Salman Rushdie is busy signing autographs on scraps of paper. Suketu Mehta is less than thrilled with the hygiene standards in his hotel and Jerry Pinto is busy exhorting people to read his Helen: The Life and Times of an H Bomb.
Outside, basking in the afternoon sun are Delhi ‘s A-list culturati — Bim Bissell, Shireen Paul and Lady Plaxy Arthur. Literary agent David Godwin, whose clients include Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai, is there too, adding to the firmament of stars at the second Jaipur Literature Festival.
Yet, the three-day festival, which concluded on Sunday, left many people less than completely satisfied. “The hard-sell is overshadowing some of the literary aspects,” said Antara Dev Sen, editor of The Little Magazine. Agreed Malashri Lal, professor of English at Delhi University: “There should have been more opportunity for writers to speak about the craft of writing. This could have taken place only if there was a dialogue on stage.”
Despite the frisson of unhappiness, the festival has had its high moments. A one-on-one discussion with Desai had a sell-out audience with people spilling out on to the verandah of the grand hall at Diggi Palace, the venue. Rushdie brought the festival to a close, again to a packed hall.
For much of the time, however, the festival has comprised of book readings rather than discussion. “The festival was started for writers to interact with readers, unlike other festivals where issues are discussed,” said Pramod Kumar, one of the organisers and the director of last year’s festival.
Eleanor O'Keeffe, CEO, Jaipur Heritage International Festival, said: “Yes, I would have liked a little more discussion but we are still new. You have to introduce new ideas a bit at a time.”