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Posts Tagged ‘William Dalrymple’

Letter from Jaipur

February 7, 2013 | by

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Last year’s Jaipur Literature Festival was exciting and boring at the same time—a death threat is exciting, but thirty death threats are boring; as Dostoevsky wrote, “Man is a creature who can get used to anything.” Salman Rushdie was scheduled to attend: Islamic groups agitated to deny him a visa, which he does not need in order to enter India, but never mind. It was suggested that instead Rushdie might address the festival via video conference: the government itself advised against this. Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Amitava Kumar, and Ruchir Joshi read aloud in protest from The Satanic Verses, still banned in India, but, after the gravity of their collective transgression had been brought home to them, they left the festival.

We know what comedy is: life is increased. Think of Rodney Dangerfield addressing the crowd at the end of Caddyshack: “Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!” And we know what tragedy is: isolation increases. I used to think that life was about winning everything, Mike Tyson once said, but now I know that life is about losing everything.

But what is India, with its boundless affirmation of life in general that befouls so many lives in the particular, with its joyous proliferation unto overcrowding, need, and misery? I did my small part, during my brief month there, to maintain those inequalities: Give me your shoes, I know you have other pair, you not need these, give them me, said a man as he tried to pull my sneakers off while a second man tried to pin my arms; and what he said was true, somewhere on the other side of the world I did have another pair of shoes, four shoes and only two feet; all the same, unhand me, my little friend, before I pick you up and throw you like a javelin.

I attended the 2013 JLF. It began in the same way. Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Jacques Testard, Editor, Part 2

February 9, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Testard’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

9:47 A.M. I have a mild headache and I am only on life number three of Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. I’m beginning to think that it’s quite difficult to get any reading done at a literary festival. When we got home last night I asked Forty to pick me up at 9:30 A.M. He asked me for two cigarettes as a token of goodwill. I complied. He never turned up.

10:34 A.M. I’m attending a showcase panel on “Why Books Matter” with Kiran Desai and Penguin CEO John Makinson. It’s being filmed for the BBC and the spotlights are on the audience. It’s quite painful on the eyes. According to Sunil Sethi, who presents the only literary show on Indian television, book sales are rising by fifteen to eighteen percent per year in India. I find that very hard to believe. One interjection from the floor offers an interesting insight into this phenomenon. “It is not true Mr. Sethi,” says Mumbaikar. “In Bombay the Encyclopaedia Britannica is very popular but that is because it matches the furniture.” That’s more like it.

1:15 P.M. It’s lunch time. I’ve just had my photo taken by a dozen journalists as a smiling Indian man with neat white hair placed a piece of naan bread onto my plate. I might be in the papers tomorrow—his name is Javed Akhtar and he is a very famous lyricist for Bollywood songs, I’m told. I was an extra in a Bollywood film once. I had to wear a tweed suit at a beach party and pretend to swig from a magnum bottle of vodka.

7:40 P.M. Salman Ahmad has just taken to the stage. The Guardian has described him as Pakistan’s answer to Bono. Kamila Shamsie wrote a piece on the rise of pop music in the Pakistan issue of Granta1 last year on the emergence of pop music in the eighties which charted Ahmad’s rise and his turn to Sufi Islam for inspiration.

10:36 P.M. I’m sharing a drink with Samrat, whose debut novel The Urban Jungle came off the press yesterday. He’s just given me a signed copy of it—it’s a modern rewriting of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Samrat tells me that Sunil Sethi’s statistics on the growth of the book market in India are inaccurate. An English language best-seller in India sells no more than five thousand copies, according to Samrat. I’ve since been looking online and cannot find any information either way. Surely that’s too low?

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  1. I have just realised I am plugging Granta in The Paris Review’s pages. I studied at Oxford anyway and Granta is a Cambridge magazine. Lorin, I’m on your side.

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A Week in Culture: Jacques Testard, Editor

February 9, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

11:45 A.M. I’ve just landed in Delhi. I’m here for the Jaipur Literature Festival, starring Orhan Pamuk, J. M. Coetzee, Richard Ford, and Candace Bushnell. I haven’t been in Delhi for close to three years. The Commonwealth Games have left their mark: the new airport terminal is gigantic, crisp, and shiny. I step outside into the crowd and am greeted with silence. A few years back fifty drivers would have competed for my custom but now they wait in an orderly fashion. My father, who has lived in Delhi for close to a decade, picks me up. Our driver is a Hindu; Ganesh stickers adorn his windscreen.

3:00 P.M. I have an afternoon in the city and have decided to revisit the old town. I go to the Jama Masjid, a legacy of Delhi’s Mughal past. An auto-rickshaw drops me off a few hundred yards away, and I walk up the central walkway toward the towering minarets and white-marble domes, carefully treading my way past the crouching lepers and stray cows. The mild January weather tempers the overwhelming olfactory experience that is India. A man with hennaed hair tells me the mosque is closed for prayers. He asks me if I want to visit a haveli hidden out in Old Delhi. He says it is bigger than the Jama Masjid and has a magical tree hovering in its central courtyard. It will cost me five hundred rupees. I decline.

5:15 P.M. I’m in Khan Market at the Full Circle bookshop. Books are cheaper in India. I’m looking for David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The girl at the till has not heard of it. She recommends Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. I decline, this time politely. I forgot how much time one spends declining in India.

8:20 P.M. My father and I visit the Nizamuddin Dargah before dinner. Nizamuddin, a thirteenth-century Sufi saint, is buried here. Millions visit every year. To get there one has to walk through a maze of alleys among scores of bearded pilgrims and rose-garland vendors. The pilgrims buy the flowers and deposit them on the holy man’s grave. Everyone wants to sell me flowers or look after my shoes while I step into the shrine. Pilgrims sit in rows singing Sufi songs. It is colorful, convivial. Children run freely, friends and families chat happily on the periphery. I imagine that churches in medieval Europe would have felt similarly chaotic. We must be the only non-Muslims. Most people don’t seem to notice us and those who do smile and hold out their hands in greeting.

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