The Diaries of a lit groupie: Friday

Britain now has a poetry boy-band. Four cute boys, with wicked faces and great hair who kissed the Blarney stone. They are funny, topical-political and perform with power-point presentations unfolding behind them. Members of  Aisle16 even have their own websites. They are really very cool but they are far too available to be very exciting to the perverse lit groupie. Certainly not for the kind of pilgrimage I made to Mumbai. AK Mehrotra and Suniti Namjoshi who hid in hills and moors and whose books were impossible to find any more. They were the ones whom I had to see and whose exhaled air I needed to breathe.

I used to think all poets were Byronic--

Mad, bad and dangerous to know.
And then I met a few. (Triolet)

Wendy goes on to completely dismiss poets' potential to excite but after Kitab I have to say that poets and writers, as dull as they may be off the page, as a congregation are supremely fun to watch. Ostensibly I was looking for Suniti Namjoshi to interview her but in the meanwhile there was a carnival of novelists, poets, writers, readers, performers, middle-of-first-novel-ers and general hangers-on.

First of all Mumbai was chaos with an abundance of lit-nit-wit type events. Apart from the three day Kitab event, there was Prithvi Theatre's Poetry Week (very robust and serious celebration with events that went on for six hours at a stretch), there was another international lit fest with writers from 10 different nations which got next to no press coverage. (More about that in a bit.) And also there were a dozen events, so one picked one and sighed a bit over the others. As far I am concerned the poetry events on Sunday were the only ones I would kill myself for missing so I didnt waste too much time worrying about the panels. The few discussions I managed to attend were completely satisfying.

A discussion between Arundhati Subramanium and Jackie Kay at Oxford Book store was the first one I caught on Friday. This is a peculiar public event where two people, equally famous are asked to talk to each other in front of an audience. One would think that there would be a profound desire to say some socially inappropriate things. But apparently not! Both talked sensibly. Jackie Kay, round and hilarious, dresses in bright colours and is constantly segueing from disturbing stories (Woman at a supermarket who asked her "Are you that colour everyday?) to funny poems. She read from her first collection Adoption Papers, a set of poems about being half Nigerian and growing up in a Scottish community with the white family who adopted her. Jackie's piercing Glasgow accent and mile-wide grin was in high contrast to the very prim Arundhati Subramanium but both agreed that angst and anger needs to be transformed, is transformed by good writing and cannot be spat on the page.

Later at the same venue was a discussion between Tishani Doshi and Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal. Tishani Doshi, hot young poet and winner of the Foward Prize looked pretty, irritated and distracted for most part. Nirpal SIngh Dhaliwal was hip and articulate, straight out of the cast of a Gurindher Chada movie with his accent and big Kareem shoes. I love it when people ask questions which begin " I have not read your book but..." And for this session there was a juicy one. Man with inevitably smug voice asked, " I have not read your books but will either of you progress to writing about something beyond four letter words?" I ducked to hide embarrassed giggles. Nirpal tried to clarify that it was in character for his young male characters to be less than Miss Manners-like. Tishani glared and said that she did not use any four letter words. The Smug Unread then clarified that his coyly worded enquiry was more about Nirpal and Tishani's unseemly obsession with sex in their writing. While Tishani looked like an outraged china shepherdess and seemed quite capable of flinging a lightning bolt at the dolt, Nirpal Singh looked merely baffled at the doltishness.

Day one was quiet except for the entry of Snegum, the most outrageously wonderful Gujarati food and my smiling maternally and frightening a tall, nervous boy sitting next to me. It later occured to me that the nerdy child was Jyoti Guptara one member of the Guptara twins, the Olsen twins of the writing world. He and his brother finished the first draft of their fantasy novel when they were 11! At 20 they have a publicist and are doing book tours around the world. And here I was smiling kindly at what I thought was small paapu. The only story that matches this in misguided kindness is the one about my nicely brought up Kannadiga friend who beamed a grand-daughterly beam at an extremely old man at a lecture in New York without realising he was Edward Said.

End of Day One and no sight of Suniti Namjoshi yet. The beautiful volunteer (who panicked me because I had a six degrees of seperation connection with her) said she had no clue.  Arundhati Subramanium  told me that no one knew where any one was. It was an informal non stage-managed lit fest and that was its charm but where does one find a small fabulist in vast Mumbai?


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