Racket Boy – An autobiography by Philip George

Divided We Fall

When, within ten minutes of getting into your vehicle, you’re greeted on the street by a bossing elephant, you just know Jaipur is going to take “literary tourism” to other horizons!

I timed my visit to this sensational terrain with the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) that promised “an inimitable experience with characteristic flavour”, courtesy of the broad range of writers, readers, connoisseurs, influencers and thinkers from across the world that this fare attracts.

I would make special mention of its delightfully helpful, informed and courteous young volunteers; its spectacle of colours and cultural traditions; and the most gorgeous mix of food and drinks that also add tremendous value to this truly global event served up in great style by the organisers.

On the very first day, my mind perked up, listening to Jeyamohan, one of India’s most prolific writers, confessing to taking to serious writing after the double suicides of his parents, followed by former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull dismantling the puppetry of the world’s controlled media contributing to the worrying trend of what he labelled “angertainment”. Very timely, now that the world’s unelected monitor has started yet another conflict – while in the same breath declaring “the US is not seeking a conflict …”

There was an impressive list of international authors such as Ben Macintyre, Katherine Rundell and Richard Osman, as well as Indian writers and poets Devdutt Patnaik, Anand Neelakandan, Kamini Dandapani, Charu Nivedita, Nandita Krishnan, Perumal Murugan, Gulzar, Anirudh Kanisetti and Nilanjana Roy, among many others. Topics discussed were Philosophy, Fantasy and Fandom, Justice: The Voice of the Voiceless, Conversations with an Emperor, and The Cholas at War, to name a few. All venues received good support from fervent crowds, a chunk of whom were India’s energetic youth.

But on Super Sunday, as I call it, two superstars took the fair to another level – Sudha Murthy (subject: Common but Uncommon) and author politician Shashi Tharoor. Shashi had three slots, including one to promote his latest book The Less You Preach, The More You Learn, a collection of aphorisms co-written with Joseph Zacharias; and another one for a discussion on How the World Took on the British Empire, when he was in encyclopaedic form on his pet subject.

If it’s any consolation Shashi, although Jaipur’s highbrow restaurants remain the fortress of the white, mainly British, this time around they are at least contributing to your economy. A measurable shift from greed to giving, do you not think so?

Knowing of their reputations I wasn’t surprised by the frenzied support that Sudha and Shashi received. Even when it started to rain, few from the jostling crowds standing outside the tent budged to seek shelter. That’s respect earned.

Here are two people who educate and spur millions through their lived experiences, and importantly, from the dirt, dust, crowds, prejudices and chaos still very much part of broader India. I feel when the message comes from people of the soil giving guidance from the same soil, the impact and appreciation are far greater.

This spirit of solidarity I witnessed between Sudha and Shashi with their throngs, made me wonder about my backyard … why is there such a scarcity of leaders who can bring together all Malaysians on the bumi of our birth?

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