Tag Archive for 'William Dalrymple'

A deadly triangle: India vs Pakistan in Afghanistan

The Brookings Essay by William Dalrymple:

 AT SIX O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING of February 26, 2010, Major Mitali Madhumita was awakened by the ringing of her mobile phone. Mitali, a 35-year-old Indian army officer from Orissa, had been in Kabul less than a year. Fluent in Dari, the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan, she was there to teach English to the first women officer cadets to be recruited to the Afghan National Army.

It was a sensitive posting, not so much because of gender issues as political ones: India’s regional rival, Pakistan, was extremely touchy about India providing military assistance to the government in Afghanistan and had made it very clear that it regarded the presence of any Indian troops or military trainers there as an unacceptable provocation. For this reason everyone on the small Indian army English Language Training Team, including Mitali, and all the Indian army doctors and nurses staffing the new Indira Gandhi Kabul Children’s Hospital, had been sent to Afghanistan unarmed, and in civilian dress. They were being put up not in an army barracks, or at the Indian Embassy, but in a series of small, discreet guest houses dotted around the city’s diplomatic quarter.

The phone call was from a girlfriend of Mitali’s who worked for Air India at Kabul airport. Breathless, she said she had just heard that two of the Indian guest houses, the Park and the Hamid, were under attack by militants. As the only woman on her team, Mitali had been staying in separate lodgings about two miles away from the rest of her colleagues, who were all in the Hamid. Within seconds, Mitali was pulling on her clothes, along with the hijab she was required to wear, and running, alone and unarmed, through the empty morning streets of Kabul toward the Hamid. More:

Delhi, monster metropolis

William Dalrymple in Newsweek:

As the city has expanded it has swallowed up hundreds of ancient villages, where people’s lives and attitudes have changed little since the Mughal Middle Ages. It is the cheek-by-jowl coexistence of a deeply conservative patriarchal rural society alongside the very different world and moral norms of a modern urban city that has helped create the tensions that resulted in the recent tragedy.

These enveloped villages can be sad places. There are two near my house: Shahpur Jat and Khirki, both of which have been swallowed alive. Shorn of their fields and exploited by corrupt bureaucrats and unscrupulous real-estate agents, the villagers now find themselves besieged. Shahpur Jat has undergone a “boutiquification,” and its ponds full of leathery water buffaloes are now bizarrely edged with designer shops—which are visited by women in short skirts, high heels, and Dior sunglasses—while the villagers remain deprived of even the most basic facilities.

Yet these villages, with their old courtyard houses and ancient ­ruins, are one of the reasons I love this city as much as I do. Of the great cities of the world, only Rome and Cairo can even begin to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of his­toric remains. More

William Dalrymple on his new book, Return of a King

Mukund Padmanabhan in The Hindu:

In this gripping piece of narrative history, impossible to put down once you have started, Dalrymple redraws the conventional images of a number of the principal players and persuades us to consider other ways of looking at them. For instance, the British hero and political envoy Alexander Burnes, who was hacked to death, was despised by Afghans for what they saw as his treacherous and dissolute ways.

As for Shah Shuja, Dalrymple shows us that he was refined and highly cultured apart from being strong and decisive when the chips were down; in short, nothing like the feckless British puppet he was made out to be.

Excerpts from an interview:

Western historians have regarded the first Anglo-Afghan war, or Auckland’s Folly, as a misadventure. But you also highlight its barbarity — particularly, the savagery and the destruction wreaked by the Army of Retribution, the avenging group that was formed after the British defeat to gain one final victory over the Afghans.

Yes, very much so. One of the things that brought me to this topic is that this was in some ways a dry run, a dress rehearsal, for the much greater savagery that follows in 1857 with quite a lot of the same cast. The people who go to loot, rape, and burn down Lucknow, Kanpur and Delhi, who were in their forties, are in their twenties in this [Anglo-Afghan] war. And they called it the Army of Retribution in 1857 too and so deliberately modelled it on what was done in Afghanistan. More:

And below, Bashrat Peer in Hindustan Times:

What made you write this book?

There are a lot of books about Afghanistan, but few about Afghan history. What brought me to write this book was thinking about Afghan history after rereading Peter Hopkirk’s classic The Great Game. It is a bit dated and features a lot of “treacherous Orientals”. Return of a King is the first book about the first Afghan war using Afghan sources, telling the stories from an Afghan point of view as well. It is the defining conflict that the Afghans remember as the source of their independence that they alone in this region never succumbed to colonial rule. 18,000 soldiers of the East India Company marched into Afghanistan in 1839 and, according to legend, one man returns alive from this debacle. The British army is destroyed at the peak of the British Empire. More:

Myth and fiction at the Jaipur Literature Festival

William Dalrymple at India Ink / NYT:

Over the last week I have watched with dismay a similar process of mythologization take place in the Indian and international press over the succession of events which tragically led to Salman cancelling his visit to Jaipur and the decision to abandon our back-up plan: showing a video link with Salman from a London television studio (we did go ahead with the broadcast, just couldn’t show it live at the festival venue.)

While those journalists who actually attended the festival were able to write with accuracy about what happened, the further away journalists and columnists were from the event, the more distorted became their reports. Increasingly we have seen ourselves, and the festival we run, caricatured beyond all recognition.

The first myth I have watched developing after Salman cancelled his visit was that there was never any threat to his life. This is nonsense.

While we at the festival have no way finally to determine if the intelligence agencies really did exaggerate the threat perception to Salman—and that is certainly possible — what we do know is that there was a very real threat of violence at the venue if he did come. In a meeting held in Jaipur with representatives of 19 Muslim organizations on the 19th of January, the day before our opening, while the great majority of the groups were happy to pursue peaceful protests, we organizers were confronted by a few thugs who were hell bent on creating serious trouble and threatened large scale violence and personal harm to Salman and us. More:

Police invented plot to keep Rushdie away from Jaipur LitFest

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Local intelligence officials in Rajasthan invented information that hit men were preparing to assassinate eminent author Salman Rushdie in a successful plot to deter him from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, highly placed police sources have told The Hindu.

