Jaipur Literature Festival: Can you repeat the answer?
Published: Sunday, Jan 30, 2011, 3:04 IST 
 Sheila Kumar | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
One quick question. Who was the rock star of the LitFest? 
‘Twas Vikram Seth. Behaving like a distracted, sometimes dithering
 Oxford don, he launched on chatty monologues, read poetry in truly
 divine fashion, had the audience at ‘hello.’ Then he took one look at 
the snaking line of autograph seekers and threw a diva-like tantrum:
 no asking him to sign fans’ names, no making conversation with 
him, et al. You could hear the collective sigh of dejection out 
on the main road.

The leitmotif of the festival was The Question. Long-winded, vague, sometimes more essay than query, the questions came slow and ponderous, at every session. One questioner, male (I’ll desist from saying ‘of course’), asked Namita Ghokale what stopped her from writing full-time porn…. this proceeded to amuse all the women in the tent, given that they seemed to have a real-life pervert in their midst.
Chimamanda Adichie was asked if her writing stemmed from the “catharsis of the angst of her country’s sensibilities.” Jon Halliday and his wife Jung Chang, authors of the Mao bio, were asked about China “keeping the melon whole.” The audience puzzled over this fruity query for all of four seconds,then turned as one to the equally dazed writer duo.

But for every inane question, there was Mr. Irascible himself, Orhan Pamuk, the anti-questioner. The man who felled foolish questions and questioners. “Yes yes,” he would say       testily, “but where is the question? Do you have a question?” Even as the questioner started to waffle, “Next,” Pamuk would bark peremptorily; the intimidated audience would stifle smiles of sympathy for the questioner.
I watched pretty people like Tishani Doshi and Rana Dasgupta (yes, I stand by ‘pretty’ for him, too) read out stories and wondered if writers deserved to look this er, pretty. I looked hard at every blonde woman in the fervid hope that she was J K Rowling in unexplained disguise. And along with many as confused as me, I watched Om Puri read from his supposedly estranged wife Nandita’s book.
So. What did I take away from the fest? Philip Roth apparently wrote that when a writer is born in a family, it is the end of the family. Be that as it may, I need to go now; I have a tasty tale to pen, the story of my great-uncle’s wife.
Sheila Kumar is a journalist, book editor, travel writer but no longer a JLF virgin.


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