Peter Gunsley isn’t an author. He’s a 53-year-old accountant with a passion for books who’s flown down from London just to be in the thick of the Jaipur kumbh mela. But as he realised over the last three days, he is unique. Well, sort of.
Peter bears a striking resemblance to Nobel-winning South African writer JM Coetzee. “I’ve had three different women approach me, and one schoolchild,” he says with a laugh. “By the time the fourth person came around, I just signed ‘Coetzee’ and walked off.” Meanwhile, Coetzee — the real one — sat regally with a woman behind the stage, smoking away as his handlers shooed away inquisitive reporters.
It’s a classroom struggle
The interaction between historian Patrick French and writer Amitava Kumar became more like a classroom than one would have expected. After Kumar instructed French to read out certain extracts from his new book India: A Portrait, French responded, “I enjoy being in class with Prof Kumar and being asked to read certain passages.” To which Kumar responded: “You can vote me out of here. I have no family connections,” a reference to French's mum-in-law, writer Namita Gokhale being one of the two directors of the Jaipur Literature Festival.
When the discussion moved to Maoists, Kumar said: “Read from any passage of your choice.” “Boss, would page 188 be ok?” “Good call, was thinking 189,” said Kumar. “Will go to 189 then,” French, leading to an uproar of laughter in the classroom. Sorry, we meant audience.
Dirty words draw crowds
The last two events of the second day — one a conversation on ‘feminist voices’ and another on readings from ‘feminist poetry’ — elicited much interest from youngsters. Are we seeing the emergence of socially aware kids, young people interested in gender politics? Not quite. “We should go for the session," said a schoolboy enthusiastically, adding, "Apparently they use lots of bad words."
Sexually something amiss
“It’s impossible to write autobiographically about sex. It’s absolutely disgusting. What do you say? ‘Towards morning, I took her again?’” Who’s that? Martin Amis, of course, on the role of the ‘I’ in writing.