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JLF Diary: 'Ruskin Bond is James Bond's uncle'

Last updated on: January 22, 2011 12:17 IST

Photographs: Suparn Verma/ Suparn Verma & Abhishek Mande in Jaipur
Writer-director Suparn Verma, and correspondent Abhishek Mande are attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, considered Asia-Pacific's leading literature event. They share vignettes of Day 1.

Read their Day Zero Diary

Suparn says: 

The night was eventful. Mande and I both discovered something about each other -- he snores if he sleeps on his back and I snore of I sleep on my left. Woke up 10 minutes before the alarm went off. That meant getting absolute first rights to the bathroom.

An hour later we were off to Diggi Palace for the first day of the JLF!

We reach the venue and there are a bunch of registration desks, within a couple of minutes we have our press passes but sitting space for the opening keynote speeches by Dr Karan Singh and Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollack are already booked.

Fest organisers Sanjoy Roy and Namitha Gokhale spoke about the festival and its many partners, then Anokhi owner and one of the festival founders Faith Singh spoke about her love for India and the literature, William Darlymple spoke about about the festival, and avoided making any reference to the racist controversy being fought currently in the media.

Dr Karan Singh is a delight, he spoke in chaste Hindi about the need for good translations, followed that by a lengthy recital of many verses from Tulsidas's Ramayan, he then went on to repeat important portions of his talk in English and then recited the poem Who by Sri Aurobindo.


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Orhan Pamuk spoke about Istanbul

Image: Chandrahas Choudhury and Orhan Pamuk
Photographs: Suparn Verma/

During Dr Singh's talk, Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk arrived and good naturedly stood around for a good half an hour, doing what all normal folks do, taking pictures and self pictures.

Orhan Pamuk has a very precise personality, he loves cutting through the bullshit, and hates long questions, in fact as Chandrahas Choudhury conducted his talk, you could sense that he really wanted to cut the question and start the answer, after all Pamuk is a veteran of book festivals and lectures, so there isn't much that would surprise him.

He spoke about his love for Istanbul and how he makes objects into characters and likes to weave himself in a Hitchcockian way into the narrative as a character, who may not necessarily behave like him.

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Che Guevara's bographer drew parallels with Gandhi

Image: Madhu Trehan and John Lee Anderson
Photographs: Suparn Verma/

Abhishek says:

The irony couldn't be missed. As Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker and Che Guevara's biographer threw open the discussion to the public the very first question he was asked was what Che would think of the session being sponsored by Goldman Sachs.

Anderson who comes across as a serious man laughed it off even though the moderator of the session -- Madhu Trehan -- seemed to cringe by the idea.

The session was filled with anecdotes about Che as he had heard from the late revolutionary leader's wife Aleida who agreed to speak with him about her dead husband.

As Anderson spoke at length about how Che would never let his wife any comfort so as to set an example for the other you couldn't help but draw parallels with Gandhi and Kasturba.

Another interesting anecdote that Anderson narrated was that Aleida would bathe Che even when he was over 30 years old.

Anderson spoke about the challenges of approaching Che not as a mythical figure that he has become nor as a villain that the West has made him out to be but rather as a person -- warts and all.

All in all the session was fantastically informative despite some of Ms Trehan's comments that seemed to invariably start with 'I think...'

On the sidelines, Suparn who sat in on the session towards the end completely missed Kiran Desai who was sitting smack next to him! How he managed to not notice the stunning writer dressed in a lovely LBD seems absolutely beyond me.

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Gulzar has the audience listening in rapt attention

Image: Gulzar and Pavan Jha at the Mughal tent
Photographs: Suparn Verma/

Suparn says:

While Pamuk spoke about the novel and his works, the legendary Gulzar sat at the Mughal tent along with Pavan Jha who has translated his new book of poems into English. They spoke about the art of writing poems and translating them with examples first read in Hindi by Gulzar and then by Jha.

Gulzar's tent was jam packed and had over 100 people standing outside peeping in and listening to him orate as well.

Gulzar's newest work has a powerful poem on the Sardar Dam and how it affects the people and his favourite object -- trees!

Young school girls, women in their fifties and men of all ages sat and stood in no particular order their eyes aglow in the warmth of a light called Gulzar.

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'Ruskin Bond is James Bond's uncle'

Image: A local takes in the sights at the Jaipur Literature Festival
Photographs: Suparn Verma/

Abhishek says:

Post-lunch sessions are a pain. Especially when the dinner served to you is less than edible and gives you a headache. I had to walk out of a very interesting session with Navtej Sarna and Vishvjit Singh and retire hurt.

Somewhere in between all this, escorting a group of school girls was a middle-aged teacher who wore a know-it-all look and spoke about the importance of literature to his young students.

The kids in turn listened in with complete attention and nodded dutifully when he told them... and I quote "Ruskin Bond is James Bond's uncle'.

