Getting all literary in Jaipur

January 24th, 201011:17 am @

Checking the day's events at the Jaipur Literature Festival

Despite the best efforts of Kingfisher Airlines and their five-hour delay to my flight, I’ve finally made it to my second Jaipur Literature Festival where the Delhi social set come to be seen, authors come to get laid, and I come to get free food and the odd free beer.

With three talks on at any one time, negotiating the festival can be a bit tricky. Luckily there were only three on my first day that made my final edit, all at different times – although the thought of a talk on Indian erotica did make it as an also-ran for a while.

Say what you like about Niall Ferguson’s theories – and plenty, including Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, have – but the man knows how to tell a story. In his talk, “The Ascent of Money” (ironically sponsored by Goldman Sachs), Ferguson went over the global financial crisis and how the development of a financial system helps lift the poor out of poverty and away from loan sharks and the black market.  His major theme, however, was the relationship between China and America and the dangers China will pose to the world when its economic growth finally falters.

When a one-party state bases it legitimacy on economic success, says Ferguson, there’s only one path it can take when that economic miracle falls apart: belligerent nationalism. Drawing parallels with pre-war Germany, it’s a case of watch this space carefully, very carefully.

Niall Ferguson in a quiet moment

Ferguson is a rare creature in that he’s a “Conservative I don’t mind”, mostly because of his ability of make economics and finance understandable to people who have no background in the topic, a skill I admire in anyone.

The only downside was the compère, Omair Ahmad, who was clearly out of his depth and asked banal and rambling questions. Maybe they should have got Krugman. Now that I would have paid to see.

On a lighter note were Brigit Keenan’s readings in “Wanderlust” about the experiences of a well-travelled woman who had travel thrust upon her – her father was in the military, her husband is a diplomat, so she was destined to see a lot of the globe whether she wanted to or not.

Rather than being obsessed with the wonder and grandeur of new places, she aimed to make wherever she was a little piece of home. It was a nice change of pace to have a self-deprecating author describe her conversations with her Kazakh cook that involved drawing pictures and making chicken noises or her shopping expeditions, which were efforts to buy vegetables she recognised. Despite what they might say, all expats have those moments.

The only off note, and it was an off note of monumental proportions, was the afternoon’s session on new Indian writing. It could have been good, but the fatal flaw – again – was the choice of compère. I know Chetan Bhagat isn’t renowned for being an intellectual heavyweight, and his writing certainly isn’t going to be worrying the Nobel judges, but I was expecting questions a little more insightful than: “So, have you ever had a bad review? And how did it make you feel?” and “What do boys say when you tell them you’re a writer?” Unfortunately for two of the three authors on stage (and the audience), the third “author” was a former Miss India who Bhagat spent most of the session trying to chat up.

In the end I pulled the pin on the train wreck and sat in on the Indian erotica session where I listened to a passage about a woman assessing her naked body in front of a mirror. As the author described the young woman cupping her breasts and wondering if they were too small, I turned to the group of elderly Indian women next to me and smiled awkwardly. They weren’t paying attention to me at all, they were engrossed in the erotica.

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