2012 has barely begun, but it's already been a full year. One award ceremony, two literary festivals, one eye-surgery recuperation, initiation of several new work projects, two interviews, and a significant blog revamp — not bad for a year that is only 26 days old, huh? ;) The Literary Festivals were wonderful, each in its own way. Hyderabad was special mostly because of the writers I met there — Srilata, Sridala, Adil, Anindita, amongst others. In some ways, I think I will always look back at this year's Hyderabad LIterary Festival as my initiation into the Contemporary-Indian-Writing-in-English world. It was truly heartwarming to hear some of the best Indian English poetry I've heard — can I flag Anindita Sengupta and Adil Jussawalla as must-reads? — then interact with the poets as a poet. Srilata and I, in particular, spent long hours commuting together, exploring the University of Hyderabad, chatting late into the night about everything from poetry to publishing, politics to friends and family. All of those interactions, one feeding into another, felt like a homecoming.
Adil, Srilata and I also did a reading-cum-interaction with students at the University of Hyderabad, and that was truly rewarding in its own way, especially the close encounter with Adil. He and I talked a little about how much our poetry has in common by way of themes and sometimes specific word choices (notice the poem "How to Say Goodbye" on the blog? that was almost my thesis title. And Adil's newest book is called "Trying to Say Goodbye"!), and that's really quite amazing to me. Thoughts that occurred to this twenty-something poet and that seventy-something poet overlapped in dome dimension, and now, we were sitting across from each other, talking about where they came from. But perhaps the thing I found most inspiring about Adil is his patience with images and words. Among the poems in this latest collection, one was started in 1961, completed in 2009. I am no stranger to the sense that a particular line is going to lead to a poem, even if I cannot yet fathom what that poem will be. But I cannot even imagine the confidence and patience it would take to wait 48 years for the poem to find the rest of itself.
Jaipur, all the "serious academics" warned me, was going to be a "circus" or "mela." It was. In the best possible ways. While Hyderabad felt more intimate — a sort of close listening — Jaipur felt like an extravagant celebration of literature. I know some people hate the crowds at Jaipur (and they were annoying the day we weren't allowed to enter because too many people had lined up since 6:30 AM for Oprah!), but for the most part, I was moved by them. Moved by the fact that hundreds of people wanted to listen in on a panel discussion about "The Power of Myth" or "The Craft of Memoir." Moved by the thousands who were there to listen to Javed Akhtar speak about the craft of poetry — the woman who told him she had traveled all night from Bombay to come listen to him read from his new book, the 16 year old who asked him for advice on moving forward as a poet. At a time when too many people insist that literature has lost its charm for most, I think the crowds at Jaipur tell a different story. And I will hand it to the organizers; despite the huge turnout, I didn't once get shoved around, wait too long in lines at the entrance, or come across dirty restrooms. Kudos on the logistics.
(Yes, I know I'm now expected to talk about Salman Rushdie's absence there. Really, though, I have nothing to say that hasn't been said ad nauseum over the last few days, so I will just add my voice into the many that have spoken out in solidarity with him and expressed deep disappointment that he wasn't allowed to be there. We are all poorer for it.)
Somewhere during this trip, I began and wrote four drafts of the most honest and satisfying poem I've written in a long time. In some ways, that's my ultimate test of the success of a literary event, and in that sense, these 2 weeks were very successful!
I'm back now in Delhi, refreshed and satiated. Soon, I shall begin conducting various writing workshops, some from home, and some for various institutions, while continuing to develop my arts-for-social change program for teenagers in Delhi. And writing again, in earnest. I'm looking forward to it.