Sources in the festival administration told The Hindu that Rajasthan Police intelligence officials had claimed that the threat to Mr. Rushdie came from two underworld hit men who they identified as “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” The intelligence officials also said an Islamist terrorist, Saqib Hamid Nachan, was suspected of financing the plot to assassinate Mr. Rushdie.

“I received a call from one of Mr. Rushdie’s friends on Friday, asking about these names,” said a senior officer of the Mumbai Police, who deals with organised crime. “I thanked him for giving me something to laugh about.”

The officer said the Mumbai Police’s dossiers on organised crime figures had no reference to individuals who might be using “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” “We’ve had a Salim Langda [‘the lame'], a Salim Kutta [‘the dog'], a Salim Tempo [‘truck'] and a Javed Fawda [‘the spade'] — but no ‘Kongo.’ Lots of Batlis [‘bottles'], but no Kongos.” More:

Rushdie Tweet: “Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie’ I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.”

Four writers who read from The Satanic Verses leave Jaipur to avoid arrest

In The Hindu:

The four writers who read extracts from Salman Rushdie’s banned novel The Satanic Verses — Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil have all left the Rajasthan capital on the advice of a lawyer, William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Jaipur Literature Festival told The Hindu here. They would otherwise have risked arrest in the State.

A source close to the festival said the police had gone to Hari Kunzru’s room to question him. But that information could not be independently verified, especially since Mr. Kunzru had already hurriedly left town.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that even reading from a banned book is against the law. This is part of a piece of absurd and draconian legislation going back to 1867 or thereabouts. I am convinced that the writers who did the readings were not aware that this is a punishable offence and could carry a fairly long prison sentence. You can discuss a book, read from other writings by the author, have conversations with him, invite him, but you cannot either possess a copy or publicly read from a book that is banned. That is a punishable offence,” Mr. Dalrymple said. More:

 

‘Democracy is India’s Achilles’ heel’

From Intelligence Squared

This debate took place at the Royal Geographical society on 27 September 2011. The Participants were Mani Shankar Aiyar, William Dalrymple, Suhel Seth and Patrick French. The audio below is courtesy Intelligence Squared.

Democracy is India’s Achilles’ heel by intelligence2

The Don of Delhi

With his eye for the exotic, William Dalrymple has become India’s authority on its Mughal past. Karan Mahajan in Bookforum [via 3quarksdaily]:

The writer William Dalrymple lives in a farmhouse on the outskirts of New Delhi with his wife, their three children, four incestuous goats, a cockatiel, and the usual entourage of servants that attends any successful man in India’s capital city. The previous resident of the house, a British journalist, was driven from the country by death threats after he published an article in Time magazine outing the previous Indian prime minister’s bladder problems and habit of nodding off during meetings. Dalrymple is also British—Scottish, to be exact—but his controversial statements are more likely to concern the country’s Mughal or British past. He is today India’s most famous narrative historian.

A number of modern British writers—including Geoff Dyer, Patrick French, and the late Bruce Chatwin—have been fascinated by the land that their ancestors once ruled, but Dalrymple is unique, in the past twenty years, for how rigorously he has pursued that fascination, writing one brilliant travel book (City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi), two vivid histories (White Mughals and The Last Mughal), and one anthology of acute journalism (The Age of Kali) about South Asia. He came to India before it had achieved its status as a frontier boomland for computer programmers and writers alike, and he has lived there, on and off, since 1989. As a result, at the age of forty-five, he has become something of a godfather to a generation of writers who are producing nonfiction about the country. The fact that Dalrymple looks like a sunnier version of the actor James Gandolfini and loves to party no doubt helps with this reputation.

Dalrymple is also an important example of what a foreigner can bring to the table at a time when more and more of the writing about India is being produced by Indians themselves—which is to say: an unabashed eye for the exotic. This is not backhanded praise. India’s best nonfiction writers are understandably taken up with the messiness and seaminess of the present, while readers find themselves cut off from religious and ethnic traditions by the distractions of big cities. Dalrymple has stepped into this void and punched out riveting, accessible histories of the Mughal era and studies of disappearing mystical practices. His fluent and moving presentations of big subjects—India’s first war of independence in The Last Mughal (2006), for example—sometimes irritate native historians who feel they have been scooped by a powerful foreign interest, but this is a little unfair: There is only one Dalrymple, and there are many Indians. Instead of capitalizing on their native credibility, Indian historians have either lost themselves in a thicket of doublespeak about subalterns or have taken one look at the publishing industry in India, which pays handsomely for Booker Prize–nominated novels and zilch for popular histories, and given up on trying to communicate with the general public (Ramachandra Guha and Gurcharan Das remain exceptions). Dalrymple’s success has shown that there is a market for well-written history in India. This is itself an achievement. More:

Is Generation Zia writing South Asia’s best fiction?

Tripti Lahiri in the Wall Street Journal:

It’s interesting to note the different place Partition holds for India and Pakistan. For India, Partition – a traumatic event in 1947 that created today’s Pakistan and India out of British India – is still a terrible historical mistake, but Pakistanis obviously think about it differently.

At a Friday session at the Jaipur Lit Fest, Urvashi Butalia, director of the publishing imprint Zubaan, kept coming back to the question of Partition and how it’s shaping recent Pakistani writing – only to be told that it’s not.

“For us ‘47 isn’t the big date,” said writer Kamila Shamsie. “Neither is ‘71.”

(The latter year is when East Pakistan split off from West Pakistan to become Bangladesh, and while it may not inform Pakistani writing that much, it is shaping new novels from Bangladesh, such as “The Golden Age,” by Tahmima Anam).

