THE BLOG
01/28/2013 02:43 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2013

Jaipur Literature Festival: Day two

Terrific follow-up to day one's stellar start. For me, the star of the day was Columbia University professor Gary Shteyngart, the author of Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story. At his first session on writing, reading and laughing, Shteyngart spoke about including the art of humor in his works. "It's really hard you know," he said when asked about humor writing. "In fact, it's so hard I've outsourced my novels to India; to some guy in Hyderabad." Later, on a panel about the future of the Jewish novel, Shteyngart claimed that his publishers often pressurized him. "First Gary write Russian novel," he said mimicking a Russian accent. "Then publisher say 'make more Jew' so Gary make more Jew."

Another session that drew in a curious crowd was a discussion on the origins of sex between historian Faramerz Dabhoiwala and William Dalrymple, co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Dhaboiwala has authored a book Origins of Sex that chronicles the first revolution in Britain. "Who in this audience has had sex with someone they never married?" asked Dhaboiwala at the beginning of the session. To his (and my) surprise, the audience shot up their arms in a tenth of a second to an otherwise awkward question. During his discussion, Dhaboiwala quoted writings from the 18th century that argued in favor of sexual intercourse. "Enjoying a woman...That warm desire, which is implanted in human nature, can't be criminal," he quoted writer Mathew Tindal.

The powerful discussions attracted a huge crowd - 97,000 according to media reports - that the gates to Diggi had to be shut to prevent anyone else from entering. The press, meanwhile, had a tough time chronicling the sessions. Internet connections collapsed, snapped wires led to laptop outages and, in the evening, the venue was plunged into darkness as the organizers shut off the electricity. To top it off, the government announced that the day was to be observed as a "dry day". In other words, hotels and bars couldn't serve alcohol, nor could the Festival. This announcement not only disappointed thirsty journalists but also robbed Jeet Thayil of a celebratory champagne. Thayil, author of the Booker-nominated novel Narcopolis, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2013.

This colorful chaos is going to be an unintentional mirror to the Republic of India that celebrates its 61st anniversary of being a sovereign state on January 26, the third day of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Return tomorrow to know what happened. Until then, ciao!

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