‘Slumdog’ Author, Kamasutra Draw Fans to Rushdie-Less JaipurSiddharth Philip
Vikas Swarup, whose first book was adapted into the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”, and Faramerz Dabhoiwala, the author of an opus on the history of sex lured visitors to Asia’s largest literary festival as organizers avoided Salman Rushdie.
The five-day DSC Jaipur Literature Festival that ended yesterday in Jaipur, the Indian city known for its pink monuments and forts, attracted over 122,000 visitors, organizers said. Indian-born Rushdie, who was in New Delhi last week, was omitted from the list of invitees after protests last year at the 150-year-old Diggi Palace hotel, the festival venue, prompted the author of “The Satanic Verses” to cancel his 2012 visit, saying paid assassins were on their way to Jaipur to “eliminate him.”
The producers instead invited speakers on topics ranging from the making of James Bond to Buddhism, which included a speech by the Dalai Lama. The myriad number of subjects combined with the absence of entrance fees has turned the conference into a “gargantuan festival,” said Swarup, who last attended the show in 2009.
“Last year was just exhausting,” said Sanjoy Roy, a film maker and festival producer, who had walked off the stage in tears in the 2012 version of the conference. “It’s fine to throw up controversies and get people to think in the sessions but the Rushdie thing was just exhausting.”
Rushdie was supposed to address the festival via video link in 2012. His talk was prevented at the last minute by the owner of Diggi Palace after protesters threatened violence. New York-based Rushdie was 276 kilometers (172 miles) northeast of Jaipur last week for the premier of the film based on his book “Midnight’s Children.”
India, home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population, has banned “The Satanic Verses” as some Muslims find it blasphemous.
Even without Rushdie, the festival had its share of controversy after sociologist Ashish Nandy said that India’s backward communities are the most corrupt. The comment prompted calls to arrest Nandy. Jaipur police have asked Roy not to leave the city until investigations are complete as Nandy left Jaipur, Indian Express newspaper reported yesterday.
The festival’s beginnings were in 2004 when author William Dalrymple tried reading his work in public. He had an audience of 14 people, five of whom were Japanese tourists who had lost their way. This year, Swarup used the festival to introduce his latest tome, “The Accidental Apprentice,” while Sebastian Faulks, who won the Sainsbury’s Popular Fiction Award for his James Bond takeoff, “Devil May Care,” discussed Ian Fleming’s life with his biographer Andrew Lycett.
The festival was opened by Mahasweta Devi, a best-selling Bengali author and a Ramon Magsaysay prize winner.
Swarup, whose first book “Q&A” was adapted into the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” by Danny Boyle, said his latest work is about a woman who’s offered the role of CEO of India’s biggest company by answering seven questions.
“People asked how do you get the level of realism, to how do you do your research?,” Swarup, who is an Indian diplomat stationed in Japan, said in an interview. Still, the festival has “just become too big to handle in one venue.”
The other draw was Dabhoiwala, author of “The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution.” All 100 copies of the book published by Pearson Plc’s unit Allen Lane that were stocked at the festival shop sold out within minutes of the Oxford University historian’s speech. He began his session by asking the audience whether they had had sex with someone without being married to them.
“The most interesting questions were about the relationship between what happened in the Western world in the first sexual revolution and what is happening in India today,” Dabhoiwala, who’s next work will be on the history of English, said in an interview. “What was gratifying was that if people had come to be titillated, they were a very attentive audience and there was a lot of gasping.”
Sex was the topic for yet another discussion led by Harvard University professor Michael Sandel, who spoke about rape following the sexual assault and murder of a Delhi girl last month. Sandel spoke in a blue tent sponsored by Google Inc. as crowds jostled to make their point about violence against women and sex selection.
Women as ‘Objects’
Author K.R. Indira, who rewrote the Kamasutra from a woman’s perspective, and former diplomat Pavan Varma discussed how the 2,000 year-old tome on sex went against women’s security and treated women as “objects” in a session entitled “Reimagining the Kamasutra.”
Road builder DSC Ltd., the title sponsor of the festival, operates the highway between New Delhi and the suburb of Gurgaon and began backing the festival as the organizers were family friends, said Manhad Narula, whose family runs DSC.
“It’s not really brand building for us but it does make people warmer towards you,” said Narula in an interview on the lawns of the sprawling Rambagh Palace, where Random House Publishers India Pvt. held a party. “The festival is very visible now and when we tell people we are from DSC, they ask us if we are the same guys as the festival.”
The group also runs the $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. This year’s winner was Jeet Thayil, 53, who won the award for his first novel “Narcopolis.” It’s also shortlisted for the $30,000 Man Asia Literary Prize, to be announced on March 14 in Hong Kong.
Wearing red trousers, white polka-dotted shirt and a straw hat, Thayil, who was addicted first to opium and later heroin, for 20 years, was seen signing autographs at the festival. Cricketer Rahul Dravid was also seen being mobbed by fans for autographs, prompting organizers to close entry to his session.
“Reading books was a way to de-stress,” said Dravid, who last year retired from the elite form of cricket after amassing the second-highest run tally. “Whenever I wanted to take my mind off cricket, I would pick up a book.”
The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival at Diggi Palace, Jaipur, closed on Jan. 28. Information: http://www.jaipurliteraturefestival.org/