Get Set For Literature’s Ibiza

Top tips on fitting in at the Jaipur Lit Fest - and none of them have anything to do with literature.

ByAnuvab Pal
Get Set For Literature’s Ibiza
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Next week, the Jaipur Literary Festival is back. Many journalists have said many things about it. It’s too Western, too Oprah, too crowded, too network-y (not a word), too Dalrymply (should be a word). Others have said, “what an incredible weekend of ideas in a charming palace with people I’ve only seen in magazines”, or “I can’t believe I met my favourite novelist who looked quite drunk” or just simply, “Look, Rahul Bose” (no explanation needed).

This being India, if one starts something ground-breaking and innovative like transforming a tourist town into one of the world’s top literary hot spots, naturally, us being us, will find a million complaints. Not to mention a million bits of petty gossip and third-rate intrigue. Who got in? How? Who knows whom? Who pays what?

When something blows up like JLF has, rumour and chatter are expected, and the right of the masses looking in. And perhaps the only way for those writing about it to get any attention against the onslaught of the overwhelming boring fact, which is this – JLF is the Ibiza of literature. The intellectual equivalent of a weekend of mad clubbing. Hemingway famously used to go out at night specifically to look for a fight. Sadly, 21st century’s writers are far more civil and middle class, they come to Jaipur.

Most writers don’t (and sensibly should not) have the capacity to deal with day-to-day normal things like returning phone calls, picking up laundry, staying in marriages or knowing their children’s names. Writers nowadays do. They are great at marketing, social networking, building audiences, talking to press. Which is sad. It doesn’t take away from a great festival, but it’s one thing to see Tom Stoppard wearing a suit and discussing his Arcadia (perhaps the greatest play ever written), it’s a totally different (and brilliant) thing to see Hemingway wrestle a pig while Sushila Raman sings at Diggi Palace (the home of the festival). Time sadly, has been too sobering for literature.

However, if there are those reading this who have any aspirations toward social dysfunction, if you’ve grown a very long beard, or have a British accent that comes on when we least expect it. If you’ve been wearing Fab India in a way that can best described as “way past college”, if you often walk out of rooms where Arnab Goswami is on TV, if you don’t know what the words Yash Raj mean. If something on your writing desk is Bollywood but ironic and retro, (and by extension, if you have a thing called a writing desk), if Chetan Bhagat has featured in some conversation you were in at least twice a day (someone you know loves him, someone you know hates him, you arbitrate), you sir, madam are heading to Jaipur in a way the rat in Pixar’s Ratatouille headed to the greatest restaurant in Paris, hoping to be a chef.

Here then, for you, the unsung hero/heroine, or the regular hero/heroine, are my top 10 tips on how to be cool at Jaipur this year.

1. If you are going to go to someone and pitch the fact that you have a novel, try to make sure the person you are pitching to is a publisher and not someone who also has an unpublished novel. It might result in some uncomfortable silence not to mention a sales pitch that ends in a loop.

2. If you are going to discuss the phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey, be delicate. Too much knowledge of it may make you a creepy expert on sadomasochism. Too little may suggest ignorance. Or worse celibacy. Unless you’re Bengali. Just say that, and the fact that you know nothing about the book will be forgiven.

3. Smoke clove cigarettes, drink tea, sit with a cluster of people and complain about something. Never do any one of these things without the other two, then you look like an ordinary person, not an intellectual. Again, as in 2, being Bengali will only help this as you’d have much practice (read: your everyday life). Don’t complain about something too esoteric, like the polar ice caps are melting. You are in Jaipur, it’s cold, any melting is good, plus no one cares. And don’t complain about something too petty, like not enough chairs in a session. It will make you sound like a Ludhiana socialite who’s come only to see the Bollywood session.

4. Never wear any fashion brands. Snigger at those who are, in a condescending “you are so behind the world” kind of way. If you’re asked, “who are you wearing”, you’re not at the Lit Fest, you’ve shown up at the wrong palace probably for someone’s wedding.

5. If you’ve written some mediocre books that sold in some mediocre way, but you are not part of the literary firmament and aren’t invited to any of the parties and aren’t a panelist, don’t throw your weight around in a show-offy way with other novelists who are well known. You’ll look silly. Take your game elsewhere. Throw your weight around amongst 20-somethings, young journalists and college students. Give them attitude, gravitas, even though they have no idea who you are. They’ll think if he’s dropping all these names, he must be someone. Whatever you do though, cling on to them. Otherwise, you’ll just be alone and mediocre and security may look at you suspiciously.

6. If you are a celebrity, however petty, it is very important where you sit in a session. Never be seen seated at the back, no matter how late you arrive. People will think you’ve fallen on hard times. Always inconvenience the general crowd and finagle your way to the front and then say hello to another petty celebrity who had the good sense to come early and sit by them, or stand. People will whisper and say, “Oh that’s so and so”. It will distract from the session, which may have been your goal.

7. It’s the evening and you’ve had a few. You are a writer and see someone who’s given you a bad review that ended your writing career and you had to return to your Infosys day job. The sensible thing to do would be to walk away, rather than walk toward them. Walking toward them cannot end well, regardless of your best self-control.

8. Among the thousands of journalists that congregate, it’s much more fun to gather and discuss what publication pays what and complain about editors, than attend any of the sessions. Like any good industry conference, what value is it if one doesn’t leave feeling someone else is doing so much better in life than they are. There should be a tent just to do that.

9. Once in a while, in the middle of a sensible conversation with a group of people, become disinterested, and say or do something insane. Like start blowing smoke rings, or randomly walk away, or say “Lorca” loudly for no reason, or start crying. Anywhere else, people around you would slowly disperse. Here you’ll be seen as a genius.

10. Try not to drink and hit on people with the words “I am working on a novel”. Any other forum, it is a good pick up line. Here, you are outnumbered.

Anuvab Pal’s new novel Chaos Theory is now out on Flipkart.

Image By: Swarnabha Banerjee

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