January is beautiful.

You’re welcoming in the New Year. You’re happy that the resolutions you made are still intact (it’s only been 21 days, but who’s counting?). You’re still dressed in your finest woolens, the holiday weight has been asked to wait for a little longer till you hit the gym. You’re meeting your childhood friends, most of them live abroad now. You’re happy and you also realize it’s that time of the year when everyone is making their way to Diggi Palace - Jaipur for JLF!

January is beautiful, indeed.

I am not very consistent with my plans but for the last 4 years I have made it a point to attend JLF. It’s definitely an exception to my otherwise vagabond ways.

I must confess that growing up I always imagined what it would be to call up an author after having read his or her book and that stems from a quote from one of my favorite books:

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.” Salinger, who else?

At the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities we run a class at the festival which is extremely interesting and is a credit based course, as part of the curriculum. I lead this class of 30 students and we spend time in Jaipur, Ajmer and Pushkar. The festival organizers and I are in touch, months before the festival kicks off, and I am grateful to them for being so cooperative and helpful. The students greatly enjoy this experiential learning and as their assignments make their way to me – I realize the real value of such liberal education.

This was the 10th edition of JLF and with success comes expectations and there were constant murmurs about the line-up and how the previous year’s line-up was far better! Having said that there were debates and conversations that I heard this time that were quite impactful. Of course, as human beings, we always want more and expect the best writers, thinkers and change-makers to clear their calendars for JLF! But, due credit must be paid to Sanjoy Roy, Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple for once again pulling of an absolutely wonderful festival! As always, there were many young readers but with every JLF there is the increasing tribe of selfie takers – but who’s judging?

The funniest incident at JLF’17 involved actor Dominic West (Yes! that’s McNulty from The Wire). On the first day I overheard a conversation that he was in Jaipur and was going to make an appearance at the festival. Like me if you grew up watching TV shows on your hard drive on cold winter/hot summer nights, then you’re a fan of The Wire, arguably among the best TV shows of all time. My first run in with him involved me talking to him about mineral water. I am rarely star-struck and this was quite late into the evening and I least expected to have a conversation with one of my favorite characters from television. He was polite (and confused) and appreciated the fact that I was so vehemently discussing the importance of drinking clean water with him. Whereas in my head I thought of his character and his great fondness for Jameson! Oh well, that was one awkward meeting! I was also pretty disappointed at not having taken a photograph with him. So, I was on a mission to find him among the many hundreds of thousands at Diggi Palace. My friends meanwhile managed photographs and normal conversations with him, social media kept me abreast of his movement – till I finally gave up of meeting him for my photo-op.

And, then it happened. We met and before I could apologize to him for the useless banter the other night, he pointed at mineral water bottle he was holding. I got a photograph and this is a story that I am going to regale for years to come!

Though the festival gets extremely crowded, one does manage to get a seat if one is on time and if the session doesn’t involve someone from the film fraternity. I happened to have been in the front lawn where Rishi Kapoor was launching his book – and it felt like the whole city of Jaipur had landed up! I managed to squeeze out and attend another session I found far more interesting. But, Bollywood is Bollywood, boss.

Paul Beatty was there this year and it was wonderful listening to him. The Sellout is among the finest books I have read in a long time and to have had him at the festival was pretty awesome! Among the students there was frenzy and absolute madness when Malika Dua showed up. Her take on Delhi and Aunties is a huge hit with the Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook generation. It’s wonderful to see someone you know do so well in a line of work that she’s so passionate about! Kudos to her! And, I am certain she has a very bright future ahead of her!

One of my students, Aditi Nagpal, had this to say about a session I greatly appreciated. “I attended a session on Ginsberg and the Beats and this session competes for one of my favorites throughout the festival. It discussed the influence of Ginsberg on what came to be known as the Beat generation and also what influenced the man himself. One of the most radical poets of all time, Ginsberg aimed to shock his readers with his graphic images of drug usage on the streets peppered with spirituality in phases. This session went beyond ‘Howl’ discussing Ginsberg’s time in India, his reclusive nature and his greatest influences, one of whom was his mother, Naomi Ginsberg. To the average viewer, this session would seem boring, but to me, a true Beatnik, this session went above and beyond for me by providing not mainstream but contemporary and in-depth discourse on one of my favorite poets of all time.”

These are the 5 things I took from JLF 2017:

  • Taking a class of 30 students to the festival is an experience like no other. Their ability to soak information of interest to them is something I must learn from. Each one had their own agenda – which session to attend, which book to read, what discussion to follow. Brilliant. And, I am looking forward to taking my class again next year. Currently, I am reading their journals of their time at the festival and am greatly moved to see how much they’ve grown in a matter of days.
  • Wear shoes at all points in time at the festival. They’re comfortable and IF STEPPED ON, YOU’LL BE PROTECTED. (one toe nail was damaged in the process of writing this article)
  • Get to a venue 1 and a half sessions before the session you want to attend begins. The chances are the seats will go and if like me you’re tall (6’2) then be prepared to get heckled. “Aye lambu, peechhe jaa!”
  • The food at the festival could do with a bit of push! I saw more pasta at the festival than I did in Genoa on a holiday few years ago! A bit more local fare would go a long way! So, venture out for lunch and figure out a culinary route for yourself.
  • How approachable the authors are! Talk to them, they prefer that over selfies (or so I was told, I might be completely wrong about this!)

See you at JLF’18!