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Rediff.com  » News » Oprah @ JLF: You love her, hate her, but can't not care!

Oprah @ JLF: You love her, hate her, but can't not care!

Last updated on: January 22, 2012 16:54 IST

Oprah @ JLF: You love her, hate her, but can't not care!

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Clad in a mustard salwaar-kameez and sporting golden bangles, the queen of chat shows Oprah Winfrey was the headline draw at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Sunday. As she spoke about contrast of the chaos and the calm in India, her childhood days and more, the crowd listened to her in rapt attention. It didn't matter if you were an Oprah fan or not, says Rediff.com's Abhishek Mande as he talks about his big 'O' moment in the pink city.

Namit Mehta stands in anticipation along with a thousand others, their heads turned in one direction. The stage is empty except for two chairs, a table and some microphones. Far away, in the wings you see some activity -- people with cameras and heavy microphones are moving about with a sense of purpose.

Mehta who is standing next to me works for a major software company. There are others too -- a journalist from the United States, a mother from Jaipur accompanied by her daughter, a 60-something American woman and a few journalists like me. Everyone's waiting eagerly for the person in the wings to step forth and take centre stage. 

Time seems to have stood still but it was in fact just 15 minutes since I got here and about 14-and-a-half since Mehta came and stood right behind me.

In the wings you can hear peals of laughter. Then you wait.

Sanjoy Roy, producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival, takes to the stage and and makes some well-timed remarks about purchasing the festival brochure and merchandise before announcing the name of the person everyone had been waiting for.

Author Salman Rushdie had turned down the invite to fly to Jaipur and the person who is about to step on the stage was the other big draw at the fest.

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Image: Oprah Winfrey with Barkha Dutt at the Jaipur Lit Fest on Sunday
Photographs: Abhishek Mande/Rediff.com

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'I love you, Opraaaaaaah!'

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And then the moment arrives. Like a messiah that everyone's been waiting for, Oprah Winfrey steps on to the stage amidst loud cheers, a thunderous applause and squeals of 'I love you, Opraaaaaaah!'

Winfrey takes a seat alongside journalist Barkha Dutt, who introduces her eloquently enough to make the American compliment her on her ability to speak extempore. "I was looking for a teleprompter and there is none! You said all of that off the top of your head," she asks admiringly.

Another round of applause follows.

The world, it is safe to say, has been divided into people who love Winfrey and those who hate her. There is no way you'll find a person who doesn't care enough about her. Mehta for instance has a tone of derision while talking about the talk show queen. He tells me that he gets perverse pleasure out of people such as Winfrey because that way 'the sessions I want to attend are less crowded'.

Mehta comes across to me as a man who loves to hate Winfrey and he makes no bones about it. And yet he is right there standing behind me throughout the session listening to what the she has to say giving a more cerebral session happening next door -- one featuring the stunning Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto, the granddaughter of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto -- a pass.

I want to bring this up with him but we lose each other in the crowd.

The crowd.


Image: Winfrey left the crowd spellbound as she spoke candidly at the fest
Photographs: Abhishek Mande/Rediff.com

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'Is baar Oprah se kaam chala lenge'

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A few days ago, when I was snooping around to get news on Rushdie, I was told that he may not make it after all. After going off on a long monologue about what a terrible thing it is not to have the writer at the festival, the young chap signed off saying, "Is baar Oprah se kaam chala lenge." (We'll make do with Oprah this year).

Going by the crowd however, it seemed to me that it was more than just a make-do.

Rushdie is a man who's less read and more reviled. Winfrey as I was to find out is as loved and hated as she is watched.

A cursory glance across the pandal that was hosting her session, I could see people from across nationalities, age groups and gender converging just to hear and watch Winfrey speak.

There were as many men in the audience as there were women. One gentleman, who seemed like he was in his late 40s and had been recording parts of the session on his phone told me he had come from a town on the border of Rajasthan and Punjab just to see her. I must have looked at him funny because he shot back defensively: "Achchi baat karti hai!" (She speaks well).

And speak well she did.

Winfrey talked about her learnings from her visit to India -- how she coped with the traffic in Mumbai to finally figuring out why people in India stay in joint families.

She also spoke of her childhood as she always has and about how the only hope her grandmother had was that she would get a good white family to work for that would respect her. Needless to say, Winfrey has gone way beyond her grandmother's expectations. But it was interesting to hear how as a child she would almost always over perform in the hope of being noticed, which she did.

"Be excellent and you will be noticed," she advised young people adding, "It is important to be good at whatever you do."

"Your life expands exponentially when you share what you have with someone," she added telling us it doesn't matter how much difference you try to make to someone's life but that you should.


Image: The crowd at the Oprah Winfrey session
Photographs: Abhishek Mande/Rediff.com

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'She brings in so much positive vibe to America'

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Winfrey to me spoke in platitudes yet there I was standing with at least a couple of thousand other people listening to her.

Surely, this assignment is part of the job I accepted when I came here to Jaipur but I like the rest was indeed part of an arrested audience. Heck, even Deepak Chopra was there -- when Winfrey talks Chopra listens.

Winfrey was charming, disarmingly honest and brutally frank -- even admitting to her mistakes, apologising for the James Frey episode.

A friend in her late 50s living in the US who among other assignments has worked for the World Bank and considers herself (as she put it) 'an intelligent, rational woman' confessed that she had become a fan of Winfrey because 'she brings in so much positive vibe to America'.

I laughed at her then and told her she was growing old.

Today, though I could see what she meant. I am no fan of Oprah Winfrey and chances are I won't be one either. Yet the one hour that I spent alongside the aunties of Jaipur, the man from the town on the border of Rajasthan, Namit Mehta and the Americans around me flew and before I knew it, the session was over.

In a city where time slows down, Oprah Winfrey had indeed worked a miracle.


Image: Spiritual guru Deepak Chopra listens to Winfrey intently
Photographs: Abhishek Mande/Rediff.com

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