Bins and I leave home at 4.45 am. “Are you awake?” I ask, once we are in our cab. “Nah!” he says, with a snore. We board our Vistara flight to Chennai without really opening our eyes. It’s only when we’re served a full breakfast complete with omelette, flavoured yoghurt and coffee that Bins is suddenly at full alert. “Wah! I thought it was a no-food flight?” “Shh!” I say to him. “I guess they forgot!”
Free breakfasts are a great way to wake up, so we’re both sparkling with good humour by the time we arrive. Everything goes right: The luggage pops out in record time, my sister is at the airport to greet us, the traffic back to her house is calm at 10.30 am. And even her demented Beagle is well behaved. Instead of peeing immediately on our feet in welcome, he rips up a cushion and presents it to us at the door with a happy smile on his face.
I’m here to attend The Hindu Lit for Life. Bins says he plans to avoid it, but doesn’t succeed. There’s just too much going on that he’s interested in. I am participating in two events: One about my cartoon character Suki and the other as part of a panel discussion titled “Why We Must All Be Feminists”. I’ve spent 10 days putting together my Suki presentation and I’m completely exhausted by the effort. I’m convinced no one will come to it. “Suki is the world’s most obscure cartoon character,” I say to Bins. “Only 50 people even know she exists.” He shrugs and says, “Be grateful that she exists at all!”
Armed with this attitude, I am able to sail through my presentation, grateful for my very friendly audience and the easy-to-answer questions that follow the slide-show. There are many friends to meet and catch up with. The weather is wonderful — cool but sunny — and the festival is, as usual, swarming with avid readers and book lovers. Bins and I both attend the hilarious session with Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket, author of the bizarre smash-hit children’s series called A Series of Unfortunate Events .
The next day is my feminist panel, moderated by Vaishna Roy. The other three panelists are Sumana Roy, Madhavi Menon and Sharanya Manivannan, published authors all. I had confessed at the outset that I no longer define myself as feminist, so as a panel we are off to a lively start. The full-capacity audience is feisty too! A mini-riot is avoided only because we run out of time. Whereupon everyone rushes away to yet more sessions.
At night, there’s delicious banana-ginger ice cream at a glittering banquet. On Monday, January 14, the final day, I attend my friend Peter Griffin’s session with Elizabeth Flock, author of Love and Marriage in Mumbai , a book of intense and personal revelations. “Sounds like a good book,” I say to Bins. “Pretty lady,” he replies with a faraway expression.
Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column
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