For a long time Partition, Ms. Shamsie said, has been a conversation Pakistanis her age feel forced to have with Indians before they can move on to more interesting topics. More:

Ane below, Margherita Stancati in WSJ:

A female Dalit poet fights back in verse

The categories into which Meena Kandasamy falls—Dalit and female—have put her among those Indian society has historically tended to oppress and marginalize the most.

Repeated humiliation pushed the 26-year-old to fight back—through her social activism and her inflammatory writing, in verse and prose.

In a recent interview at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Ms. Kandasamy, who is from Tamil Nadu in south India, said the aim of her poetry is to send a social message.

In her poems she addresses issues of caste and untouchability—something that stems from her being a Dalit, considered the lowest and most oppressed of India’s castes and formerly known as “untouchables”. More:

[Image: Meena Kandasamy]

A guide to Jaipur’s Literature Festival

In The Wall Street Journal:

Friday

11 a.m. “Pamuk & the Art of the Novel”

Famous for his novel “My Name is Red” and his memoir “Istanbul,” Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk will be in conversation with Mumbai-based novelist and book critic Chandrahas Chaudhury. If you miss him on Friday, you can still see him on Saturday afternoon with Kiran Desai. (Front Lawns)

5 p.m. “Bulle Shah”

This session is on the life and works of 17th-century mystic poet Bulle Shah. Speakers on this panel include a young star of Pakistan’s contemporary literary scene, Ali Sethi, composer, lyricist and script writer Madan Gopal Singh and Professor Christopher Shackle. Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock will open the session. (Front Lawns)

SATURDAY

Noon. “Gata Rahe Mera Dil/The Songs that Moved Us.”

Some of Bollywood’s most famous poets and lyricists will come together for this session – a journey in the world of Hindi film music. Among them Gulzar, famous also outside India for his hit tune “Jai Ho,” soundtrack of the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire. He will be flanked by Javed Akhtar and star advertising writer Prasoon Joshi. (Durbar Hall)

2.30 p.m. “Hall of Shame: Caste and Its Exclusions.”

This panel focuses on writing by people who belong to a social group that traditionally fell at the bottom of India’s caste structure, Dalits. Speakers include young female writer and activist Meena Kandasamy, intellectual and professional maverick Chandra Bhan Prasad and British author Patrick French. (Durbar Hall)

2.30 p.m. “Imaginary Homelands.”

The authors at this session have focused on writing about countries they have often left but not forgotten. Speakers include Junot Diaz, whose Pulitzer-Prize winning “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” is set between the Dominican Republic, where he was born, and New Jersey, his home. Others include Marina Lewycka, author of “The Short History of Tractors in Ukranian,” who lives in Yorshire and Nepali author Manjushree Thapa who spends much of her time in Toronto. Pulitzer-Prize winner Kai Bird will also be on this panel. (Front Lawns)

5 p.m. “Out of West.”

If you missed out on Mr. Pamuk Friday, this is your chance to hear him speak again, this time with Indian Man Booker Prize Winner Kiran Desai and British-born author Rana Dasgupta. Other panelists include Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adiche and Sudanese author Leila Aboulela. They also will be addressing issues of language and identity. (Front Lawns)

Full program here; and at the Festival website

Jaipur Lit Fest organizers pick top books

William Dalrymple in Hindustan Times: Turn to Jaipur for a magical literary tour

The Literary Raj: Hartosh Singh Bal vs. William Dalrymple

Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

Click on the festival website and the first name that comes up is William Dalrymple: ‘the author of seven acclaimed works of history and travel, including The City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the bestselling From the Holy Mountain; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson, and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. He divides his time between New Delhi and London, and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New Statesman and The Guardian. He published Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India to great acclaim in October 2009, and the book went straight to the top of the Indian bestseller list. He is a director of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival.’

I have been told that Dalrymple is a personable man, and in my own encounters with him I have indeed found him so, but what is of interest in this context is not Dalrymple the man, but Dalrymple the phenomenon. How did a White man, young, irreverent and likeable in his first and by far most readable India book, The City of Djinns, become the pompous arbiter of literary merit in India? More:

…And William Dalrymple takes exception to the piece:

“The piece you ran is blatantly racist”

From Open:

After all, I am hardly a pampered expat on a three-year expenses-paid stint. I have lived in this country on and off for more than 25 years—most of my adult life since I first came here in 1984—and have done so on the hard-earned royalties of my books. I have now written five books on India which, whatever their many failings, surely represents a serious commitment of time, work and love to this country.

I conceived, co-founded and co-direct the DSC Jaipur Lit Fest, which is now the largest in the Eastern half of the globe, and brings fine writers together in 12 of India’s 22 official languages. Thanks to the funding we work hard to raise, it does so entirely for free, for anyone who loves literature, in addition to which we raise money to provide bursaries for those who can’t afford it to attend from across India. To date, I and my co-director Namita Gokhale have been paid little more than expenses for this labour of love, which now takes up about a quarter of our year.

Over two-thirds of the writers I and Namita invite are desi. The British contingent, Brown, Black and White, make up a minority within the minority of the firangi contingent. This year our two keynote international speakers are Turkish and South African, and our special subjects are literature from India’s Northeast, from Palestine/Israel, and from the region now known as Af-Pak. The idea that this joyously multi-vocal festival, which has fought hard to promote Dalit, bhasha and minority literature, represents some sort of colonial hangover is both ignorant and extremely offensive, not just to me but to the whole team who labour to make it happen, and to the sponsors who donate funds to make it possible to present the writers without charge.

So why publish a snide and malicious piece that casually rubbishes both my work and the literary mela I helped to found, by someone who has never once attended the festival? More:

…and below, Bal joins issue:

Does Dalrymple know what racism really is?

