Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale
Many book lovers, authors and agents have been to a book festival, to listen to talks, panels and perhaps pick up a bit of book related gossip. The thousands of people who attend the Jaipur Literature Festival are no different, though for some the stakes are a little higher. An older woman carrying her precious manuscript, a criminal poet, a school girl, agents, experts, and so many others turn up at an event which reminds some of what they have lost, others what they may gain, and the social and personal turmoil of lives at a major yearly landmark event. With hundreds of events and over two dozen languages, there are all sorts of ramifications for those present, as past hurts and passions emerge in this humourous and well written book. Far from documenting what is obviously going on in the sight of the world, these are the stories of those who come looking for opportunities of so many kinds, told with real humanity and evident love for those who are involved with books – or at least the fame that they can represent. I found it funny, engaging and although at some times a little bewildering, offering a real insight into a new whole cultural world. Mainly seen through the eyes of an older woman who has committed so much thought to her writing, it also features those for whom the festival is a chance to be seen, to rehearse old disputes, to perfect their contribution to debates plagued by sound problems and much more. With a ticked programme full of unmissable sessions, this is a terrific read and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.
The book begins with two characters on the train travelling to the Festival, as “twelve-year-old Anura observes the woman on the seat opposite her. She is old, as Anura is young.” When a canvas bag is mentioned, it is in terms of being precious. While Anura delights in making up stories of what may lurk in it, Rudrani Rana, knows that it contains the “labour of her life”, an unsubmitted novel painstakingly written and rewritten over many years. When they are both plunged into the bustle of the Festival, Rudrani will have cause to remember her past life, while Anura will discover a whole world of possibilities. When Zoya, vocal feminist, falls victim to the unreliable sound system at some of the sessions, she also receives an anonymous card, which she shows to various people. Old relationships and new interactions affect the life of “Gayatri Smyth Gandhy, fifty- two, single, divorced, citizen of the world. Academic and aspiring novelist”. A sketch artist with a sharp eye captures characters, while an academic reflects on his observations on Walt Disney. A burglar reinvents himself as a poet, “Betaab – the impatient one”. So many stories, and not all for publication.
This book in some ways could be a light read, a jolly survey of an event attended by so many people each with their own agendas. I enjoyed it because it offers more, an insight into how people are drawn together by literature, often by the urge to write and capture something on paper. It reflects on the problems caused by writing, but also the hope of a new life, a new way of seeing things. A funny book in many ways, it is also sensitive to the small but important things in people’s lives. I recommend this intensely human novel of a few lives in a great mass of people, some forever changed by a book festival forever.