Readings and parties

26 February 2007

On Saturday and Sunday night, there were two major parties for the festival. Saturday’s party was hosted by GQ and Wasafiri, http://www.wasafiri.org/, a literary magazine which publishes fiction and articles on post-colonial literature. The venue was very bizarre: it was an upmarket furniture store in the middle of what looked like a fairly run-down district to me. As we were quaffing beer and wine, eating some pretty good curries and talking about literature, outside there were rows and rows of people sleeping on the pavement. There were no beggars here: just remorseless, grinding, fairly unimaginable poverty.

There were serious problems with the reading. These were:

1. The mic kept cutting out so none of the readers could be heard properly.
2. The food was served half way through the reading and so the bored, the hungry and the impertinent got up during the reading went to the bar and started scoffing themselves silly and talking very loudly. The net result was that by the time the poets had finished their readings there was very little food left.

But there were bonuses, the chief one being Jackie Kay, the Glaswegian poet who has a Nigerian father and was adopted by some left-wing Glaswegian social workers as a baby. She read some funny but moving poems about her adoption, and about meeting her religious father for the first time quite recently. He would allow her to speak to the rest of his family because she was his ‘shame’.

At the party, I learnt about how all the hotel swapping reflected the true hierarchy of the festival. The top editors and writers at the festival were either put up in the fanciest hotel in Mumbai, the Taj, or had moved there, having been disappointed by their rudimentary accommodation at the Malabar Hills, where I and a few others were staying. The middle ranking writers upgraded to the Ritz, while the rest of us had remained at the Malabar Hills.

On Sunday, I was inspired to hear the poetry of Jeet Thayil and Tishani Doshi. See www.kitabfest.org for more about these two: they are little known in Britain but definitely major talents. They were both good readers: their readings were actually enhanced by the fact that there was a power cut and they had to read by candle and torch light. Geoff Dyer was very funny, reading about an incident when he as a forty-two year old got stoned on a rainy afternoon in Amsterdam and struggled to put on a pair dry trousers as a result.

Everyone was exceptionally jolly at the Sunday party with various writers daring each other to say more and more outrageous things as the festival lurched and sloshed its way to a final curtain. It was all pretty tame stuff really but there was just enough frisson of risk to give the evening an edgy, jokey, warm-hearted sheen. Personal confessions, political discussions and even some literary grudges surfaced but were all smoothed over by the amazing food and glamorous setting of the Olive restaurant: candle light, fountains, white pebbled patio, palm fronds and beautiful singers.

On Monday morning, I went for another swim in the Malabar Hills swimming pool, and then took a cab with Blake Morrison to the airport. We talked about poetry and creative writing courses, agreeing (once again) in our tastes. This time we discussed Philip Larkin at length. The hour long journey whistled by. I said goodbye, checked in and wrote this.’

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