Rushdie missed some very serious partying at the JLF. Here's the proof
Amidst all the flurry and fury surrounding Salman Rushdie at the JLF 2012 and the desperate rush to vicariously attach oneself to his perennial notoriety via impromptu 'protests' was also a very hectic social calendar for another species that has nothing to do with literature and simultaneously everything to do with it: the party animal. Here is a beginner's guide to who was seen with whom, never mind the why:
Thank God It's Friday
Held at Rambagh Palace, the Random House party was hosted off the lawns of this sprawling Taj property. And scintillating it was. For every Michael Ondaatje there was a Devika Bhojwani, for every Abhijit Banerjee (an economist pegged to win the Nobel Prize) there was a Suhel Seth, for every Mohammed Hanif there was a Czaee Shah, a Bombay socialite who buys paintings and throws brunches every now and then.
Saturday Night, Taa Ree Ree Raa Raa Raa
The Penguin bash was the biggest bash of the JLF 2012 (beating perhaps the writers' ball, which your reporter chose to forego). Held on the lawns of the Raj Palace at the edge of the city, a massive installation of white lamps floated above while below the literati mingled with the glitterati and some members of the bitterati as well (anguished at Rushdie being refused a chance to partake of the merrymaking). As you entered an Ambassador painted like an orange-and-cream paperback from the Penguin Classics series greeted you. At the periphery was a live jazz band that had a tiny gaggle of fans as well, mostly Caucasians. Shobha De and Dilip De both donned turbans (to get into the Rajasthani vibe one could suppose). Veteran high society writer Malvika Sanghvi was seen mingling along with her sister Devika Bhojwani, who on the night prior was seen with Sabyasachi Ray at the Random House bash as well. By the time the drinks were guzzled, the mutton biryani had no mutton left. But never mind, it was time to go to vintner Rajeev Samant's birthday bash at a haveli nearby. Here, a spillover from the Penguin bash merged with a robust crowd of expats that seemed to be culturally closer to the Goa rave scene than the Jaipur literary beat. When Michael Jackson's Thriller segued from the thrum of another chartbuster, there was a roar of approval from the courtyard. From the verandahs surrounding this courtyard, the local Rajasthani staff of the rented haveli could be seen peering into this dash of urban madness that had invaded their city. Narendra Kumar Ahmed was spotted in his signature red pants and black jacket, as also was Suhel Seth in a blustery suit. The man has recently penned a novel on social climbing. His book and he were savagely trashed in a brilliant article by Mihir Sharma in Caravan magazine. In the circumstances it would be safe to presume that he didn't attend the Caravan-cum-New York Times party the next day (more on that later).
It's Just Another Manic Sunday
You would imagine that Sunday might have been a breather. In reality, it was even more hectic than the preceding two days and with a rather risible twist to the tale. So a total of three parties (at last count) was where the JLF brigade was corralled. The Caravan-NYT bash was held in a sheesha bar in a busy district of Jaipur, a joint that is a hybrid of Delhi Durbar and Mocha. Atop the fifth floor of what looked like an abandoned mall, qawali singers crooned as liter-glitter-bitterati guzzled beer and a frightening brand of wine called Kandara. Yes, very. Nonfiction superstar Phillip Gourevich was seen having some beer too. He was exhausted from the day's madness, one could tell. At some point there was a buzz that the Hachette party was still on. Held in the charming and cozy mansion called Naila Palace, its organizers were serving a heartwarming mulled wine to be sipped around a central fire place. But no rest for the wicked: barely had you settled by the fireplace than you heard murmurs of a Christopher Hitchens Memorial Party. The invite itself gave the impression that it would be the biggest bash of them all. After all, in the 'also attending' sub-heading of the invite were nestled no small names: Martin Amis, Germaine Greer, Salman Rushdie, AC Grayling.
Below this glittering line-up a sentence read: Johnny Walker Black will be served.
The Dhoka Behind Diggi
A young reporter from a posh travel magazine came up to me and asked me very politely for directions to the "Hitchens Party". I pointed him to a man who was carrying an invite. He left for the bash with his gang. Then we left with our gang. All we knew was that this party was at Bhola Bhavan, geographically speaking. It sounded grand. In reality it was on another plane altogether. On reaching the rear exit of Diggi Palace, the venue from which JLF is held each year, one chanced upon a David Lynch-meets-JLF reality. Through a neatly manicured hedge dotted with blue Christmas lights one could spot the anorexic lawn of a bungalow. On the lawn were laid out two very proper rows of plastic chairs. Some very sombre looking people were sitting and listening to two men talking from a porch. It was indeed a memorial party, with the decibel levels of a wake. The star invitees you could gaze at via Skype. It could be possible that some of the compulsive party animals from the Hachette bash, the Penguin bash, the Random house party bash, the Rajeev Samant birthday bash, the Caravan-NYT bash were trapped here — an irony so wicked and a karmic comeuppance so appropriate could well be penned by Christopher Hitchens himself. Then just as my friend's car made a cautious U-turn and gently breezed past the bungalow (you didn't want to disturb the peace), I saw at the edge of the gate, at an awkward cant, the journalist from the posh travel magazine who unwittingly was commemorating Christopher Hitchens indeed! Then again, it can be fulfilling to be consuming literature at a literature festival for a change, even if this wasn't how you planned to bring in the dawn.
(Shobhaa De pic credit: Pronoti Datta)