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JLF diaries: Naipaul ensures starry start


After the non-storm:  In a starry start, VS Naipaul with panelists Amit Chaudhuri, Farrukh Dhondy, Paul Theroux and Hanif Kureishi, who heaped praise on his seminal novel, A House for Mr Biswas

Not even the unseasonal rain to disturb it. Dawn of Day 2 of the five day Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) saw a considerable downpour at the festival. This was forecast, but given that most of the venues are outdoor ones, there was little that could be done to prevent a slight disruption in schedules as authors huddled in the dining area and young festival attendees turned to each other as they tried to figure out where Ashwin Sanghi and Amish Tripathi were. Not for them the attractions of VS Naipaul and Paul Theroux.

The eighth edition of JLF is bigger than ever with a whopping 234 authors in attendance.
Day 1 had been perfect weather wise and the sessions had got off to a great start. The highlight of the day of course was Naipaul and his one-time protege and later harsh critic Paul Theroux in attendance. Naipaul is of course a star at the festival, and this edition of the festival is paying tribute to his arguably best known novel, A House for Mr Biswas. With Naipaul in the front row, Theroux, Hanif Kureishi, Farrukh Dhondy and Amit Chaudhuri discussed the novel, though as Kureishi said, “It’s a bizarre and disorienting experience to be describing a book to a writer sitting in front of us. Fortunately, we are all very fond of this book.” When it’s distinct and strong a personality as Sir Vidia, the dangers are ever present.

All passed off peacefully, as Dhondy eased into the session by saying, “People may know there have been ups and downs in the relationship, but it has mostly been up and today I can assure you it is very up!” Theroux said A House for Mr Biswas was Naipaul’s greatest novel. “It was the most complete novel I’ve read since (Charles) Dickens,” says Theroux, of the opinion that Naipaul’s arc of creativity began with the ambition of Mr Biswas. “It was the foundation of his genius, but he went on to write more. That is his achievement.” Naipaul, in a wheelchair only spoke briefly, thanking the speakers for his generosity as he wiped tears away. As a moment to beat the rest of the festival has its work cut out.

The opening session with Pulitzer-winning poet Vijay Seshadri, 60 delivering the keynote address. Seeking to demystify poetry, he said poetic imagination was imagination in its organic essence and not something magical that dwells in readers’ hearts, the former editor of The New Yorker said. “It is as deep as a critical thinking discussion on an issue of national importance.” Poets Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Ashok Vajpayee joined him in discussing the forms and future of poetry.

Naseeruddin Shah had an engaging session with Girish Karnad

Naseeruddin Shah too had an engaging session as he and Girish Karnad discussed his films. Shah reminisced about his days as a struggler in Bollywood, revealing that Shyam Benegal had given him a break in Nishant as he was “not good-looking”. Long time co star Shabana Azmi, who was in the audience, took a few humorous digs at him!

Chef Vikas Khanna may have been an unusual choice in a literary soiree, but as he said, “I am here to present to you my 18th book, MasterChef India CookBook!”

There were four book launches just on Day 1. From the 26th edition of the Limca Book of Records, which is dedicated to literature this year, to Khanna’s cook book, a French translation of lyricist Javed Akhtar’s poetry collection “In other words” and the “Seduction of Delhi” by diplomat author Abhay K, there was a lot of ribbon cutting!

Musafir Namah Bureau


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