I will ignore the snide remarks and innuendos that so liberally dose his letter, restraining my urge to reply in Punjabi, but I will answer a charge that cannot be glossed over—the charge of racism. This is the second instance recently that we at Open have been subjected to the argumentum ad hominem: Barkha Dutt and some of her supporters have suggested that the case against her was rooted in misogyny, and now William (his letter does imply we are on first-name terms), who has stated that my original article was ‘blatantly racist’. It is a serious charge, designed to deflect attention from the real issue. In elaborating this charge, William exposes the weakness of his case when he states: ‘If anyone was to suggest that Amit Chaudhuri shouldn’t judge the Booker Prize, or direct Britain’s leading creative writing course, because he was too Bengali… it would be regarded as blatantly racist.’

This is a complete misstatement of my premise. The equivalent of what I said would be the claim that ‘the fact that Amit Chaudhuri, a Bengali, judges the Booker Prize’ says something about the British literary scene. Of course, it does: it says something positive about a literary arena that had long been marked by exclusion. In the same way, I have claimed that William’s centrality (whether in Jaipur or otherwise), especially considering how he defines himself, says something about the Indian literary scene, except here it says something negative because the Indian and British literary scenes are not equivalent. The Indian literary scene is marked by a clear sense of inferiority to the British scene, and continues to be beholden to it. For this very reason William becomes a symbol of what is wrong with our literary life. More in Open

Great Game replay

William Dalrymple in Afghanistan. From Outlook:

In 1843, shortly after his return from Afghanistan, an army chaplain named Rev G.H. Gleig wrote a memoir of the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War of which he was one of the very few survivors. It was, he wrote, “a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated”.

It would be difficult to imagine any military adventure today going quite as badly as the First Anglo-Afghan War, an abortive experiment in Great Game colonialism that ended with an entire East India Company army utterly routed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of Rs 80 billion and over 40,000 lives. But this month, almost 10 years on from NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan, there were increasing signs that the current Afghan war, like so many before them, could still end in another embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos, possibly partitioned and ruled by the same government which the war was originally fought to overthrow.

Certainly it is becoming clearer than ever that the once-hated Taliban, far from being defeated by the surge, are instead beginning to converge on, and effectively besiege, Kabul in what is beginning to look like the final act in the history of Karzai’s western-installed puppet government. For the Taliban have now reorganised, and advanced out of their borderland safe havens. They are now massing at the gates of Kabul, surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahideen once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late ’80s. The Taliban controls over 70 per cent of the country, where it collects taxes, enforces the sharia and dispenses its usual rough justice. Every month their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai’s government only controls 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. More:

http://www.williamdalrymple.uk.com/

The Muslims in the middle

William Dalrymple in The New York Times:

Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.

Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.

Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists. His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.

For such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do. Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessible to the learned and the ignorant, the faithful and nonbelievers — and is thus a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.

The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque, church, synagogue or temple, but the striving to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart: that we all can find paradise within us, if we know where to look. In some ways Sufism, with its emphasis on love rather than judgment, represents the New Testament of Islam. More:

Why the Taliban is winning in Afghanistan

William Dalrymple in the New Statesman:

In 1843, shortly after his return from Afghanistan, an army chaplain, Reverend G R Gleig, wrote a memoir about the First Anglo-Afghan War, of which he was one of the very few survivors. It was, he wrote, “a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.”

It is difficult to imagine the current military adventure in Afghanistan ending quite as badly as the First Afghan War, an abortive experiment in Great Game colonialism that slowly descended into what is arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the west in the Middle East: an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world utterly routed and destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of £15m (well over £1bn in modern currency) and more than 40,000 lives. But nearly ten years on from Nato’s invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain’s fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three and, like them, terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was launched to overthrow.

Certainly it is becoming clearer than ever that the once-hated Taliban, far from being swept away by General Stanley McChrystal’s surge, are instead regrouping, ready for the final act in the history of Hamid Karzai’s western-installed puppet government. The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahedin once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late 1980s. Like a rerun of an old movie, all journeys by non-Afghans out of the capital are once again confined largely to tanks, military convoys and helicopters. The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country, where they collect taxes, enforce the sharia and dispense their usual rough justice. Every month, their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai’s government has control of only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. More:

Family matters

In Business Standard, William Dalrymple reviews Fatima Bhutto’s Songs of Blood and Sword:

I first encountered the family in 1994 when, as a young foreign correspondent on assignment for the Sunday Times, I was sent to Pakistan to write a long magazine piece on the Bhutto dynasty. I met Benazir in the giddy pseudo-Mexican Prime Minister’s House that she had built in the middle of Islamabad.

It was the beginning of Benazir’s second term as Prime Minister, and she was at her most imperial. She both walked and talked in a deliberately measured and regal manner, and frequently used the royal “we”. During my interview, she took a full three minutes to float down the hundred yards of lawns separating the Prime Minister’s House from the chairs where I had been told to wait for her. There followed an interlude when Benazir found the sun was not shining in quite the way she wanted it to: “The sun is in the wrong direction,” she announced. Her hair was arranged in a sort of baroque beehive topped by white gauze dupatta like one of those Roman princesses in Caligula or Rome.

A couple of days later in Karachi, I met Benazir’s brother Murtaza in very different circumstances. Murtaza was on trial in Karachi for his alleged terrorist offences. A one hundred rupee bribe got me through the police cordon, and I soon found Murtaza with his mother — Begum Bhutto — in an annexe beside the courtroom. Murtaza looked strikingly like his father, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. He was handsome, very tall — well over six feet — with a deep voice and, like his father, exuded an air of self-confidence, bonhomie and charisma. He invited me to sit down: “Benazir doesn’t care what the local press says about her,” he said, “but she’s very sensitive to what her friends in London and New York get to read about her.”

“Has your sister got in touch with you since you returned to Pakistan?” I asked.

“No. Nothing. Not one note.”

“Did you expect her to intervene and get you off the hook?” I asked. “What kind of reception did you hope she would lay on for you when you returned from Damascus?”

