The Jaipur Literature Festival is in full swing and the heated exchange about who arbitrates literary merit in India has faded. Left in its wake are larger questions like the privilege of the white man (there are some) and the crisis in American fiction (there isn’t one – and even less so for those who previously didn’t have a voice, Junot Diaz is quick to point out).
There are arguments off stage and on, there is hot masala chai in delicate clay pots, and there are young schoolboys lining up for JM Coetzee’s autograph. Things, in short, are as they should be.
At the e-release of Five Dials magazine last evening, audiences participated in an open mic session: Jaipur’s Got Talent. Earlier in the day, in the same hall, three Indian women discussed being 50. The less controversial founder and co-director of the Jaipur Festival, Namita Gokhale, read some new, frank, funny, sexual passages. There are serious political discussions every day on Kashmir, the Afpak region and India’s troubled north-east. A poet from Arunachal Pradesh moves an American woman to tears. In the evenings there is music. Madan Gopal Singh plays Sufi music and it takes a moment to realize that it has gently given way to ‘Imagine’ – ‘Imagine all the people…’
At Jaipur it is best to leave one’s preconceptions at the beginning of the narrow, dusty lane that takes you to Diggi House and lay claim, for these few days, to the heritage of the entire world. Under the shelter of a bright tent on the packed front lawn, Coetzee reads a story he has written on an old woman and her cats. Do cats have faces?
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