The Sharma Shine
While the Jaipur Literary Festival has been a page-turner, with the unputdownable Ashis Nandy in the thick of things, another, quieter one, the first Taj Literature festival, took off last weekend in Agra. It didn’t exactly lack in shock quotient. The festival was organised on a school ground where the locals and students were stirred out of small-town stupor when adman Prahlad Kakkar asked celebrity author Shobha De, "Are you famous because of your books or looks?" De gave it as good as she got. She also held forth on how Narendra Modi did not have it in him to go national. There were many big names—Raghu Rai, Pavan Varma, Farooque Shaikh, Muzaffar Ali—but it was Hindi comedian Surendra Sharma who got the greatest response. Very different from JLF. This was Brajbhoomi after all.
The most magical session at the Taj fest was by Sathya Saran, who has written the wonderful Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey on the iconic actor-filmmaker and his unsung but talented writer Alvi. She read out from it in English, recounting fascinating anecdotes about his films and personal life. Theatre actor Namit read out Alvi’s accounts in Hindi, including poignant details of the night Dutt took his own life.
Who's Who Blues
Back at the JLF, a certain visage and appearance seemed to be common to many male writers: a thin frame and thinning hair, sharp nose and eyes and a mild voice. This led to some comedy of errors too. Author and journalist Manu Joseph, who sort of fits the description, was mistaken for Pico Iyer and Manil Suri many times. On one occasion, an ardent Suri fan talked to Manu for nearly half an hour without either of them realising the mistake.