The morning of the first day did not start well. Our driver did not know where to take us. Not an uncommon problem and one which drivers think can be remedied by asking anyone the way. Sadly most dont know either so we are sent in all sorts of directions before finally arriving at the wonderful Diggi Palace where the festival is held. This was followed by another hour of frustration while we were issued with our delegate badges - there were many chiefs as they say ...but little action while the queue got longer and longer. Something of the deja vu was beginning to creep in to my thoughts, but I kept it at bay saying the day was splendid, we were able to get to know the people next to us in the queue and surprisingly they all came from Melbourne and Sydney. To their credit however they have improved security, if not the crowds, and having to deal with a third of a million people is a mammoth task and they do in the best way they can. In the famous words of my lovely Greek neighbour in Delhi, Lola who is here with me - 'its all so worth it'.
The JLF is like going into labour, excruciating and painful in the beginning, and there is a moment when you swear you will never do this again, but once it is underway you forget the pain and the frustrations and next year you are prepared to explore it all afresh.
Why ? Margaret Atwood was there to give the key note speech after a colourful opening ceremony with a Rajasthani band which included a didgeridoo as well. Must find out more. She was followed by Colm Toibin and Marlon James among many others on this first day. An impressive line up.
For Margaret Atwood who has resisted the invite for a good 9 years, this was a moment when she was centre stage and perhaps a little surprised by the attention she was receiving putting it down to either being very important or very old - she decided that in her case it was because she was VERY old.
She talked about how literature festivals sprang up in so many countries, Adelaide in the 60s, Toronto and many others and which are now major events in the calendar. She characterised writing as a very optimistic art, one which sheds light on oppression and darkness. The writer writes but it is the reader who lends life to the words like a musician who plays the musical score - giving the words meaning and interpretation. Human beings are narrative creatures- spinning stories from young- a romantic tragedy at 19 is recalled as an amusing anecdote in middle age and forgotten completely in old age. She noted that today at JLF was a happy beginning for writers and readers.
I was prepared not to be very attracted to Colm Toibin, not necessarily because he himself described himself as an overweight middle aged bald man who did nothing but write but because I had read his book Testament of Mary and I have to confess I resisted it on several levels. I was not fond of the religious undertones and Mary expressing some truly odd feelings about her son Jesus, but perhaps this is another story. All I know is that after listening to him talking for an hour I was captivated and curious about his new book Master - written on Henry James but also about his explanations about the small triggers that became the reasons for some of his books. Overhearing adults talking about a young girl was the impetus for Brooklyn. Imagining his cousin Minne Temple's life had she not died of consumption at an early age was another. Using his novels to complete lives in ways which have drama and emotion in them.
There is lots of drama and emotion in the Brief History of Seven Killings - if we are to read Marlon James this years Booker prize winner. A melodious Jamaican accent which he has not lost in spite of now living and working in the US, a booming voice, an impressive Rasta hair on top of a big burly body, a great sense of humour and a clarity of conscious in all his actions and indeed the actions of other people. A book about Jamaica in the 70s - some 700 pages, partly he says as he couldn't kill off his characters very easily.
As for Alexander McCall Smith talking to William Dalrymple - two Scotsmen on stage who could not be funnier. Almost like two naughty school boys giggling away. McCall is extremely prolific writing sequels to No I ladies Detective Agency, the Sunday Philosophy Club, and Corduroy Mansion. The latest one being the story of the Italian Bulldozer, which had the whole audience crying with laughter. He explains his energy as a condition called serial novelism which manifests as the writing of serial after serial until you die !