HAY FEVER | DAY ONE
Sex vs motherhood
You could be almost forgiven for thinking that its just another lazy, languid afternoon at the Kanakakunnu Palace in Thiruvananthapuram. The pristine environment of the summer retreat of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore has only a slight air of festivity, festoons stringed together shimmering above its lawns, visitors here and there, listless and desultory from the oppressive heat. Inside the hall and other chambers of the palace, its a different matter. Its the first day of the Second Alchemist Hay Festival, modeled on the Hay-on-Wye festival of literature and the arts. In one of the sessions, the director of the Hay Festival, Peter Florence is engaged in a conversation with French writer Agnes Desarthe, discussing Chez Moi, the Desarthes novel about a woman who runs away from the circus to open a restaurant. Is it difficult writing about sex? Lawrence asks Desarthe. It is more difficult to write about motherhood, Desarthe shoots back, The biggest taboo is not sex but not loving your own baby, she says. I love France, Lawrence retorts.
Of translations and old marriages
Issues of weightier intellectual import are being debated elsewhere. A member of the audience accosts poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (whose books include Songs of Kabir and The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry) about the limitations of one poet translating another. I want to destroy the bloody original, says Mehrotra. My attempt is to ensure that only my translation should exist while the original should disappear from the face of the Earth. British storyteller Cat Weatherill relieves the lull of the afternoon with her passionate, full-throated rendering of The Siren Wife, a folk tale collected and retold by the Italian writer Italo Calvino. Her story is about the tempests in the marriage of the Italian merchant Massimo and his beautiful wife Nina. I believe there are few stories about married couples in their 40s, those plodding through the donkey years as the Brothers Grimm describe them, she says about her choice of subject.
Congress MP from Kerala Shashi Tharoor and his wife Sunanda Pushkar are the celebrity local couple at the Hay. But much fawning was on display even before the festival had started. On Wednesday, Pushkar, without any prior booking, swished in for a session at Naturals, the spa next to the spa-less Vivanta By Taj hotel. Many guests staying at the Taj hotel who were directed to Naturals were outraged by the rulebook being thrown to the wind and Pushkar getting a royal treatment at the cost of others. The sheepish Taj concierge who had recommended the spa was seen explaining to irate guests whose sessions were postponed or masseurs changed, "What's the point? Who is she? She's his wife now. But for how long? Tomorrow it will be someone else. Then what?"
Chugging on the brain
Simon Singh plays Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven in reverse to show how our brain is programmed to respond to patterns. But somehow, on the first day of Hay at least, theres a lull. There were hordes of youngsters last year, a local resident points out, though the most electrifying moment was when pop star Sting, unexpectedly, had walked up from among the audience and grabbed centre-stage. At the end of the first day, some of us here are still looking for inspiration beyond the names in the catalogue.
Alchemist Hay Festival, Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 17-19