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Before The Ink Dries

Author: Sucheta Hota

Consultant and Theatre Artist

Diggi Palace, Jaipur-a poem written in gold almost a century and a half ago ,was our destination to see the famed Jaipur Literature Festival 2018. Driving down from Gurgaon on a lovely winter day-sans the fog-at the crack of dawn and hoping to beat the traffic on the highway was a tad too ambitious. Meandering through the raging trucks on the highway guided by our very own navigator-Google aunty (as our driver likes to refer Google Maps!) we landed in the Pink City . Being a Sunday, it was generally quiet on the roads — till we attempted to reach the venue . India’s show of strength in terms of growing population did not disappoint here either. This being the last day of the festival, our patience was running thin and out we jumped on to the road in a last dash to reach the venue on time.

Colours of every shade greeted us as we managed to reach the gate . Paper banners hung from wires making a netted roof of colours , hawkers selling Jaipur quilts , dresses, stones , statues , prints — you name it and it was there ,even before we could see the sight of books. Tempted to stop and take a look — my shopping instincts were immediately alerted, I firmly moved on with purposeful strides inside the palace. Helpful volunteers greeted us and helped us navigate our way handing out itineraries for the event.

Beautifully manicured lawns with makeshift stages, audio and visual aids, elegant looking panelists and a splattering of eateries and shopping areas completed the setting . Realising that we had probably reached at the fag end of the day where there was little left to choose from in terms of panel discussions , we made the best of our time meandering through the various enclosures and stages. Familiar faces moved about – Mark Tully, Kiran Nagarkar to name a few… smiling at the compliments here, signing a book there, listening patiently to people approaching them, some with cliched compliments and some genuine.

“So many youngsters! ” I thought to myself .I was genuinely impressed. “This generation does not read anymore” — having heard this refrain many times over, it was a pleasure to see college and high school kids with books in their hands, often seen in active discussions with writers and panelists. Of course young lovers made their way around too and could be seen holding hands in that carefree way gently pouring over the event itinerary and taking selfies or just sitting around in the lawns and reading in their intimate world oblivious to all around.

Nestled among the larger tents I saw a little Kindle shop. ‘Theory of Evolution’ was on display. “Not much of a crowd here,” I thought — maybe its just biding its time. “Someday it will be only me and this little tent will be the only bookstore,” it seemed to say from its quiet corner. Till then let the pages rustle and the ink rule.

Evening was upon us in no time and we hurried to attend the evening programme. We were spoilt for options as there were so many events happening in the evening at the same time across various venues in Jaipur. Wanting to enjoy the beautiful winter evening in the outdoors we chose the programme that took us to Amer Fort through the winding roads outside the city limits.

Having spent several months in the city on work many years ago ,familiar landscapes and buildings, in and around the places I had stayed leaped out at me. Lake Palace on the Amer Road stood out in glory – a monument which I had seen years ago in near ruins with ivy finding its way to lodge itself in every crack in the wall. Refurbished , painted and welcoming it was a delight to see it glistening against the water. As we travelled on that road the carpet and blue pottery shops I had visited so often were still standing ever so eager to welcome visitors.

I was jolted out of my reverie as the tall walls of the magnificent fort stood ahead of us bathed in the beauty of manmade lights that enhanced the mysterious magic of this age old fortress. Spread below us was the city of Jaipur with its lights winking at us as if sharing a secret with the Amer Fort. Dragging my eyes away, I climbed up the path inside the fort and allowing my imagination to take hold of me in this magical night.The massive doors opened into a courtyard full of “diyas” ( They were candles really but let us pretend they were diyas in keeping with historical ambience around!). Suddenly drummers broke the silence to welcome us . I could see many international tourists and guests awestruck with everything and soaking in the grand courtyard, the traditional drummers , the diyas and pretty much everything around them , probably sizing them up against their notes on the “Rajas and palaces of India” . Soon we climbed a further flight of steps and awaiting us was a breathtaking view of the inner place. Beautifully lit up in colourful lights , the stage was all set for a promising evening of music. Again a buzz of media and glitterati-Shobha De, Kiran Mazumdar and a few others half hidden in the shadows, made their way to the front seats. And so the show began with the strains of sarangi followed by ghazals. Music has a way to transcend countries, languages and time. In that magical evening it cast its spell, weaving a web of romance, history and untold tales that only the silent walls of the palace have witnessed.

All good things come to an end and so did this night. We made our way back to our hotel holding on to the trance and refusing to travel back in time.

Will I go back again inspite of the crowd that always makes me hesitate to embark on such events? Most certainly I will. For now I hope to keep the day tucked away in my memory with a dash of imagination added and a sprinkling of tales that I hope to share with my son — before the ink dries.

Images from the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018

About the Author:

Sucheta is a career professional by a quirk of fate and an enthusiast of performing arts, fine arts and literature by choice . Having spent over 20 years in the corporate consulting world, she has recently given it up to pursue her passion in theatre and films . An avid reader since her childhood she is a published poet and a writer . Her keen sense of observation and natural humour rubs off in her writings.

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