So after I went to Shanghai I returned to Quzhou, taught for a couple more weeks, said some good-byes, and left for India.
This was a long trip, because as it turns out, Asia is really big, and two countries that are both in Asia can still be far away. I spent a super-awesome night in the Mumbai airport and eventually got to Jaipur, where I collected my luggage and got into a taxi and then sat in the backseat staring dumbly out at the autorickshaws and camels and signs in Hindi and women in saris until I was dropped at my hotel.
I spent a good part of that day resting until my dear friend Sam, who lives in India and whom I hadn't seen for three and a half years, showed up at the hotel and we COMMENCED ADVENTURES. First Sam took me along to lunch with her publishers, including a German who knew someone from Red Wing. (I could not adequately convey to him how crazy this was.) Then we went to a place called, I think, Albert Hall (Sam and I could not associate this with anyone except Prince Albert, but it was apparently named after a *different* English person from colonial times) and saw a bunch of cool statuary, plus some dumb-looking fake classical statuary. Then Sam's aunt arrived and we all went to a book launch party in a candlelit garden surrounded by people speaking at least three different languages. So, you know. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff.
For the five days we were in Jaipur, we stayed in a beautiful little guesthouse, sort of midcentury colonial with a lot of historical fragments on the walls including an army commission signed by King George V.
We had breakfast there in the mornings, eggs and toast and marmalade and pots of chai, and then went out to the street to hail an auto-rickshaw and haggle for an acceptable fare to Diggi Palace, where the Jaipur Literature Festival was being held.
Part of the festival venue, in the morning when there weren't crowds of people there yet.
I didn't know this, but the Jaipur Lit Fest is a big deal. Here
is one news story about it, and here
is another. That's from the US: the more local press, including the Times of India, was all Jaipur Lit Fest, all the time. Sam and her aunt and I appeared on the front page of a Hindi-language paper in Jaipur, in a photograph where we were all craning our necks to stare up at Girish Karnad. Sadly, I failed to find a copy of this newspaper to buy.
I was probably predisposed to enjoy this event because 1) it was in English, 2) people were talking about books, 3) I was hanging out with Sam, and 4) it was my first time in India. So it all kind of ran together, the little terracotta cups of chai and the brightly colored tents and the literary megastars all over the place and the flawless weather and the conversations about mythology and class and Jane Austen. It was just a big gobsmackingly cool five-day-long swirl of events. I didn't take all that many photos, but I took a lot of notes.
The days were full up of literature: usually three panels in the morning and three in the afternoon. Mostly these were conversations between a moderator and one or more authors, with Q&A sessions at the end that ranged from interested to impassioned to diametrically opposed. The crowd was highly mixed--Indian (which itself is a mixed group), Pakistani, a lot of British visitors and expats, a couple of notable speakers originally from Africa, the queen mother of Bhutan...There weren't many Americans, so I still stuck out when I opened my mouth, but the diversity of the crowd was both a shock and a treat after a few months in China.
At lunch and dinner time there was an extravagant spread of local Rajasthani food. Sometimes we ate here and sometimes went outside the festival venue for food, although wherever we went there were people who were obviously also Lit Fest attendees. At night, there was music! Wonderful music. Rajasthani folk music with dancers. Susheela Raman, who was glorious. William Dalrymple reading from his latest book, with Bhoul singers accompanying. On the last night there was Italian food. We had, by this time, three delegate passes left to us by publishers who'd been exhibiting but had left the festival early. Delegates get their meals free (or pre-paid), so we used the three passes to get refills of middling red wine and rather horrid sparkling white wine and heaping plates of Italian food that we shared--me and Sam and her aunt and some cousins and two French guys who'd let us share their table. I pointed out later that, according to script, they
really should have been the ones offering food and drink, but sobeit, we broke script. In related news, I'm happy to report I can still speak some French.
There were more speakers than I could possibly write about. I couldn't resist writing about a bunch of them anyway, although I'm aware that "listening to writers speak in India" is perhaps a bit distant from the "teaching in China" theme of the blog. Click through to read the long version of the entry, which consists of me being a huge nerd: ( Seriously, so many authors! )
The last session I went to was with Vikram Chandra and Alexander McCall Smith, discussing detective fiction. They were having such a nice time talking to each other I was quite sorry to leave, but Sam and I had to slip out to catch the car to the bus station, even though the bus was late. On the ride to Delhi I found I had no space left in my brain to allow for reading, so I looked out the window at India passing by instead and chewed over the previous five days' conversations. This is a process I am nowhere near completing.