“I didn’t want any favours,” replied Murtaza. “I just wanted her to let justice take its course, and for her not to interfere in the legal process. As it is, she has instructed the prosecution to use delaying tactics to keep me in confinement as long as possible. This trial has been going on for three months now and they still haven’t finished examining the first witness. She’s become paranoid and is convinced I’m trying to topple her.” More:

Beyond boundaries

India’s heterodox religions and their traditions remain stronger than the idea of a unified nation-state. They have survived a long and violent history, writes Pankaj Mishra in The National

India is one of the world’s oldest civilisations; but as a nation-state it is relatively very new, and its nationalism can still appear weak and unresolved, as became freshly clear in August, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party expelled its veteran leader Jaswant Singh. Singh had dared to praise, in a new book about the partition of India, the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Indian nationalists, of both the hardline Hindu and soft-secular kind, see Jinnah as the Muslim fanatic primarily responsible for the vivisection of their “Mother India” in 1947. But Singh chose to blame the partition on allegedly power-hungry Hindu freedom fighters, rather than Jinnah, who he claimed had stood for a united India. more

Literary magic

Niall Ferguson, Stephen Frears, and Wole Soyinka kick off the fifth annual Jaipur Literature Festival. Olivia Cole reports for The Daily Beast

For over a hundred years, Jaipur, the so-called “Pink City,” was famously gray. It was only in 1882 that it was painted pink (the traditional color of welcome) in honor of a visit by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. That sense of hospitality is apt for its literary festival, opening today. Now in its fifth year, from the start the philosophy has always been that it should welcome as many readers as possible. Some 20,000 are expected, but this is not a place with green rooms, wrist bands, or VIP areas, despite the fact that this year’s lineup is just a few starry names shy of a large constellation. more

Come ye all to Asia’s biggest literature fest

William Dalrymple, Co-director, Jaipur Literature Festival, in the Hindustan Times:

In January in 2004, I was invited to give a reading in Jaipur at a new festival of music and dance that had just started in the Pink City. The reading took place in a small room at the back of the university. No one was able to find it and the event was sparsely attended —maybe 30 people, largely elderly aunties, turned up to hear it.

That evening, I suggested to the organiser, Faith Singh, that maybe something could be done to start a small literary festival around her Jaipur Heritage Festival, just as Edinburgh had its Book Festival running alongside the main Edinburgh International Festival.

Two years later, the festival finally kicked off with 18 authors. All were Indian-residents, “and two failed to show up,” remembers my co-director, Namita Gokhale, who has done more than anyone else to make that idea a reality. More:

Back with a bang: Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted by Namita Bhandare

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bigger, the DS Jaipur Literature Fesival is back with Season V (Jan 21-25), with more international writers, more Indian writers and certainly a bigger anticipated audience than previous years.

Writers who’ve confirmed attendance include Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle and Amit Chaudhuri, widely regarded as India’s best-known writer of his generation.

To pretend that there is a hierarchy or even a social pecking order at the fest would be misleading. There are no tickets; entry is free to all. Everybody queues up for lunch and dinner — everybody including Salman (Rushdie), Pico (Iyer) and Vikram (Seth). Writers and readers lounge in the winter sun, signing books, drinking coffee and gossiping (oh, the gossip).

The Lit Fest is the baby of writers William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale. Writing for The Guardian recently, Dalrymple said: “Wherever I appeared at literary festivals around the globe, all the usual celebrated Indian writers were there – everywhere, that is, except India.” 

And so, began India’s quest for a fest. Starting with 17 writers over three days, the fest will this year include 160 writers and performers. [See the complete programme and list of writers attending here.]

This year’s festival is set once again in the charming, heritage Diggi Palace, the haveli of the Thakurs of Diggi, a small princely state. The Durbar Hall with its Venetian mirrors and framed portraits of venerated gods and ancestors seats about 300. Over the years, however, as the number of writers descending on Jaipur has gone up, Diggi Palace has sprouted new venues. There’s the Mughal Tent (which seats about 100 people), Baithak (about 75) and the front lawn (can easily take upwards of 1,000).

It was at the front lawn, last year where Vikas Swarup received news that Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s film based on his book Q&A had received 11 Oscar nominations. The crowd erupted in a roar as Swarup made his hasty departure for the film’s Mumbai premiere. Jai Ho.

Every fest has its own little gem, its highlights: Salman Rushdie ticking off ‘hostile’ journalists for what he saw as unfriendly reports in the press. Vikram Seth getting ticked off by a local newspaper for sipping a glass of wine while speaking to his moderator Sonia Faleiro.

This year’s showstopper could well be a controversial, woman writer and thinker. Her name is not up on the official programme yet, because she is yet to get a visa. But, do watch this space. If she comes, fireworks.

Previously on AW

The greatest literary show on earth

Slumdog glory

Rough Guide to the Fest

William Dalrymple on Jaipur LitFest

From the Observer:

Each December and January my normal life dissolves in the face of a million emails generated by my favourite commitment of the year: helping direct the Jaipur Literature Festival, which kicks off at the end of this week in the capital of Rajasthan. Private Eye recently ran a cartoon showing two survivors of a shipwreck watching their liner sink from a desert island, shaded by a single, drooping palm tree. One says to the other: “Well, I suppose the first thing to do is to start a literary festival.” The cartoonist had a point: literary festivals now seem almost as globally contagious as swine flu.

But it certainly didn’t seem that way in 2004, when I moved my family back to India from London, and first discussed starting a literary festival in Jaipur. Then, as now, India appeared to be at the centre of the global literary hurricane: every year, it seemed another brilliant young Indian wunderkind would storm the bestseller list and run away with the Booker.

