‘Is Rushdie coming?’ my hostess at the homestay wants to know. ‘C’mon, tell me, I hear he is already here.’ Many others too have this query. But the Dalai Lama has finally exorcised the ghost of Salman Rushdie from Diggy Palace. After the allotted time is over the audience just wouldn’t let him go, asking for encores, like in a rock concert. And so that kicks off this year’s literary festival in this effervescent city—the brilliant Pakistani writer Nadeem Aslam's gut-wrenching session with Sunil Sethi, Prasoon Joshi’s rendering of his poem Babul bringing warm tears to many eyes, Nandan Nilekeni and Ruchir Sharma talking economy and markets to a bursting crowd, the omnipresent Javed Saab, the musical Neelesh Mishra, the delightful Howard Jacobson.
How to get invited to a literary party
If you are not an author, a publisher, an agent, an English journalist from Delhi or Bombay, don’t know any of the organisers and you are here as a true lover of books (‘Is there anyone like that?’ a wag asked. ‘Here you don’t ask someone what they read last, but when.’), well, so if you are here as a true fan who wants to know more about an author, more about the lonely writing process, how characters form in their heads and have other such literary quest, you may get some of the answers but not an invite to a party. And parties are where the real action is. So what do you do? All it needs is a little research and resolve. First find out what are the parties on that evening. Go to the press terrace and strain your ears to hear one journalist say to another, ‘See you at such and such party tonight’. If you have spent long enough lurking there and haven’t caught this line, and if some journalists are giving you the eye as if you are from some fringe political group, catch hold of the most serious looking volunteer and ask ‘Hi, I have to go to Clarks Amber for the Random House party tonight. Do you know how far it’s from here?’ ‘But Random House party is not today, it’s on Friday. And it’s not at Clarks Amer, it’s at Rambag Palace,’ the kid replies in that you-don’t-know-this-much tone of teenagers. ‘Oh, heck, I have this bunch of invites and I can’t figure out which is which. Today is Penguin, right?’ ‘No, that’s on Saturday,’ the kid replies rolling the eyes.’ Today’s the Man Booker party.’ ‘Oh, of course,’ you slap your palm on your head. File all this information away.
Next is to find an author who publishes with the people who are throwing tonight’s party. A quick look at the list of speakers and five minutes of googling should get you there. Don’t go for the top names. The third-rung is usually ideal. And older the better. Once you’ve got the name spend ten minutes at Wiki. Forget the long critques, just read a few one-para synopses of his work. Now, after the autograph seekers have left (the best case scenario is if there are no autograph seekers, consider your invite in), sidle up to him or her and say what a great admirer you are. Rattle off all those bit you read up, let the author speak the most. If the tricky situation arises when the person asks what do you do, say some vague publication with its HQ in Hong Kong. Don’t lose heart, carry on the conversation, soon someone will try to take him or her away. Then close in for the kill. ‘All this is so fascinating. I really wish you had more time.’ ‘Well, aren’t we seeing you tonight at xxx place?’ ‘Hmmm, er, um, I wonder if I have the invite for that one.’ ‘What rubbish, but you must come. I will tell my publisher to send you one.’ ‘Oh, that will be so great. My email is.... Or do you want to call right now?’
But things can still go horribly wrong, even after all this. Random House had planned a big cocktail party at the Rambagh Palace on Friday. It so happened the government declared Friday a dry-day because of Eid, appatently the first time in ten years. The cocktails got cancelled, got pushed to lunch on Sunday. Never lose heart, as most authors will tell budding writers here, get on to that list of speakers again.
Also read: JLF Jottings - on the way to Jaipur
So, what were these despatches about? About a literary festival, or about a trashy, gossipy happenings in a de-generated backwater in a forgotten corner of our great nation. I am sure; Manohar Kahaniyan would be more readable than your book editor’s account of JLF. People do not read Outlook for such disgustingly sloppy and cheap account. Why anybody would be interested to know about his hostess’ eager but bizarre enquiry about ‘Rushdie coming,’ and then he shows his best journalistic acumen by weaving another trashy paragraph for ‘How to get invited to a literary party,’ and the moral of this whole ‘jotting’ appears to be is, fall as low as you can or even lower to achieve your lowly target. I thought, India was heading for some greatness in the near future, but then as usual, we are quite happy and content with our sloppiness, deceitfulness and chicanery.
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