Most of the sessions at the Jaipur Literature Festival, held between January 19-21, were free-flowing, not formally structured panels dealing with a specific theme; event descriptions were usually not more elaborate than ‘So-and-so author reads from her work and speaks with so-and-so’. This format had its good and bad points. It facilitated the informality the organisers were aiming for, but there were also murmurs of dissent from those who would have liked to see specific topics being discussed at length.
Highlights included poetry readings by Jeet Thayil, Keki Daruwala and Jane Bhandari at a session held in honour of the late Dom Moraes, Nissim Ezekiel and Arun Kolatkar, and a conversation between Suketu Mehta and William Dalrymple that touched on encounter killings, bar girls and gangsters with a proclivity for hotel showers. But the undoubted pi’ece de r’sistance was the Salman Rushdie talk, the audience for which prudently took its seats more than an hour in advance. Rushdie deftly fended off Barkha Dutt’s questions about the politics of his writing and regaled the audience instead with a stream of anecdotes: about an Egyptian maitre’d who told him proudly that he had read that book (a reference to Satanic Verses); the genesis of his atheism as a youngster (‘In London I saw a church that was so ugly I realised it was an empty house- and I promptly rushed out to buy myself a ham sandwich); and his brief acting stint, which ended when it was decreed that the words pork and sex couldn’t be said on Pakistani TV.
Of course, the sidelines were in place too: bitching, backstabbing, canoodling-in short, all the things you’d expect at a literary event packed with authors, publishers, agents and media persons.