Wednesday, March 25, 2015


The first thing I notice about Jaipur, this time around, is how sunny it is. The second thing I notice are the pigeons. They are everywhere. Local men in bright turbans feed them grains. Backpacking white couples in patchy t-shirts and broken sandles take photos of Indian Birds Being Fed By Indian Men. When we manage to reach Amer Fort one sunny morning, flocks of birds periodically rise up from its courtyard. It's as if the whole city is forever perched on the edge of a rooftop, ready to soar up or swoop down at a moment's notice.

The Lit Fest crowd is the same. I run into bespectacled, thin young things at the Diggi Palace grounds. They all wear huge, tortoise shell eyeglasses and ethnic printed harem pants; they all have kohl-rimmed eyes; and they all stalk Dalrymple from one tent to the next. "Historical fiction is so passe", I overhear one of them saying. "If you want to impress the JNU types, read difficult poetry."

It's S' 31st birthday, and he takes off by himself, refusing to accompany me to the Fest. He roams the streets aimlessly and takes pictures of birds and monkeys. A man in a streetside stall feeds him Rajasthani kadhi-chawal, and he strikes up a conversation with an ancient camera-walla near the City Palace. The camera is one hundred years old and held together with strings. He brings back a black and white picture of himself that the man had shot. It looks exactly like one of my parents' old pictures - all faded and soft focus. I, on the other hand, spend the day getting almost squashed by an exuberant crowd running after Abdul Kalam. I also spend 30 bucks on tepid tea. (I wonder if I should have gone off with S.)

But the Fest goes on. Shamsie and Catton are delightful. Naipaul is heartbreaking. The awkward silence after his halting, senility-laden speech is deafening. I never did like that man, but it's difficult to see an arrogant soul being reduced to this.

When I step out of the palace grounds at dusk, I spot a group of bedraggled sparrows near the garbage dump that masquerades as the auto stand.They look tiny and frail and brown. They look tired. I am exhausted too.This constant exhibition of intellect has drained me.

Once I'm back, I order masala chai and french fries, and watch old reruns of CID to make myself feel better. Later in the evening, we go out and stuff our faces with laal maas and missi roti. 

After the food-induced haze has cleared, I realize that I'll always like CID reruns more than obscure poetry. "JNU-types" might shun me, but Jaipur, I think, will never judge me for that.