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Heading To The Jaipur Lit Fest After 3 Years, And My Heart Is Skipping A Beat

Heading to Litfest after 3 years, and my heart is skipping a beat.

I started going to Litfest about 12 years ago, on a whim. A group of us at a reunion, all avid readers and close friends, thought this would be a fun thing to explore.

We stay in a tiny little hotel, more like a guest house. It’s comfortable but not luxurious. The atmosphere is homely, the food like home food. The staff has started recognising us as festival regulars and press us to have ‘ek aur roti’ or try the dessert.

Mornings start with a scramble to get ready, have brekker and get to the festival in time to catch the tail end of the morning music. We’ve heard some amazing singers over the years, from Sonam Kalra to Subramania.

Once the proceedings of the day start, it’s an embarassment of riches as you are forced to Sophie’s Choice between that biographer you loved to a geopolitical book of the year to a candid Bollywood star’s autobiography. Over the years, we’ve heard Organ Pamuk, JM Coetzee, Pico Iyer, Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Dalrymple, Hamid Karzai and Oprah.

As a festival veteran, you learn some new skills. You learn to spot an empty seat from yards away and perfect the art of squeezing in before someone else beats you to it. You learn to pace yourself. A few sessions in, your brain is wired and tired; it needs a break. You move back to the end of the front lawn and savour the sun over a perfect cup of masala chai or chaat and kachoris served by the ladies of Diggi Palace.

Periodically, like a lapsed alcoholic, I make my way to the bookshop tent, intoxicated by the sheer mind-boggling volume and variety and stagger out with yet another haul of books I’d love to read, someday. I think Tsundoku is the official sponsor of Litfest.

Sometimes we need a break from the mental stimulation and step out for that glass of thick, rich Jaipuri lassi topped with malai. Other times we make a beeline to the Anokhi cafe to relish their delicious blue cheese salad and incredible sephardic cake. We go shopping and discover gems like Pink or Jaipur Modern.

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In the evenings, sometimes we go to the music event. We’ve heard Junoon perform live, Susheela Raman, Abha Hanjoora and many more light up the night with soul stirring music. One year we heard L Subramanian perform magic on stage – half an hour before this we’d seen him and his wife wrapped in innumerable layers, trying to talk to the audience through wildly chattering teeth. It’s usually chilly as hell so we wrap our gloves around a glass of whisky, waiting for the spirit to warm us from inside out. We run into friends and acquaintances, renew old friendships and forge new ones.

We usually manage an evening at Tablu, the rooftop bar at Clarks. It is cold as ice with a chill wind blowing through. But the bartender serves great drinks and the music used to be from our youth. A panoramic view of Jaipur lights up the venue.

Later on, I and my friends get back to our hotel for the after party. One of the balconies is usually colonized by us and we sit and have wide ranging discussions, from the sessions we attended to the issues they touch upon, to whatever else is going on in life, lubricated by whisky or wine. It feels like a salon.

By the end of the Litfest, the mind is overflowing with ideas, knowledge and questions. I, for one, wish I could plunge into this world of books, words and ideas completely. I have to make do by stacking my house with too many books for the time being. When I leave, I feel like I’ve reclaimed part of my soul from the daily routine, rescued my mind from stressing about the every day. It’s a feastival in every sense of the word.

Image source: YouTube/ Jaipur Lit Fest

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