The Lucknow Literature Carnival, founded by the elegant and visionary Kanak Chauhan, is in its third year and my book on Sindh formed a fairly respectable sideshow. The Authors’ Lounge at the festival was a place to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. We enjoyed Ashok Vajpeyi’s jokes and stories, and were so charmed by Keki Daruwalla that it was impossible to resist buying a copy of his new novel, Ancestral Affairs. We learned about Manish Gupta’s online initiative to promote Hindi poetry and see some of its high-quality clips on the festival screens. It was also interesting to be a small-town outsider from the insular world of the opinionated Delhi journalist. “The rural voter is so intelligent!” said one with a faraway look of enchantment in her eyes. “It was the urban youth who voted this government to power,” declared another with authority.
Sunday afternoon, most of the Hazratganj shops were closed. Where would we get our mulmul chikan kurtas? As we discussed the options, a young man materialised and beckoned us to follow. Soon, we entered an underground cavern, a 6,000-sq-ft wonderland displaying embroidered fabric of every hue and application: kurtas, exquisite table linen, curtains and even embroidered Pashminas. The store, Ada, was an exposition of nawabi wares from times bygone, and clearly beyond us. As we tried to slink away, explaining that we didn’t have time to get anything tailored, he protested, “But I can ship it to you in Pune!”