Arushi Raina is the author of the award-winning When Morning Comes. Recently, she was in India for the Jaipur Literature Festival.
They told me it was going to be like a wedding. The Jaipur Lit fest, with its promise of wandering crowds and occasional celebrity, is an anomaly in the world of lit fests, which tend to be sober affairs with assigned seating, full of names no one has ever heard of.
For a debut writer, going to the JLF is an invitation to the big league, understanding, somehow, that your little book is worth talking about to people, that this little book you’ve written matters, somehow. More so, it is rubbing shoulders with literary power houses, with new dynamic voices, and with readers, real readers, and amongst it all finding something like kindred literary spirits.
And inside the writers lounge in a wing of the Diggi Palace, amongst the black and white photographs of old Maharajas, and blue wood panelled doors, writers drink chai and talk themes and concepts and gossip. Because gossip is critical to the literary world, writers feed off the narrative trains, the intrigue. The gossip is global, from the literary hubs of London, Delhi, Lagos, New York. In many ways this world is regional in it’s globalization, where certain names and stories carry different weight, different context.
But outside, coloured paper mache pots hang in impossible colours as you enter the festival. This is the youngest lit fest in the world, so young the air is full of their chatter, their attention and inattention. There is a certain type of masterful chaos about the proceedings. somehow things do run on time, with the right panelists being where they need to be, but this always seems to happen by accident. I realise, five minutes before a panel, that I will be not talking about my book, but am in a panel of phenomenal Indian dames of activism, psychology and social work. We are talking about your mental health and sexual education. I wonder why I am here. But here is the thing, these ladies are amazing and I learn so much, and afterwards, three young Indian teens and young men come up to talk to me afterwards. They tell me that that my words connected with them, that in their own communities, they are trying to be better men, better friends, better mentors. And it is so rare to have young men be vulnerable in this way, to share stories with someone so incidental as me. Not just here in India, but anywhere in the world. These moments transcend literature, any single book and thread into humanity. And isn’t that what any good words, gathering of people, should do?