Monday, January 23, 2012

Do do that Urdu that you do so well

Today was the 4th day of the Jaipur Literary Festival. We have a much better understanding of the festival. Interestingly to us, it is both enlightening and maddening. Bottom line we discussed returning to again next year, so I guess, bottom line we really liked it. We do have some issues about balance in the panels and overcrowding, but that is minor compared to the intellectual and emotional stimulation the festival gives. In our normal USA existence, we are not in contact with avidly anti-American sentiment and overt anti-Israel sentiment. The wars in Afghanistan and the drone strikes in Pakistan are very close and real to these people. To the youth, although they like western dress, music, etc. they are simultaneously very upset with American policy. We aren’t winning the hearts and minds of these people. In fact, sadly, there is almost no American Official presence that we are aware of, yet, Oprah attendance was the biggest story of the festival next to the banning of Salmon Rushdie.

The speakers that read from the Satanic Verses by Salmon, the day before yesterday, were all warned they would be arrested and have left India.

The day for us started with a wonderful event. Javed Akhtar and Gulzar are very famous composers, poets and screenwriters of Bollywood. They are both probably in their 70’s now. Think of them as having the esteem of a Cole Porter combined with William Faulkner. They are towering figures. Although Hindi and English are the official national languages, and there are regional languages in India, Urdu has a special place. It is the official language of Pakistan, and was the language of the Mughal Court in Delhi. It is spoken as Hindi but not written in Hindi script but in Arabic script. It is universally thought of as probably the most beautiful and poetic of all languages. It is unfortunately dying out in India. Gulzar and Akhtar write lyrics and poetry in High Urdu. When it is dramatically spoken it is like an opera, with hand movements, head movements and modulation of the voice. It is mesmerizing. Javed read 3 long poems in Urdu to the very large, silent crowd. You could hear a pin drop. At times the Hindi and Urdu speaking crowd would burst into applause or gasps. For all we knew, he could have been reciting the recipe for Chicken Curry, but it didn’t matter, the totality of the experience of hearing his dramatic reading, without understanding a word, was good enough. We loved it.

Javed is quite a wit, and when one of the questioners said that he had recently watched the PBS documentary on Woody Allen and Woody said he had written on the same typewriter for 30 years. He then asked Javed about his writing techniques. He replied that this didn’t speak to him of Woody Allen’s writing, but it said a lot about the quality of the typewriter.

In another session, I had a small insight into cultural differences. We were sitting next to a very nice young Indian Lawyer. He would occasionally translate some Hindi or Urdu so we would have a sense of what was happening. A woman was speaking in English, she was from London with a broad accent. He listened to her and then asked me: “Does she have an English Accent or an American Accent?”. I knew at that moment why even when I try to speak some Hindi words, no one understands me.

At the end of the sessions we went out for some serious jewelry shopping. Jaipur is known for its jewelry.

We returned to the Samode Havelli where we are staying. It is the converted city mansion of the Maharaja of Samode. It is as they say quaint (in the best sense). Many of the speakers are staying here. This morning I ran into David Hare and told him I thought the panel on Palestine was unbalanced there was no representative of the Israeli side. Possibly an Israeli peace activist like Amos Oz would have added a dimension to the panel. He replied “It was about Palestine, not Israel”. I said back to him they are intractably linked you can’t just talk about one side. Cathy then said he didn’t add anything to the panel and only parroted David Remnick (who is also staying here). I don’t think we will be comped free tickets to his next play!

After we returned from the Festival and shopping we had a drink and met a very interesting woman, Catherine Collins documentary filmmaker from New York who directed Vlast (Power). Here is link to the film website: The documentary about a Russian oligarch Khodorkovsky, who is currently in prison and she is now working on a documentary on Pakistan. We spent several hours with her talking about books, movies, Pakistan, Kashmir (where she has a textile business). We would like to go to Kashmir, but she thinks we feel as if were visiting Gaza or some other place under military occupation. We will need to seriously reconsider our plans. We had a wonderful dinner on the patio.

One of the great features of the festival, is that everyone who is in attendance, has a joy of reading. No matter who we have sat next to either at the communal lunches or at the seminars, we have had no difficulty in starting conversations and meeting new people. There is a real warmth here, in spite of the 16,000 attendees. Tomorrow is our last day, and we hope to see some very exciting concluding panels. They have a large bookstore, in a tent selling the books of all of the authors in attendance. As we become aware of books that we are interested in, I check on the Internet at night, see if they are available on Amazon and buy them. I don’t want to schlep a trunk full of books with us for the remainder of the trip. Since Cathy prefers not to read on a Kindle (I love it) we get the hardback.

Here is a tip for you, brand new book: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar. It has been just published and it is marvelous. When we bought it, for some reason the hard copy was not available but the Kindle version was available for downloading. Cathy has read it, and I am currently reading it. It is wonderful, sucks you right in.

I took lots of movies of Javed reciting his poetry and they came out excellently. However here in Jaipur at our hotel the internet is so spotty that it would take forever to upload a short clip to Youtube. When we are next at hotel with hast internet I will upload a clip for you. No pictures today. Just movies.

1 comment:

lisa j said...
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