Wherever I appeared at literary festivals around the globe, all the usual celebrated Indian writers were there – everywhere, that is, except India. Arriving back in Delhi, I found to my surprise that one tended to meet far more of what the west regards as the A-list Indian writers in English at the literary festival of Hay-on-Wye, in the Welsh countryside, or Edinburgh or even Sydney, than one ever did in Bombay or Delhi. More:

Spiritual awakening

William Dalrymple in the New Statesman:

On a foggy winter’s night in November 1998, Om Singh, a young landowner from Rajasthan, was riding his Enfield Bullet back home after winning a local election near Jodhpur, when he misjudged a turning and hit a tree. He was killed instantly. As a memorial, his father fixed the motorbike to a stand, raised on a concrete plinth under the shelter of a small canopy, near the site of the crash.

“We were a little surprised when people started reporting miracles near the bike,” Om’s uncle Shaitan Singh told me on my last visit. “Om was no saint, and people say he had had a drink or two before his crash. In fact, there was no indication whatsoever during his life that he was a deity. He just loved his horses and his motorbike. But since his death a lot of people have had their wishes fulfilled here – particularly women who want children. For them, he has become very powerful. They sit on the bike, make offerings to Om Singh-ji, and it is said that flowers drop into their laps. Nine months later they have sons. Every day people see him. He comes to many people in their dreams.”

“How did it all begin?” I asked. We were in the middle of a surging throng: crowds of red-turbaned and brightly sari-ed villagers gathered around the bike, the women queuing patiently to straddle its seat and ring the bell on the canopy. Nearby, two drummers were loudly banging dholaks, while chai-shop owners made tea and paan for the pilgrims. Other stalls sold plaques, postcards and statues of Om Singh and his motorbike. Pieces of cloth were tied to branches all over the tree and gold flags flapped in the desert wind. Everywhere buses and trucks were disgorging pilgrims coming to visit Rajasthan’s newest shrine. More:

A spiritual journey

book_nine_livesIn the Guardian, a review of William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Penguin India):

William Dalrymple thrives on illuminating the points at which seemingly antagonistic cultures intersect. His erudite essays in the New York Review have blurred the allegedly irrevocable boundaries between Islam and Christianity. City of Djinns, a thoughtful, provocative travelogue, questioned the seemingly rigid lines that separated coloniser from colonised in British India.

There is a similar awareness of the world’s innate cosmopolitanism in his new book, Nine Lives, in which he conjectures that the Hindu goddess Tara might have the same Mesopotamian roots as a Catholic cult. But this book, a blend of travelogue, ethnography, oral history and reportage, isn’t primarily concerned with exploring the world’s age-old interconnectedness. Instead, it is an attempt to discover if India offers “any sort of real spiritual alternative to materialism”, or if the rapidly developing nation is just another satellite of the “wider capitalist world”.

In Tehelka:

Dalrymple sketches each profile with succinct historical context, explaining why the Jains consider fasting to death to be their highest goal or how the devadasis’ status has dropped due to modern social reform. He’s mainly interested in what the person practices, how they came to such a way of life and how its continuation extrapolates in a modernising world. Many of his subjects are apprehensive about how their particular sacred extremity will live on after them.

What Dalrymple declines to do is provide his own position on a subject’s practice and fate. For, contrary to the blurb, this is not a travel book. It does travel to different parts of India in its search, but its subject remains close to the profiled individuals rather than any larger understanding of their phenomenon.

In the Telegraph, London:

Dalrymple travels around India in search of representatives and, for the most part, allows them to tell their own stories in their own words. Inevitably, some stories are more engaging than others. The first subject is a Jain nun in Karnataka, who appears to lead an admirably blameless life, following a strictly vegetarian diet and being careful not to harm any living creature. In other ways, however, the path she follows seems unattractively life-denying: ritually plucking her hair out, rejecting her family rather as the more pious and self-regarding young Christian saints were said to do, and eventually embracing sallekhana, a process by which the devout starve themselves to death. It is with faintly guilty relief that the reader turns to the frenetic actor-dancers of Kerala, the apparently inexhaustible storytellers of Rajasthan and the skilled sculptors of Chola bronzes in Tamil Nadu.

Maharaja: The splendour of India’s royal courts

William Dalrymple on Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts, the new exhibition at V&A, in the Guardian:

Even at the height of the raj, the British directly controlled only three-fifths of India. Two-fifths of south Asia’s vast landmass always remained under the control of its indigenous princely rulers, split up between nearly 600 states. “God created the maharajas,” wrote Kipling, “so that mankind could have the spectacle of jewels and marble palaces.” Aldous Huxley came to more or less the same conclusion. Arriving in Delhi at the time of the Council of Princes in the early 1930s, he found the city “pullulating with despots . . . At the viceroy’s evening parties, the diamonds were so large they looked like stage gems. It was impossible to believe that the pearls in the million-pound necklaces were the genuine excrement of oysters.”

Not all observers, however, were so enamoured with India’s princes. Indian nationalist politicians such as Nehru and Gandhi regarded them as foolish and wasteful playboys, spineless Quislings of the British and enemies of India’s freedom movement. Lord Curzon took a similar view, and railed in his despatches home against “the category of half-Anglicised, half-denationalised, European-women-hunting, pseudo-sporting, and very often in the end spirit-drinking young native chiefs”. Writing to Queen Victoria, the viceroy detailed at surprising length the failings of the “frivolous and sometimes vicious spendthrifts and idlers” who, he believed, constituted such a large proportion of her princely subjects. The Rana of Dholpur was “fast sinking into an inebriate and a sot”; the Maharaja of Patiala was “little better than a jockey”; and Maharaja Holkar was “half mad and addicted to horrible vices”. More:

Inside India’s sacred heart

An excerpt from William Dalrymple’s forthcoming book, Nine Lives (Bloomsbury/Penguin), on a modern nation’s ancient beliefs. In the Times of India:

nine_livesTwo hills of blackly gleaming granite, smooth as glass, rise from a thickly wooded landscape of banana plantations and jagged palmyra palms. It is dawn. Below lies the ancient pilgrimage town of Sravanabelagola, where the crumbling walls of monasteries, temples and dharamsalas cluster around a grid of dusty, red earth roads. The roads converge on a great rectangular tank. The tank is dotted with the spreading leaves and still-closed buds of floating lotus flowers. Already, despite the early hour, the first pilgrims are gathering.

