I have just returned to Delhi from Jaipur where I was covering the fantastic Literature Festival for Nowness.com. You can ready my story and see Bharat Sikka’s stylish, atmospheric photographs HERE.
It is the most wonderful experience- you go from one talk to the next, held in colourful Mughal tents or outside in the bright Rajasthani sunshine and listen to leading political writers sparring on contemporary debates; hear the likes of Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee read his own short story aloud to a rapt audience and enjoy discussions about new fiction, ancient history, the ’80s in New York… The subjects are only limited by the imaginations of people like Martin Amis, Jay McInerney, Junot Diaz and Anthony Sattin.
In the evenings there is Rajasthani folk music and dinner outside on the manicured lawns of the Diggi Palace where the festival is held. The crowd is also refreshingly varied for a festival (events that tend to attract one particular stereotype in gross numbers)- there are intellectuals from Delhi, young Indian students, lots of middle aged bookish British women draped in beautiful shawls, young people like me who are travelling or living in India and even a handful of children and babies! (I wore my Mawi Tube and Spike Ring everyday and got a compliment from someone from almost every one of these groups- bar the babies perhaps!)
There were a couple of pop-up tented bookshops within the haveli grounds and with all the inspiring literary chat, I inevitably left with a pile of books and a reading list as long as my arm. I thought I’d share what I’ll be delving into first. Comments and suggestions welcome!
1) Martin Amis- The Pregnant Widow: I’ve never really had any desire to read Martin Amis before (probably just being a ‘bestseller snob’ actually) but hearing him speak at the festival, I’ve decided to give him a go… His latest novel is about the newly unfolding understanding of sexuality in the 1970s. It’s also the universal tale of a love triangle with all its unspoken complications.
2) Anthony Sattin- A Winter on the Nile: Ostensibly because what might loosely be called the ‘coming of age’ story of Florence Nightingale and Flaubert, on the same boat, floating down the Nile sounds peculiarly fascinating; secretly because Anthony Sattin talking about it at the festival was pretty dreamy…
3) Alex von Tunzelmann- Indian Summer: The story of India in 1947-8 as British colonialism ended and world-changing decisions were made about partition. What particularly draws me to this telling of the tale, is Alex von Tunzelmann’s focus on the dynamic between Lord and Lady Mountbatten and Nehru, and the probable love affair between the latter two. Another love triangle then!
4) Mirza Waheed- The Collaborator: I’m completely prepared for the fact that this novel will probably give me nightmares and make me weep my eyes out. It’s set in Kashmir in the early 1990s and chronicles the poignant story of one boy from the village of Nowgam who is left behind when his friends cross over the border and into Pakistan to join the movement against the Indian army. His father,a local leader, will not allow his family to leave despite the growing threat to their safety and our protagonist is forced into an impossible situation…
5) Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita- The Absent State: A series of dispatches from India’s ‘battle zones’ ( Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland…) documenting the tensions and frustrations in play in these regions, and seeking to understand the tendencies towards division within an Indian state that has previously held together against incredible odds.
6) JM Coetzee- In the Heart of the Country: Classic Coetzee on colonialism, race, lust and ultimately what the human spirit is capable of.