It is the greatest literary show on earth, if you like to take your hyperboles from Tina Brown, and hence it is imperative that how things work at the festival are quite contrary to how things work in the outside world. Some rules are laid down by the festival organizers—like compulsory registration before you walk in and the fact that you should not reserve seats for your friends because this is a festival and not a train. Other rules have to be evolved from experience. Now that I’m a veteran of four Jaipur Literature Festivals (JLFs), here are my rules: six things you should never do at JLF.
1. Never drink fluids during the day: No, this isn’t so that you can drink more in the evening at the after parties, but because the wait for the loo can consume at least three sessions. The longest line snaking at JLF isn’t the one waiting to see Rahul Dravid nor the check out till at the festival book store, but the one that leads to the ladies’ room. Having said that it is a good place to catch up on various bits of gossip. Some college professor who has been a perv to the couple of students in front of me, and the discussion on the mauling of Anjan Sundaram on the Out of Africa panel by a couple of offended publishing executives behind me, could have provided the perfect framework for a Jaipur Noir story. Even so, that’s no way to spend a whole day. The men’s washroom, however, does not seem to be so crowded. This makes me think twice before squatting on the lawns for a session where all the seats are taken.
2. Never walk backwards: your one motto for personal logistics in the festival should be forever forward. If you are walking from one venue to the other and suddenly remember that you left something behind, let it go. Once you’ve committed to a certain route plan, under no circumstance should you alter it. The mass of humanity—about four times the crowd at Dadar station at 8am, to give you a sense of perspective—that was pouring out of the session with Rahul Dravid was so strong that you were lucky if you emerged on the other side with all limbs intact. The fact that you dropped a pen, then your programme book and subsequently your stole was wrenched off you is no reason to pause and ponder. You keep forward. If you go back, you will just end up losing more of yourself.
3. Never think you picked the right session: Here’s what happens. You spend an hour in the morning pouring over the schedule for the day and then pick the ones that sound the most interesting to you—based on your topics of interest as well as how many hot writers are in attendance. And then you manage to get there on time and find place for both your feet. The session is good, the hot writer is making you feel warm and fuzzy. All is well, until you check Twitter. Then you realize that the session that will be talked about all day is certainly the one that you are not attending. As an experienced festival attendee you know that there is no point making a dash for it. So you stay on in this session while reacting tweet-by-tweet to what is happening in the other, more fun session. Of course, you can choose not to c
heck Twitter, but we would like to limit ourselves to things that are humanly possible.
4. Never assume this is a literature festival: The festival is supposed to have made literature sexy and a lot of writers do walk around soaking in their five days of rock star status. But at the end of the day, they have to realize that when there is a Bollywood star—or anyone remotely connected to Bollywood—or a cricket star, the writer is quickly trampled underfoot. Sharmila Tagore held forth eruditely on the impact of cinema on society on stage, but when she walks around the palace grounds the question that the thousands of people who hover around her ask is when Saif and Kareena are planning to have a baby. So yeah, it is a literature festival; but only when there are no movie stars or cricketers around.
5. Never bring your child to the festival: You know how it goes. That maternal opportunism—my god, I never had any such thing when I was growing up, so let me make the most of this for my daughter and bring her along to awaken a sense of wonder about the written word. This does not end well. I dragged my seven-year-old for some Pico Iyer magic dust. She could neither see him, nor understand what he was talking about. Her feet were trampled upon, her water bottle went missing and she could barely breathe. But what really drove her to tears was when someone passed gas right at her face, hip level being the height she is at. I anticipate she will probably never read a book, certainly not have anything to do with Pico Iyer, and this will take hours and hours of therapy to reverse.
6. Never say never: Every year, you see the crowds, you wage seat battles with Delhi aunties and their designer bags, you go home and discover blue patches where someone has elbowed you and you tell everyone you are never going back to JLF. Don’t waste your energy. You will. You won’t know why, you will deny it till the Monday before the festival begins, you may even book a trip elsewhere just to make sure you don’t get here. But there is no point fighting what the universe intends. You will be back.