I am certain this had nothing to do with my spinning head. If at all, this made it spin further.

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JLF has four events happening simultaneously

Photographs: Suparn Verma/

Suparn says:

The JLF has four events happening at four separate venues simultaneously, so in the third time line I decided to sample a bit of all four starting with authors Siddartha Mukherjee, Katherine Russel Rich talking about their books on cancer, and loving India and recovering respectively.

As I made way through the milling crowds to the next tent, the famous khullad ki chai was being served. A quick sip and I was off to Rana Dasgupta and the beautiful Tishani Doshi talk about the modern folktale. Having got my dose of the energetic discussion, I moved ahead to Kashmiri poet Naseem Shafaie in conversation with Neeraja Matoo. This session was moderated by Rahul Pandita who has written The Absent State.

My last stop were the lawns were John Lee Anderson was speaking about Che. It was another of the day's highlights at the 7-foot-tall Anderson mixed with the crowds for a good half an hour after his time got over.

Lunch hour saw people make a beeline to the venue where tonight's live music is going to be played. Got to know a whole lot of strangers, as everybody sat wherever they could find an empty chair.

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The man who owned the show from the word go

Image: Junot Diaz reading from one of his books

Suparn says:

Post lunch, sat on the floor as Pakistani author and critic Muneeza Shamzie and her daughter Kamila (again beautiful coupled with a persona that exudes intelligence).

It was really funny when one member of the audience had her name confused and as a reader assumed Kamila was the mother and Muneeza her daughter. His face was a sight worth seeing when he realised Kamila was the young daughter.

Muneeza and Kamila spoke about how one is a partition generation and the other a post Zia generation, and how arguments have never died out despite the years and now all it takes is cricket for a wound to reopen as they meet their Indian relatives.
They both were in utter shock with the killing of Salman Taseer but more than the killing they were shocked by the reaction of the people in Pakistan who actually condoned the brutal assassination.

Javed Akhtar was holding a session with a rapt audience in the opposite tent, his book signing had him occupied for over an hour, when finally a tired Akthar staggered out, pushing admirers out off his way with a smile.

As the session got over I met with with Mande who had his head on the table, a pot of tea and a brownie from the Green Cafe revived him, sorta!

But what got him really jumping was the final session with Junot Diaz!

We decided to skip all sessions and attend this session and boy was Diaz good.....nah this man owned the show from the word go!

Mande will tell you more about the session but let me quote him for all aspiring artistes: "The only way for a writer to do good work is for things to go wrong, very wrong, and when they can't go any more possibly wrong to go even more wrong, and that is when he will find in himself the resilience to go on. That is when he is truly ready to be an artist. Applause never made an artist."

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All praise for the Shamsies

Image: Muneeza Shamsie
Photographs: Suparn Verma/

Abhishek says:

Well, actually it wasn't the tea nor that terrible mud cake (not brownie) but the sight of the charming Kamila Shamsie -- the Pakistan-born novelist who was with her mother Munneza -- that got me back on my feet

Suparn who had emerged out of a session with Shamsie senior was all praises for the two fiery ladies.

As they stood in the afternoon sun talking to each other, I managed to muster courage and with the hesitation of a high school boy about to ask a girl out on a date, I finally asked Kamila the question I always wanted to ask her: 'Would you like to join our readers for an online chat?'

Kamila and her mother will join us for the chat on Monday at 1 pm. We've made a date to see each other at the same table we'd spoken today. I will be waiting for her.

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Junot Diaz is a rockstar!

Image: Junot Diaz on writing influences

The big session of the day was the one featuring the Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz.

Diaz spoke extensively about his influences, the theme of the dictator in his works and how it helped that he came from a family that had five children ('For the Americans, we were like mob, man!')

The immensely talented author had the audience in splits when he countered the author and moderator Sonia Faleiro. Diaz surely had a point to make when he wondered aloud why he gets asked about how his background has influenced his work.

"Why doesn't anyone ask the white guy how his background influenced his work," he said tongue firmly in cheek

Diaz's session can possibly not be described in words. So I am hoping the Internet allows me to post some of the videos I shot of the session.

The guy is a star -- Russell Peters and Rowan Atkinson rolled into one!

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An open bar and live music

Image: Musicians at the Jaipur Literature Festival
Photographs: Suparn Verma/
Suparn says:

The night session begins with live music and an open bar, Mande and I felt a little adventurous. So we discarded our wrapped-in-wool-avatar of yesterday, but as the night falls, the effects of the night weather are taking over.

I know it sounds like an excuse to partake the fire water but then as the doctors say, some wine is good for health.

Besides, it will make Mande look more personable as we spend night # 2 in bed with each other. Catch you later.

Abhishek says:

Just before we go, Suparn and I couldn't help noticing how Om Puri and Nandita Puri, who according to Mumbai tabloids are breaking up, are quite cordial with each other.

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