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 and editor Marc Parent whose imprint Buchet Chastel has translated such authors as Tarun Tejpal and Pankaj Mishra are there too, adding to the firmament of stars at the second Jaipur Literature Festival.
Yet, the festival left many people less than completely satisfied. "The hard sell is overshadowing some of the literary aspects," says Antara Dev Sen, editor of The Little magazine. Agrees 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."
Predictably, the bookstall at the venue is doing brisk business. "Participating authors are selling very well. Some have been sold out," says Neeta Khanna, the owner of the stall.
Despite the frisson of unhappiness, the festival has had its high moments. Kiran Desai's discussion with NDTV's Barkha Dutt had a sell-out audience with people spilling out onto the verandah of the grand hall at Diggi Palace, the venue. She spoke, among things, of the immigrant experience and, yes, the craft of writing. Salman Rushdie brought the festival to a close, again to a packed out hall.
In an interaction with William Dalrymple, Suketu Mehta too indulged in some amount of introspection, touching upon topics from the Diaspora experience to his encounters with the underworld while writing Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.
For much of the two days, 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," says Pramod Kumar, one of the organisers and the director of last year's festival. The festival aims to "promote and encourage a love of literature by bringing authors and readers together," adds Mita Kapur, this year's festival director.
To be sure, the audience has been diverse. From curious tourists to would-be authors; from school children to their teachers, the 200-people hall has been invariably packed. "Even the poetry session was full," says Antara Dev Sen who moderated it. "The festival seems to have just exploded," says Eleanor O'Keeffe, the CEO of the Jaipur Heritage International Festival. "Yes, I would have liked a little more discussion but we're still new. You have to introduce new ideas a bit at a time."