Big Bang and all I can say I have never heard science explained so well and so entertainingly as by Simon Singh. Hats off to him.
And finally but perhaps purposefully listening to the delightful and knowledgeable Madeline Miller talking to us about her Book " The Song of Achilles" which won the Orange Prize for literature. She talked enthousiastically about the epic Iliad and her desire to portray the lesser but gentler character Patroclos as the protagonist in her story. How this took a full ten years to write with her realising half way that she needed to throw out what she had written and start again, so as to find her own lyrical voice in the story which I think she did magnificently, judging by her readings. But what courage to be able to start again..
In each author, journalist, activist or correspondent voices of commitment and courage and inevitably with that comedy and creativity that leaves me wanting for more. Sadly it is over for another year but for me a fitting end to my time in India which has given me above all the luxury of literature without bounds.