There are those who argue that the warm crush of humanity is a sign of vitality, but even they would see that the Jaipur Literature Festival is in dire need of another venue. The crush of humanity is at times too warm and too forceful, especially in the main Durbar Hall, where a large slanted mirror that looms above panelists reflects the considerable crowd on to themselves. The festival is booming. We know this because chairs cannot be found. Because the buffet line is abysmally long. We also know this because every author on hand could speak to the press for no more than 15 minutes (This may have something to do with the fact that over 300 press passes were issued). The new order has even forced hardened warriors to adapt: seven journalists from rival publications sat side by side to interview Hanif Kureishi.
Some were of the opinion that the festival needs to construct a pay wall, an arrangement under which each discussion has a price. Others, such as Amol Sharma of the WSJ, suggest that if the festival is to be kept free, “Maybe next year they’ll need a Reliance Rajput Hall and a Kingfisher Bar and a Bose Sound stage?”
When Shobhaa De speaks, schoolgirls appear out of nowhere. At the end of her chat with Marie Brenner, in which a question about Raj Thackeray was evaded with masterful tact, a young girl asked De what advice she had for girls who wanted to be like her, and write like her. “What’s stopping you?” De asked. The girl bounded away happily. The rest of us were left standing with the memory of De’s reading earlier in the session:
“Prem liked to make love in public places. Aparna looked straight at him. A hanger-on? Sidekick? Sycophant? Chamcha? Kept man? Adulterer? Take your pick, Prem. For a minute his smoke-grey eyes looked darker and smokier. His smile which had temporarily frozen picked up at the corners. He ran his fingers through his wet hair, threw back his head, and laughed. ‘I like your style, Aparna, I really do. You know something? You’re the first woman I’ve met who has balls. Balls of steel. You clang as you walk. Bet you didn’t know that.’”
I can’t get over it. Someone actually argued that the Kindle doesn’t smell like a book.