The Jaipur Literature Festival has featured prominently in my calendar from the very first year I started living in Delhi – I fell upon it a little by accident as someone has pulled out of going and there was a place in the car which was traveling down to Jaipur that year.
From that initial trip I had the opportunity to explore the Festival but also the city of Jaipur and its surrounds, a place so evocative of the time of the Maharajas and all the systems they introduced which we can still appreciate today, whether it is the city’s modern grid system, the Jantar Mantar or the fortifications of the Amber Fort.
In the several trips to attend the Festival I made the acquaintance of a rickshaw driver who just stood apart from the crowd – something I know he did with pride but also with considerable fallout from others who found his ways a little alienating and different.
Vishu became someone I could ring up at any time to come and collect me or ferry me safely to where I was going. He spoke English picked up from the tourists and the guests he came into contact with. He was always immaculate in his appearance, very well groomed and wore his scarves as if he was coming out of a Paris fashion show and not some humble home in the innards of Jaipur. We had a laugh and he was always warm and welcoming and because I thought he was so unusual he featured in an article of mine in Culturama Magazine.
This year going with others I was less dependent on rickshaws and we were driven to the venue in an efficient Innova. I looked around for him but did not find him – and frankly I thought the odds were not good in the sea of humanity that descends on the Festival for the days it is on. The numbers suggested for this year are around one third of a million participants.
The Festival was in its last day. We were snug and warm in the Durbar Hall listening to Gerard Russell talking about lesser-known religions. The session drew to a close and I headed to the exit. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and there standing in the hall was Vishu. He was, as is to be expected, dressed immaculately in a turquoise blue woolen jacket and a pair of jeans, sporting Ray Ban sunglasses.
We walked outside and chatted and soon seemed to be surrounded by a group of school children who were visiting the Festival for the first time excited to be hearing Kajol, a Bollywood star. My excitement was listening to them and seeing those bursting smiles and finding this old acquaintance.
He accompanied me to my next session, which was packed – he managed to get us two seats by actually asking someone to hand them to him over a fence. We sat there listening to a session strangely enough on Empire with Shashi Tharoor letting rip in his usual way.
I fired off many questions, complimented him on his looks, if not his expanding midriff and asked him about his life – He said life was good and he was still involved in the “transportation business” and had over 250 names of foreigners and friends in his phone who used him whenever they were in town. Out of his back pocket came a dog-eared but clearly precious copy of the Magazine where he featured.
The connection was there – in 1.3 billion he found me and we carried on from where we had started all those years ago. At the time I thought he would go into politics or Bollywood both good arenas for confident good looking folk but where some of what surrounds those lives seem false and fickle. Here he was living it as it really was and we had connected not on Twitter or Facebook but on the human level among the next generation of Festival followers. I could not have scripted it to end more positively.