Delhi Literature Festival 2016: William Dalrymple and Other Memories

Delhi Literature Festival 2016

Delhi Literature Festival 2016

Will Delhi Literature Festival be as stimulating as the one I had witnessed in Jaipur back in 2013? Can Dilli Haat reprise the magic of Diggi Palace? Trust me, these were the questions I was pandering to on my way to the venue on Sunday. Memories of Pawan Kumar Verma having the crowd in splits with reference to ‘impossible postures’ in Kamasutra and the reading of Rudyard Kipling’s poems flashed through my mind.

I had some reservations about the quality of discussions scheduled to happen in the fourth edition of literature festival. But then, I was reminded of a common saying: Comparison is a thug that robs your joy.

The Ambience

The ambience was that of a gorgeous wintry afternoon with colourful people acknowledging the mellow sun and going about hunting collectible items from the crafts market. The event was held in a clearing with stalls on both the sides. What added a character to the whole setting is a sound of a flute being played at a distance.

Session on Books vs. Blogs

A motley crowd of around 250 people had gathered for the session on ‘Books vs Blog’ that had Union Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup and blogger Yashodhara Lal among the panelists. Columnist Dilip Cherian was sharp as a moderator. After a rather languid start, the session gained momentum with one of the panelists brushing aside the claim that proliferation of blogs is killing the art of reading books. In the end, there was a unanimity on the harmonious co-existence of both the medium since both blogs and books are distinct in their purpose – while blogs are a quick commentary or narration on some experiences, books are a more layered analysis of an idea(s) or a theme(s).

There were many among the crowd who had come to know about great books while reading blogs. Some were of the opinion that blogs help you in finding your true calling and assessing what genre works for you before you go on to write a book.

William Dalrymple’s Session on the Return of the King

That was the session I was looking forward to. After an hour-long debate on paper vs. digital, nothing could have been a happy distraction than the historian narrating interesting episodes of First Anglo–Afghan War (1839-42). When Dalrymple took to stage, it was quarter to five and Dilli Haat had grown little more buzzing with more people pouring in.

It’s always exciting to watch him. He’s a tireless storyteller. Animated way of sharing the anecdotes and variations in baritone are unique to him.

The book, which documents Britain’s disastrous attempt at invading Afghanistan in 1839, seems to echo what the author had said three years back in Jaipur Literature Festival: “British have particular talent of not learning lessons from war”. The audience was evidently amused when Dalrymple quoted one of the Afghan tribesmen who didn’t have high opinions about the British soldiers: “The English will ride the donkey of their desires into the field of stupidity”.

To let the effect of the session linger, I decided not to attend any further event. What I liked the most about the Delhi Literature Festival is its boutique setup. It’s somewhat comforting and gives you a feeling of a workshop of like-minded people. Although it neither has the size nor diversity of Jaipur Literature Festival, it still manages to bring people of Delhi to such events. That’s commendable.


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