For more than 2,000 years, this Karnatakan town has been sacred to the Jains. It was here, in the third century BC, that the first Emperor of India, Chandragupta Maurya, embraced the Jain religion and died through a self-imposed fast to the death, the emperor’s chosen atonement for the killings for which he had been responsible in his life of conquest. Twelve hundred years later, in AD 981, a Jain general commissioned the largest monolithic statue in India, sixty feet high, on the top of the larger of the two hills, Vindhyagiri. This was an image of another royal Jain hero, Prince Bahubali.

It was in a temple just short of the summit that I first laid eyes on Prasannamati Mataji. I had seen the tiny, slender, barefoot figure of the nun in her white sari bounding up the steps above me as I began my ascent. She climbed quickly, with a pot of water made from a coconut shell in one hand, and a peacock fan in the other. As she climbed, she gently wiped each step with the fan in order to make sure she didn’t stand on, hurt or kill a single living creature on her ascent of the hill: one of the set rules of pilgrimage for a Jain muni or ascetic. More:

Home truths on abroad

William Dalrymple on travel writing in The Guardian:

Last November, for example, I managed to track down a celebrated tantric at a cremation ground near Birbhum in West Bengal. Tapan Goswami was a feeder of skulls. Twenty years ago he had been interviewed by an American professor of comparative religion, who went on to write a scholarly essay on Tapan’s practice of spirit-summoning and spell-casting, using the cured skulls of dead virgins and restless suicides. It sounded rich material, albeit of a rather sinister nature, so I spent the best part of a day touring the various cremation grounds of Birbhum before finally finding Tapan sitting outside his small Kali temple on the edge of the town, preparing a sacrifice for the goddess.

The light was beginning to fade; a funeral pyre was still smoking eerily in front of the temple. Tapan and I talked of tantra, and he confirmed that in his youth, when the professor had interviewed him, he had indeed been an enthusiastic skull-feeder. Yes, he said, all that had been written about him was true, and yes, he did occasionally still cure skulls, and summon their dead owners, so as to use their power. But sadly, he said, he could not talk to me about the details. Why was that? I asked. Because, he said, his two sons were now successful ophthalmologists in New Jersey. They had firmly forbidden him from giving any more interviews about what he did, in case rumours of the family dabbling in black magic damaged their profitable East Coast practice. Now he thought he might even give away his skulls, and go and join them in the States.

Living in India over the past few years, I have seen the country change at a rate that was impossible to imagine when I first moved there in the late 80s. On returning to Delhi after nearly a decade away, I took a lease on a farmhouse five kilometres from the boom town of Gurgaon, on the south western edge of Delhi. From the end of the road you could just see in the distance the rings of new housing estates springing up, full of call centres, software companies and fancy apartment blocks, all rapidly rising on land that only two years earlier had been virgin farmland. More:

[William Dalrymple's Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India is published by Bloomsbury next month]

In search of India

This year’s London book fair celebrates the diversity of contemporary Indian writing. How much do the novelists of the new generation have in common, asks Amit Chaudhuri. In the Guardian:

The theme of the London book fair this year is Indian writing. Vikram Seth, Amartya Sen, William Dalrymple and other writers in frequent circulation in this country are going to be joined by writers – K Satchidanandan, Javed Akhtar – distinguished or popular on their own terrain but less known here, for five days of discussions and celebrations. Something like this happened in 2006 to the Frankfurt book fair, when planeloads of Indian novelists and poets descended on the Intercontinental Hotel, waved to each other over breakfast, and then read from their work to courteous audiences in the afternoons and evenings.

The theme then, too, was India; and the “idea of India” acted as a catalyst to a process that might have already begun, but received, at that moment, a recognisable impetus – the confluence, in one place, of literary and intellectual dialogue with what is basically business activity, each bringing magic and movement to the other. The India-themed Paris book fair followed swiftly.

More:

‘I’m not going to criticize or mysticize’

William Dalrymple on his forthcoming book. From Mint-Lounge:

william_dalrympleWhere did you find the fascinating people on whom the profiles in Nine Lives are based?

(Laughs) On the road mostly. Sometimes I bump into them myself. Sometimes people tell me about them. The Tibetan monk was a lead someone gave me at the Jaipur literary festival. So there is a little bit of providence in the way I get them.

Is this William Dalrymple’s Eastern spirituality book?

Yes, it is so clichéd, isn’t it? The Western guy who comes to India and suddenly discovers the meaning and purpose of religion in puffs of mystic smoke! But I’ve lived here for 25 years now. So I am not exactly the amazed foreigner. And besides, my book is trying to talk about religion through biographies and lives. So I am not going to criticize or mysticize. Just say it as it is. More:

The greatest literary show on earth

The annual Jaipur Literature Festival might have met with lukewarm coverage by the Indian press, but the world press goes ga-ga.  Amulya Gopalakrishnan writes for Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast, calling it with considerable hyperbold the ‘greatest literary show’ on earth.  Brown was also one of the speakers at Jaipur.

gopalakrishnan-jaipurEvery January, the ancient city of Jaipur, India, celebrates the written word in a literary festival co-founded by Indian writer Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple, the British travel writer and historian, that easily places first in Asia for cultural cachet and star power. It’s hard to believe that the festival is only three years old, given the crackle and buzz around its events and personalities—Salman Rushdie chose the occasion for his first public appearance after the fatwa. And this year too, through five sun-drenched mornings and vivid, musical evenings in the dignified old Diggi Palace, the festival made headlines across India.

more

And Jeremy Kahn in the International Herald Tribune  says the fest has grown from a small, regional affair to one of international stature

In India’s headlong rush into modernity, Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is hardly on the cutting edge. A fixture on the tourist circuit, it is best known for its pink-walled old city, its 18th-century Maharashtra’s forts and havelis, its classic jewelry and its traditional, technicolor patchwork textiles. But for a few days each January, this city lays claim to a place at the heart of the contemporary literary world.

more

Slumdog glory. But where is the author?

