By Dr. Atul Tolia
A glorious fall rainy weekend of September 25-27, 2019 at the Distillery District, Toronto found global G-literati story-tellers and star raconteurs usually found annually @jlflitfest – at Jaipur literature festival, Rajasthan, India –world’s largest book reading / slogging / dropping / buying festival that now bills itself as world’s largest free carnival.
The festival in India attracts 4-5 hundred thousand folks including keen and curious school kids with nothing better to do than sipping chai, eating samosas and imbibing intellectual ideas foreign to quotidian realities of India, yet addicting multilingual masala tales and desi cultural fare including fashionable firangi ones– to have descended to our pile of tundra terroir as entertaining gods from the heavens via North American amuse-bouche / Howdy India! taste tour extension from Boulder, Houston, New York to Toronto, Canada.
Shashi Tharoor, MP from Kerala, India with his disarming dissertations and namesake Kapoor good looks inaugurated the #JLFToronto2019 with opening gala stage side chat on his book Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (2017) with Richard Burtonesque orator, historian, author and farmer raising kabootars and goats at his Mehrauli, Delhi farm residence, Sir William Dalrymple on Anarchy : The East India Company, Corporate Violence and the Pillage of an Empire (2019).
The video of the talk when published shall complement the humongous popularity of Shashi Tharoor’s TED talk and debate at Oxford on British reparations including Koh-i-Noor back to India.
Both books are highly recommended for sheer brilliance of the narration and Anarchic depth of bibliographies, checked by yours truly prior to the publication of Dalrymple’s magisterial evocation of 1599-1803 times of Honourable East India Company.
Our own double Giller prize gilli-danda winner, master of memory and history, MG Vassanji opened Saturday author sessions with his sold-out show opining wisely on the need of vocal and jousting / fending by themselves, the marginalised and barricaded minorities of Muslims and Hindus and others in love in the times of mob hysteria at Delhi of modern times of unrequited romance of his latest novel, A Delhi Obsession (2019).
World renowned essayist and travel writer, Pico Iyer, born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer, charmed the pants of the audience with his quotidian stories of his immediate world of Nara, Japan for the past two decades with his Japanese wife and in-laws in his Japanese incarnation with prior meditating stint with HH Dalai Lama, TIME esaays and TED celebrity talks, read from his latest Yasujiro Ozu cinematic book Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells (2019).
He master fully participated in a travel panel with brilliant fellow travel or place writers, Suketu Mehta conjuring Maximum Bombay rains, William Dalrymple’s ribaldic laughter rousing anecdotes from Eastern Orthodox clergy of his book From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997); Suketu Mehta and Amitava Kumar playing chairs with separate talks focused on This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto (2019) by Suketu Mehta and oh so disarming in love, erudite author and New Yorker, André Aciman of Call Me by My Name (2007) fame and award winning film (2017) adaptation returning with sequel Find Me (2019) in peach bucolic locals of Italy.
With a dozen more authors and interrogators of varying cruelty and capacity carried the rest of the festival forward with Ghoomar girls of Lata Pada dance troupe dancing in the rain on cobble-stoned Tank lane of the Distillery District. Indomitable charmer Grand Dame of Indian cuisine, Madhur Jaffrey, author of Instantly Indian (2018) Instant Pot cookbook charmed all attendees and regaled at ticketed luncheon talk arranged at the restaurant Archeo, Distillery District on the concluding Sunday.
This writer is looking forward to the return of Jaipur Literature festival fare in Toronto next September. Here is wishing for fresh programming in Indian literary sensibilities in the global cultural context. Our best wishes to JLF producer, Sanjay K. Roy of Teamwork Arts and his able team with heartfelt shabash from all of us, Canadian lovers of India and her literary/cultural arts.