Write and Left

Oprah Winfrey’s session was more popular than academic. The queue went out to two kilometres outside the venue.

Written by Divya A | Published:January 25, 2012 3:25 am

Back-of-the book jottings from the Jaipur literature festival that concluded yesterday

The O Factor: Oprah Winfrey’s session was more popular than academic. The queue went out to two kilometres outside the venue and the cops put up barricades. Even some speakers for other sessions were left out,who kept arguing with the cops. Finally,there was a “message” from inside to selectively let journalists and delegates in,but with a rider — jump the barricade. The last thing the organisers and cops would have expected at the lit fest was a stampede,but on Sunday morning,it was lurking round the corner.

Prized Moment: The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature ceremony on Saturday evening,with Kabir Bedi as the host,was another big pull. Again,the same drill — shut the gates and restrict the entry to only delegates and media. The $50,000 prize money went to Singapore-based Sri Lankan author,Shehan Karunatilaka for his debut novel,Chinaman,published by Random House in February 2011. Before this,he has also written advertisements,rock songs and travel stories.

Of Boots,Hats and Jaipur Jholas: This is no weak link to show who you are by what you wear. So even if attendees wore winter boots and cowboy hats,a Jaipur jhola — a sling bag made of jute/ cotton/ silk,which sold at the festival venue at the Penguin as well as the JLF merchandise stalls for Rs 200–400 — was a must-have accessory that authors and the attendees flaunted. It’s another story that some people had books in their jholas while other used it for their sunglasses and water bottles. “The Bag of Small Things” from the Penguin stall took the cake.

Cellphone as a Panelist: During most sessions,besides the moderator and the speaker,others on the panel appeared on their phones. Tweeting,checking emails or sending updates,they were all glued to their cellphones even while on stage. This was especially true of the Indian celebrities.

During a session called “Dissent in Democracy”,Tehelka chief Tarun Tejpal turned back to get his jacket hung on the back of his chair to search for his phone,found it and only put it back after spending some time over it.

Food for Thought: One of the reasons why Diggi Palace was a dishy venue was the all-day wine and eating counters across the venue. Those who didn’t find space in tents where debates were on,simply hung around gorging on Rs 250 salads and donuts,washing them down with glasses of beer and wine (Rs 250 a glass too). For the delegates the timings were fixed but for the crowd,it was anything,anytime.

Holy Cow: Somewhere in the close vicinity of the Mughal Tent — the venue for many important sessions each day — was a cow’s conference. Panelists,in the middle of an intense discussion were often intercepted by a mooing cow. This became especially recurrent at the Sunday session on Pakistan with poet-writer Fatima Bhutto,veteran journalist Karan Thapar and Pakistani-American sociologist Ayesha Jalal — so much so that Thapar remarked that a mooing cow is a holy sign,and so,Fatima must be saying something right. At another session with Penguin publisher Chiki Sarkar as the moderator,the cow was at it again. But Sarkar was dismissive. “We have to ignore the cow,” she said.

Remains of the Day: With only two washrooms in the entire venue,for a crowd of 20,000 people on an average each day,the average waiting time outside any loo was 30-35 minutes. On Sunday,when the crowd hit the peak,one of the loos went on strike and the average waiting time went up to 45 minutes.

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