Life | A Tale Of Many Stories

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A Tale Of Many Stories
Text by Mita Kapur
Published: Volume 19, Issue 3, March, 2011

For five days at the DSC Jaipur Literary Festival 2011, heads and shoulders jostled each other for space as new stories were born and narratives acquired myriad layers. Mita Kapur returns from the animated interactions with memories of diverse minds

It was that time of the year again – the bagpiper’s notes drowned out spoken words, leheriyas fluttered at the sunlight streaming in, the conch shell announced five days of a heavy duty dose of thoughts that were promising to spin out yarns and yarns of tales. ?The narrative just acquired new layers – migration in all senses happened, new stories were born, identities got confused. Just when Sanjoy Roy took the mike to formally announce the festival open, the BlackBerry Boys advertisement played on the screen. A mistake (if it was one?) well orchestrated since it set the mood for the festival... “Oh Yeah...”

I saw a lot of heads and shoulders for the next five days, some elated dialogues and a great deal of jostling for space – of all kinds. An ebullient young girl regaled me with a “Hey, y’know, I sat next to Irwin Welsh and (a deep breath followed by a rather high pitch to dramatise the ‘event’) and he let me touch his head!” Yet another time I was swept into this bevy of journalists breathing at Kabir Bedi and an inexperienced scribe was on a frantic phone call: “Sun, jaldi batao Kabir Bedi ne kin kin films mein kaam kiya hai, mujhe question puchna hai!” Yet another noted educationist from the city bumbled her way through the Writer’s Ball, greeting Chitra Banerji Divakaruni with a puke-inducing pretentiously effusive drawl: “Hellloooo Jaishree…” (she meant Misra) and to continue the heist, in the next two minutes, she fell upon Urvashi Butalia with a “Hellooo Bulbul.” There were obvious identity lapses happening here!

In all its hues
Crowning it all were people dressed in parrot green pants, over-sized hats and what not – ‘literary’ dressing up or down (whichever way you want to see it) added a lot of shades of amusement – juxtaposed against weighing reality bites and checks?by Sheldon Pollock in his keynote address about the ‘Multiplicity?of lndian creativity’ and how literary festivals in India can trace their past to the 12th century and closer to home there were goshtis held for poets at Sawai Jai Singh’s court. Pollock warned that we are on “the verge of cataclysmic language ecocide” and spoke of “the fragility of the future of the tradition of tradition”, of how the classical literary language of South Asia was under threat by silence. What made it for me was his saying that we are all a part of an adventure: “The adventure is to confront radically different ways of being human…and that is what the classical past means to me.”

That in a way summed up various situations one found herself to be in for the literature festival. Jokes aside, that is exactly what a writer’s life is all about and with that thought, I heard Orhan Pamuk saying, “So much of human experience is marginalised because these writers don’t write in English” and that “provinciality is a problem for these writers too”. Critics have said, “This Turkish novel writes beautifully about Turkish love” and “Sometimes when I write in Turkish, they ask me whom do you write for. I write for everyone who reads a novel.” The next stop was a session on Kashmiri romantic and mystic poetry by Naseem Shafaie focusing on the pain of everyday suffering in Kashmir – “about lost identity, lost time and passions buried.” Ironically, Bulle Shah’s poetry, I learnt, tries to escape the tyranny of text and that there is a travelling of languages within a single poem which is a kind of freedom – a freedom which I soaked in for the coming four days of the festival.

The intense desire to be there for at least three sessions at a time can be frustrating to the core – cloning seems a good idea at this point. Listening to Kiran Desai on Why Books Matter, “sometimes they seem more real than life itself” and John Makinson succinctly claiming that the definition of a book is up for grabs quite literally zeroed in on our minds with a sense – there too many ideas buzzing around as it is! The Emperor of Maladies did cause many heads nodding in recognition of the resilience of the human spirit to fight cancer. Aisi Hindi Kaisi Hindi dipped into nuances added to Hindi in its contemporary avatar with Prasoon Joshi and fellow panelists cracking up on quick witted one-liners.

Lasting impact
Overheard elsewhere, “Rory Stewart is apparently the most knowledgeable person I’ve seen here. Out of all the sessions attended, he was the only one who made sense.” Rory’s session on walking through Afghanistan was gripping – he held forth and didn’t need a moderator at all. Bones of Memory was one of the liveliest sessions with poet/storyteller from South Africa, Gcina Mlophe. She danced around on the stage, reciting her story Bones of Memory, a story in which a family had a family graveyard outside their house. She sang songs of the dead and it felt entirely like being in a different world. She lit up everyone’s faces, made them jump with joy and groove to the sound of her music.?Interactions that left a lasting impact were the Possibility of Laughter with Marina Lewycka and Zac O Yeah and Helter Skelter with Jim Grace and Nilanjana Roy who tongue-in-cheeked his way through with “I wrote the book because I wanted to write the epiphany” and stuff like “Atheism doesn’t offer a narrative of comfort that is why we need religion…the belief is not important, the narrative is.” Junot Diaz was the rock star of the festival with his quippy repartee and solid statements like?“To touch your strengths as an artiste is far more important than success” and “Silence becomes institutionalised in oppressive regimes.” I expected a lot more from Candace Bushnell’s session. She gave out the right one-liners like “Be a person first, a gender later” and “In my 30s, I had nothing, I was depressed, and I decided I am going to write my way out of this…. I may be old school but I am kinda crazy about the novel form”, but the spunk and fire that could have been there was missing – the moderator sorely lacked the hi-octane energy levels required to bring Candace out. Chimamanda Adiche’s hour was also a downer because of the moderator but in her characteristic style she rocked it – anyone who has heard Chimamanda (ref the TED talk) knows she is riveting.

There were segments that dealt with writing from North-East India which always capture the mind. The effort to be as representative of languages as is possible was visible and storytelling in all its possible forms made its way into our minds. It all came together in Gcina Mhlophe’s song about the crocodile and the monkey and someone in the audience said “But that’s our story!” She called out from the stage, “No, it’s ours!” Damned right – all the stories are ours! For everyone!

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