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"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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8 December 2017

People spotting safari at the Jaipur Lit Fest

(Since it's almost that time of the year, I dug this out of my archives. A version of this article appeared in Conde Nast Traveller in January)

Hello, check, one two three.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a brief introduction: I've been to the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) enough times to be able to predict with accuracy the cast of characters you'd see if you were to wander. Think of this as a safari, think of me with a David Attenborough voice, and if you're all strapped in, we'll begin. Please do not feed the delegates. Thank you.

1) The Harried Journalist: Hard to get a good glimpse of this one, but there's quite a good specimen to your left running across the lawn, phone clutched in one hand, notebook in the other. Notice the way they're waving their cellphone in the air, like some sort of elaborate mating ritual. There'll be plenty of time for mating later at the parties, at this point, your Harried Journalist is trying to get some sort of data signal—any sort of data signal to send off some of the daily tweets s/he's promised his newspaper (okay, okay, news website) s/he'd do in exchange for being able to do this junket. Also, s/he's dying to make her/his friends jealous by posting a selfie next to a Speaker (more about them later on). Alas, no signal. S/he's going to have to trek across the lawn to the press terrace after all.

2) The Professional Reader: There she comes, probably with some of her relatives in tow—a mother, a cousin, a niece, a daughter. The Professional Reader, much like the elephant, usually has a matriarchal society, where she is most comfortable with female publishers. Lucky for her that they far outnumber the men. No one knows what the Professional Reader's real job is, she's always at some literature festival or another, always seems to know everyone, and is usually beloved in a quiet understated sort of way.

3) The Aspiring Writer: Watch carefully and you'll see not one but both sub-species of the Aspiring Writer. Here comes sub-species 1.0 The Ingénue. Wide eyed and smiley faced, the Ingénue has the ability to be asking for your help at one JLF, only to be blanking you two JLFs later, after s/he's cozying up to all the “best writers.” And just across from The Ingénue is sub-species 1.1 The Misanthrope. S/he's there with one token friend who they whisper to as the aforementioned “best writers” pass, s/he's turning up their nose at all the talks, and if you tell them you like something, s/he'll have a hundred reasons why you're wrong. When you ask them what they're planning on doing, they look at you somewhat pityingly and say, “Writing a book.” Implied that their book is a tour de force, and they, as authors, are much better than all these poseurs.

4) The Speaker: You'll be able to distinguish this colourful flock by the shade of the band around their neck. While The Harried Journalist wears her name tag with a certain urgency, the Speaker casually drapes it, only the colour showing, while the card disappears into a pocket or behind a scarf. Newly minted Speakers have a bright eyed bushy tailed expression, look at me, I'm here, I'm actually here, some of them might even have a little skip in their step. But the older Speakers, who are invited year after year, know which venue is the best one, and can rank your importance accordingly. By day three though, even the new Speakers have learned to be blasé, and are no longer impressed by the unlimited glasses of wine they can have on a sunny afternoon. Still, they're all delighted to sign books, and devastated if their friend gets asked to sign and they don't.

5) The Old Hand: Sometimes a sub-species of the Speaker, sometimes not, the Old Hand is that person over there who is rolling their eyes at the crowds of school children descending on a Speaker for autographs. Listen, and you'll hear their carrying voice: “In 2007, did you come to JLF in 2007? Oh, you should have. It was so much better. Not all these---” voice drops “---people.” They'll also drop a festival organiser's name in there for good measure. “I was telling Willy/Namita/Sanjoy.” Bonus points if they mention all three. (But bonus points for whom? That's the question.) Find an Old Hand if you want to get out of the venue to eat, however. They know where all the food's good.

6) The Khan Marketeers: Like large flocks of migratory birds, this species can be seen going anywhere there's “everyone.” And in this case, travel for six hours by road (in a big car stocked carefully with expensive snacks bought at L'Opera or Sugar & Spice, washed down by thermoses of the best tea brewed early in the morning for them by their khaandaani Man Friday) or a few hours by plane (only business class on one of the better airlines) to be seen at Jaipur for the literature festival. Do they actual attend any of the sessions? Do they sit on the grassy lawns in their immaculate white cotton, spreading out camel coloured pashminas below them? Do they only exist to have tea at the Rambagh with their friends, all the while talking about the big actor draw of that year's festival (in 2017, it's Rishi Kapoor) and how they must all get together for dinner at the farm as soon as they return, and maybe Mini* will be able to bring Rishi. (*Name for representational purposes only.)

That's the end of our Jaipur Safari for 2017. Other smaller species to look for, who I won't go into detail about: the Wide-Eyed Fan, the Students Who Aren't Buying A Single Book But Carrying Around Autograph Books And Collecting Signatures Anyway, that One Friend Of Yours Who Was At The Most Controversial Session Of The Day And Will Not Stop Talking About It and the Person Who Has Given Up On Ever Entering Any Of The Venues And Is Now Just Getting Drunk. If you spot any new varieties this year, do let me know.

Exit through the gift shop on the right.

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