Posted by Namita Bhandare from the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Spot the author

Spot the author

On the day that Danny Boyle, A.R. Rahman, Anil Kapoor and the cast of Slumdog Millionaire lit up the red carpet in the film’s Mumbai premiere on Thursday, January 22, one man without whom the film wouldn’t have existed was airdashing from Jaipur to make it just in time to get news of the film’s stupendous 10 Oscar nominations. It was Vikas Swarup who wrote Q&A, the book on which the film is based.

Swarup was clearly the star of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s first day’s events as a line of school children and other fans queued up to get a copy of their book signed by the diplomat-author. On the day the Oscar nominations were announced, Swarup slipped away to make it to the Mumbai premiere, although festival organisers said he was expected to return to Jaipur. Back in Jaipur it was another star associated with the film, lyricist Gulzar who basked in the glory of the announcement as champagne was popped and the audience broke into huge applause.

Swarup is chuffed about the film based on his novel reaping such huge dividends in the awards circuit (it won four Golden Globes, picked up 11 BAFTA nominations and has now received 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Simon Beaufoy for best screenplay adaptation). But he told author William Dalrymple, festival director with whom he had an hour long public interaction, that he had not been invited to the London premiere and finally had to buy his own ticket from Pretoria in South Africa where he is posted to London. “People kept asking me what I thought about the film and I hadn’t even seen it. So, I finally decided to buy my own ticket.”

Swarup seemed reconciled to the many changes and departures from his book in the film, although he said that the first draft of the screenplay had certain inaccuracies which he then had to fix. “However, the author becomes obselete once the film-makers come into play,” he said.

In Swarup’s book, the protagonist is named Ram Mohammed Thomas, a name changed to Jamaal Malik in the film. Salim in the book is not Jamaal’s brother but rather a street-smart friend. Even the title Q&A — which has a certain iconic ring to it, as pointed out by Dalrymple – was changed. Swarup defended the change saying that Slumdog Millionaire had a certain evocative quality. Moreover, he conceded that Beaufoy has been ‘faithful to the central premise in the book’.

But there were others in Jaipur who felt that Swarup ought to have been given more importance at the premiere and award ceremonies of Slumdog. “It’s a bit sloppy on the film-makers’ part to have left him out. I can only hope that it is an oversight,” said an admirer who didn’t wish to be named.

Swarup also brushed off criticism — most notably from Amitabh Bachchan — that Slumdog is too negative in its portrayal of a seamy underbelly of Mumbai. “India is so large and multifarious that a single book cannot represent the whole reality. It is at best only a slice of Indian life; not the only version of it,” he told Dalrymple.

Slumdog was to have premiered in Jaipur as part of the literature festival on Wednesday January 21, a day before the Mumbai premiere. The festival’s official programme lists the premiere in the presence of Vikas Swarup and Anil Kapoor, the film’s most recognisable Indian star. But the organisers announced that the premiere had been postponed to January 23 — and gave no reason for the decision.

Ironically, the copies of Q&A available at the festival venue (and the copies that Swarup signed in Jaipur) had a still from Slumdog the movie prominently displayed on the front jacket and was being sold as Slumdog Millionaire, the book previously known as Q&A! So, Slumdog could end up pushing the sales of his book. Don’t be surprised if he ends up having the last laugh. 

See reviews of Slumdog Millionaire in the Indian press here, here and here.

Pakistan in peril

William Dalrymple reviews “Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

The tribal areas have never been fully under the control of any Pakistani government, and have always been unruly, but they have now been radicalized as never before. The rain of armaments from US drones and Pakistani ground forces, which have caused extensive civilian casualties, daily add a steady stream of angry footsoldiers to the insurgency. Elsewhere in Pakistan, anti-Western religious and political extremism continues to flourish.

The most alarming manifestation of this was the ease with which a highly trained jihadi group, almost certainly supplied and provisioned in Pakistan, probably by the nominally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba-an organization that aims to restore Muslim rule in Kashmir-attacked neighboring India in November. They murdered 173 innocent people in Bombay, injured over six hundred, and brought the two nuclear-armed rivals once again to the brink of war. The attackers arrived by sea, initially using boats based in the same network of fishing villages across the Makran coast through which a number of al-Qaeda suspects are known to have been spirited away from Pakistan to the Arab Gulf following the American assault on Tora Bora in 2001.

More:

Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

I know the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival (Diggi Palace hotel, Jaipur, January 21-25, entry free to all) love to say that the festival is democratic and that they don’t want to pitch one session over and above the others but here’s what I think will be the star events at the Lit Fest:

1. The Indian premiere of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. That the film has reaped awards at the Golden Globe and is tipped to be an Oscar favourite has only added to the curiosity factor. And now that Amitabh Bachchan has blasted the film for daring to show the ‘murky under belly’ of Mumbai (has he taken over from where Raj Thackeray left off?), the pre-publicity hype has just got a notch hotter. As they say in showbiz, any publicity is good publicity. Anyway, to come back to the film: present at the premiere will be, no not Danny Boyle (he’ll be in Mumbai) but Vikas Swarup who wrote Q&A, the book on which the script is based, and also, apparently, Anil Kapoor. I’m a bit alarmed by the filmi flourishes which the festival’s PR guides seem to favour (they roped Aamir Khan in last year), but I guess they’re doing it because they believe it sells the festival. If you ask me, the festival (now in its fourth year) doesn’t need much selling. Continue reading ‘Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest’