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Who is Who at JLF

Nandini Nair | Updated on August 27, 2014

The literary junkie At the ‘kumbh mela of lit-fests’ - Rohit Jain Paras

A primer on the perennial attendant species at the Jaipur Literature Festival

Maybe you have been to the Jaipur Literature Festival, maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, chances are, you do not live in Delhi. Or that you live in Delhi and are singularly devoid of pretensions. I then salute you.

I went first in 2007 (it started in 2006), and have been back many times since. Make of that what you will. In the early days, Salman Rushdie could be found, swamped in a white shawl, sipping a drink in a corner, or listening to the Manganiyar singers. People regarded him as one might your neighbour’s prize-winning Alsatian. You want to get to know it better. If you can chinwag with it, you will win acclaim in your mohalla. But you don’t have the guts to make the first move. Do you start with a smile, do you stretch out your hand, do you mention an ex-wife? You don’t know and you don’t know how. And so you do nothing at all. But in those gentle years, for the most part, you did your own thing and Rushdie did what he does best — discuss his brilliant books and unmake friends. Quite unlike the recent years, when even the suggestion of his virtual presence sent extremists growling and editors orchestrating 70-point headlines.

Those were the days when journalists travelled by bus, stopping to eat pakoras in dhabas while watching the sun drop over the mustard fields. Today, they all demand their own cabs and will eat nowhere that isn’t free and five-star. If liquor isn’t an elbow-length away, they wrinkle their noses and say, “Standards gir gaye hai.” (Standards have fallen.)

But nostalgia, as they say, is the handmaiden of delusion. JLF then was not the Greatest Literary Show ever. Today, however jaded one might have become over the years, there is no denying that a FREE festival of this scale and scope, which has endowed authors and books with a social currency, deserves the kudos that come its way.

Well, for the frequent flyers and for the yet-to-be-initiated, here is a list of the essential JLF types who have remained faithful through the years:

The Most Famous Author

Likely to be a Booker or Pulitzer winner. Living somewhere suitably first world. Pet themes include identity, diaspora, and when they speak you’ll hear “belong”, “somewhere”, “nowhere”, “confusion”, and when they are being fancy “liminal”. Being Most Famous, they must also play Most Hard to Get. They will have near-stampede sessions in the front lawns, and will bestow interviews on two or three choice publications. You’d imagine, they might ask for the CVs of interviewers, instead they just look for the word SPONSOR.

The Confused Schoolboy

In grey blazer, full trousers. He has only one question — Why am I here? (Token Celebrity, also a perennial festival species, shares the same crisis.) Then he finds a store where he can punch buttons, scroll down a screen, hear beeps AND win a certificate. Life has meaning again.

The Luckiest One in the House

The guest delegate, or in layman’s language, the spouse. Gets watered with scotch, dined at the Taj. Duties include sitting in the front row, standing by the side while spouse autographs, and occasionally helping carry a handbag or a BlackBerry.

The Rajput Male

Tall, strapping, wearing trousers meant to expedite the straddling of a horse. The only page he has ever read is the restaurant menu. Good looking and sought after. Because at Diggi he trots in a sea of literary frumps.

The Literary Frump

Read somewhere that books make for sexy, smeared kaajal make for hot and tribal shawls make for allure. Is still deciding if Rajasthani mochis or knee-length boots maketh for boho-chic. When not at Full Circle buying books, is secretly penning his/her own novel and batting eyelashes at the white author, hoping for that elusive intellectual conversation.

He With The Question

Is yet to learn the difference between a statement and a question. A left-brained-type studying engineering. Has now decided to be intellectual, formulates his questions (sorry, statement) on a newspaper before rising to speak. Uses “theory”, “theorem”, “conversion” in rapid succession.

Every Journalist

He who has only two questions. “Sir, what is your book about?”, “Ma’am, how long did you take to write your book?” And to a white-skinned person, “Do you like India?”



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Published on January 25, 2014
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