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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love in the times of the Jaipur Literature Festival!

A man needs to have a certain focus in his life, a direction, a map of the things that he must do in the future. It is the mantra of good living. And that is why in that extremely philosophical and profound list of “things I must do in 2012”, eating Kakori kabab in Chandni Chowk and ‘kissing a Spanish girl found top ranks, right below ‘lazing and doing nothing’.

Somewhere in the list, I also scribbled ‘attending the Jaipur Literature Festival’.

And because I am a man of my word, on a cold, wintery January Friday night, I found myself standing at Old Delhi railway station shivering and cursing myself as to why that list ever found existence.

It all started making perfect sense the moment I reached Jaipur. For a sizable station, Jaipur was startlingly clean. As my companion confirmed, the city was also less lecherous than India’s capital. As the roads were less populated, even the air seemed fresher. Life outside a metro has its own slow pace, it is like a dog – not a frisky puppy that has to run about chasing every smell, or squirting every bush. But an ancient, venerable thirteen year old Saint Bernard that refuses to budge and yet looks stately and majestic, even when you are lying at full stretch and pushing its bottoms with all your might.

At around noon, my platoon and I marched into the venue of the festival – Diggi Palace. And with the same enthusiasm as the one that got me in, I strode back out because I did not have an entry pass. Not that I am a stickler for rules and I would rather die than turn my back on a task, but then fleeing does seem like a reasonable option when a battalion of cops charge at you with their canes.

It is said that the Saturday of 21st saw the highest ever recorded turnout at the festival – credible sources confirm that there were over 17,000 people that Diggi was holding, and bursting with. In a couple of hours though, the security let us make fresh registrations and soon we were inside the imperial blue gates!

The venue looked every bit as colourful as the website. Pink, yellow and blue streamers hung near the entrance. The lawns were festive – discussion tents, book stalls, snack shops found their own spaces, and around them we were all littered. My feelings remained mixed, though. While a part of me rejoiced at this festive spirit, the other half balked at a large section of the population – in their Ray Bans and Guccis and Zaras and Louis Vittons, their smart phones never leaving their hands. I had seen them before – in the World Cup finals with their ‘guest passes’ and surely they were also there at Noida’s grand F1 event.

The sessions found full houses. There were discussions on tigers, the publishing industry, regional literature, music etc. In between, we flitted around the stalls, weaving our way through thousands of others weaving their way through us. And then she came.

You know that thing about time standing still? And the world being a blur? As she came towards me, one pretty step at a time, as she moved past me, one delectable step at a time, the skies changed their complexion from an evil grey to a romantic bright sky blue. The sun, it came out from behind the clouds, as golden and radiant as golden and radiant can be. And my heart, it sang just like Shahrukh Khan’s did when he first spotted Shanti (Deepika Padukone) in Om Shanti Om.

“That’s Fatima Bhutto” someone screamed from the back. And I wanted to smack them, could they not see that the hero was trying to sing a song and woo his girl! I turned back to look at the lissome thing, and she looked as if she was in search of her hero too. Actually, she was deep in discussion with the Rajasthan royalty, but let lovers believe in what they must.

As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Quick, a plan must be formulated. But right then she turned and passed me again and that familiar Om Shanti Om song started welling up in my bosom – “Kitna kuchh kehna hai fir bhi hai dil mein sawaal kayi…” Faint in the background, I could see the familiar small figure of the renowned music and film director Vishal Bhardwaj as he signed some fans’ autographs and I wished he had a casio instead of a pen in his hand so that he could supplement my baritone with some lilting music. Frantically, I looked around for loose threads about her that my cuff links would get stuck to, the way Shahrukh’s had in Deepika’s but sadly neither were her clothes tattered nor did my jacket have any signs of cuffs. The divine thing left, unaware of the greatest love story that could have ever been.

The rest of the day passed by as days do. From time to time, I would break into a line from the song, startling audiences that were maintaining pin drop silences in the face of profound discussions amid eminent personalities. At other times, I would stare at the sky piercingly as if to obtain unobtainable answers from it but it ignored the stare as an elephant would a shriveled grape.

Deluded one-sided romances apart, the festival was beautiful in the entirety of the two days that I was there. Unlike the huge controversy and clamour about Rushdie, the government and the Indian state that the media and twitter so happily and enthusiastically built in the country, back then in Jaipur that weekend there was hardly anyone upset or perturbed or giving the issue so much importance. We all enjoyed what the organizers had given us – a festival, a tremendous package of some of the best authors in the world, and books.

If only the media (social? Not really) could pay attention to some of the finer things the festival stood for… Jaipur, next year I’ll be back again, boarding a train on a cold wintery Delhi night, hopefully not cursing this time.