Who doesnt know the Afghan Girl ? Steve McCurry took that picture all those years ago and it was probably what made him world famous. He shared his early experiences of becoming a photo journalist with William Dalrymple. He wanted to explore the word and his first stop was India. In those days he shot film and sent it back to the States to be developed. He soon found himself in Afghanistan and Baluchistan where he was arrested and thrown into jail for five days. He took pictures not so much of the war but of the way ordinary people were affected by it. The Afghan girl was an outstanding example of this- her found her after 17 years. He now sells his books and pictures all over the world.
The day offered a double helping of Stephen Fry, a great favourite with the Indian audience, first talking about the Fry Chronicles and then about Oscar Wilde. He talked about what a difficult young man he was and how when he got into Cambridge he was hoping to make it up to his parents for all the years he was so evil.There he met Emma Thompson who introduced him to Hugh Laurie and perhaps the rest is history. They were able to work together and write together and make each other laugh and be the creators of so much wealth of British Comedy - Blackadder being one of many.
His session on Oscar Wilde was deeply moving. You could see that this is what first affected him when as an 11 year old boy he watched "The Importance of being Earnest" where for the first time he heard people using language in a way which he had never encountered before and in particular the phrase "the visible personification of absolute perfection". He devoured every thing written by Oscar Wilde and about him - including the Trials where Oscar was disgraced and sent to prison.He talked about what an exceptional child and scholar he was and when asked about his ambitions he famously answered that he wanted to "live up to to his collection of blue and white china." I love that idea and thought of my own collection of Adam's Singapore Bird - not a hope of living up to that.
People were perplexed and amused by the way he dressed and the way he defied authority. He also famously told the US customs that "he had nothing to declare but his genius" as he embarked on a series of lectures and tours designed to cement his fame in America and make the play Patience that Gilbert and Sullivan had written about him successful. His relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas however was deeply troubling to Lord Alfred's father Lord Queensbury who tried to boycott his first night of The Importance of being Earnest. He provoked Wilde by leaving an open postcard addressed to Wilde which said he was posing as a sodomite. Oscar Wilde sued him for libel. He lost the case and he was tried and jailed for two years with hard labour. On his release he left England and went to France where he lived unhappy and broken years until his death at the age of 46. He thought of himself as a failure and as a fallen person. Yet he became a hugely significant figure and continues to be so, as much for the marvellous literature that he wrote as well as the stance he took over his sexuality.
And as if this double dose of Fry was not enough we were able to enjoy Atul Gawande on "Being Mortal" - this surgeon from the US of Indian extraction wrote this book to explain the importance of addressing the issues of mortality in simple but significant ways - as we grow increasingly older, the importance of medicine is not so much about prolonging life but affording a life that is worth living or that the elderly person is able to enjoy. He said his publishers were a little dismayed when he presented them with this book which was essentially about dying as they felt it would not sell much over the Xmas season - perhaps not at all. Of course they were wrong and this book has become a best seller but perhaps half of it is because Atul Gawande had the ability to talk about this subject in the most absorbing and sensible way which kept the attention of this Indian audience who sometimes are not famed for their ability to keep quiet.
And it doesnt end there - Thomas Piketty had a lot of advice to give the Indian government when talking about his book "Capital "and about the inequalities in the world. He called on the government to adopt a proper and transparent system of taxation and to maintain records which apparently don't exist.
To end the day we travelled to the Amber Fort just outide the city to listen to sufi music and to attend the book launch of some of Steve McCurry's books. The fort was lit up with small lamps, there were rangoli everywhere and all this was under a full moon.
The launch was in a part of the palace decorated with large candles and lamps, a saxophonist playing in the background while tandoori chicken and champagne circulated in large quantiities.