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Writers let their hair down

How did Alexander McCall Smith chill in Jaipur? What was Shobhaa De talking about? HT City finds out...

books Updated: Jan 28, 2010 20:15 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

If you skipped Jaipur last weekend, thinking a literary festival would be all about books and theories, you missed one great ride. To begin with, the sun shone bright and early in the Rajasthani capital, while Delhi grappled with fog. Held in Hotel Diggi Palace, the festival was like any other — a whole lot of fun. There were singers, Bollywood actors, ambassadors, college students, tourists, hippies, aspiring writers, book lovers, socialites, politicians, free-loaders, journalists, and over 200 authors.

We saw detective fiction genius Alexander McCall Smith lounging around with a glass of wine and happily signing autographs on his Ladies No 1 Detective novels. Expectantly enough, Shobhaa De took the stage and talked about, well, herself.

Eager readers could be spotted waiting for a chance to talk to their favourite authors, but in festivals such as this one, it is hard to make a real conversation with any one person. The inability to interact with interesting visitors was frustrating. But there were compensations. Free wine. Good food. And most importantly, realising the fact that authors rarely look like their dashing heroes.

Biographer Claire Tomalin was mostly seen making the rounds with husband, playwright and novelist Michael Frayn. Tina Brown, author of the best-selling Diana Chronicles, was spotted chatting with The New Yorker magazine journalist Lawrence Wright. Talking of Delhi, where she spent four days before coming to Jaipur, she told HT City, “I was amazed that Delhi’s dinner parties were such a great forum for debate.”

The two eminent ladies from Pakistan — human rights activist Asma Jahangir and Saleema Hashmi, daughter of the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, mostly stayed together. They had lunches together; they attended the author sessions together. They even planned their shopping together.

However, it was the young Lahore-based novelist Ali Sethi who proved to be a sensation. Not only did he earn a loud applause during his talk on India’s neighbours, he also sang in the evening.