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New visa rules introduce twists in Jaipur lit fest tale

Has the government thrown the rule book at the fifth Jaipur literary festival? The annual lit fest that started today saw some prominent invitees absent — thanks to visa complications....

Written by Anushree Majumdar | Jaipur |
January 22, 2010 12:17:07 am

Has the government thrown the rule book at the fifth Jaipur literary festival? The annual lit fest that started today saw some prominent invitees absent — thanks to visa complications.

First in this list,Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates,an African-American,was in international headlines after his altercation with a Cambridge,Massachusetts police officer,the subsequent ‘race row’,and the ‘peace beer’ he and the police officer had with President Barack Obama.

Gates was to address an audience at Diggi Palace. The venue was full. But the star invitee was absent because — this explanation came from Gates’s office in Harvard by e-mail — his visa application didn’t have a copy of his birth certificate or his college diploma. “Last week the Indian Consulate changed their policies regarding requirements to issue visas. Unfortunately,Professor Gates’ request was also denied with many others,” said the email,sent to the festival’s organisers.

The new visa rules state that the consulate requires a copy of a birth certificate or a college diploma in order to approve visa requests. “We were told that the applications submitted prior to the rule would be grandfathered in. However,that does not seem to be the case,” said Mark Harris,Passport and Visa Services,Boston,the agency handling Gates’s visa application.

Another author caught in visa problems was Briton Andrew Lycett,who was absent for his session on biographies this morning. Lycett had visited India in November and has a tourist visa,which is valid for six months.

“But the new guidelines impose a 60-day cooling-off period before a foreigner can re-enter India. Exceptions are made for emergency situations only and Lycett’s visa was not considered valid anymore,” said Ankur Bharadwaj of Teamwork,the company that has been organising the festival since 2007.

English novelist Louis De Bernieres’s passport went through an interesting journey. “Bernieres’s passport was stamped by the Indian High Commission in London and then mailed to a jewellery shop in Brighton,where it was delivered in the evening and promptly locked in a safe. The passport was subsequently freed and sent to its correct owner,” William Dalrymple told an audience at the Durbar Hall. De Bernieres has reached Jaipur,in time for his session on Adaptations with Esther Freud,Michael Frayn and actor Rahul Bose.

The new rule has also affected the writer couple Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin,who are also speaking at a literature festival in Colombo,Sri Lanka,later this month.

“They would have spoken at Jaipur,left for Colombo,returned to Delhi and then flown back,” said Bharadwaj. The authors are now flying back straight from Colombo.

The organisers are waiting for Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad’s visa application to be approved in London. Hammad is from New York,but was in London when she applied for the visa. “The passport has been sent back to New York for verification and is due to be returned to her any day now,” said Bharadwaj.

The fog delayed some arrivals as well. But the organisers said the weekend would be sufficiently and interestingly literary.

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