Funny moments from India's litfest carnival circuit

India's annual love affair with literature festivals is about to begin. We went back in time to pick up some of the LOL moments. That's Laugh Off Literature.

It’s not true that great writers have no sense of humour. Yes, many of them take themselves extremely seriously, but there are always the ones who can make you laugh without cracking a smile themselves. As India’s litfest season gets underway, here are some of the laughliest moments from literary stages around the country.

Jaipur Literature Festival :-)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is on stage in the enormous main lawn. Probably the largest audience in the world for a single literary event gathers here (unless you count Bob Dylan concerts as literary events, since Ladbroke’s does have him in the running for the Nobel Prize every year).

Adichie has answered several important questions from the moderator, and it is the turn of the audience to quiz her. A young lady in the third row finally gets her chance. “Your books are set in Nigeria. Is that because you are from Nigeria and know the country well and want to write about it, or is it your inner angst and ennui that compels you to write about your motherland?” Adichie grins. “My inner angst and ennui, of course. What could my familiarity with my country have anything to do with it?”

Kolkata Literary Meet :-o

A bemused Vikram Seth sits on the stage in a large pavilion constructed within the sprawling Milan Mela, where the Kolkata Book Fair is held. Cries of distraught grandmothers looking for recalcitrant grandchildren, insistent pitches made by fish-fry salesmen to visitors just as insistent on having biriyani, and indecipherable but heartfelt announcements over the loudspeaker are all that can be heard. The speakers on stage seem to be lip-syncing to an audio stream that has stopped working.

Seth seizes on a sudden lull and announces, “Normally, I’d insist on silence in the auditorium. But today, I encourage you to receive phone calls and make your own phone calls while we speak. I might do it too.”

The Hindu Lit For Life, Chennai :-P

In the industrious south, litfests start at 9 am. Sharp. And the first speech on the first day is made by the CEO of the principal sponsors. He says a few admiring things about writers, and then decides, inexplicably, to tell a long joke involving a man who farts but lacks the olfactory power to appreciate the flavour of his own discharge.

In a session that follows, Mohammed Hanif, for my money the most remarkable contemporary writer in English from Pakistan, says, “My wife called to ask me where I am. I told her I’m at a litfest. What sort of litfest starts at 9 in the morning, she asks me. The kind where they tell fart jokes, I tell her.”

A little later, when he is talking about the sales of his books in Pakistan, the moderator interrupts to ask, “You have bookshops in Pakistan?” Without missing a beat, Hanif answers, “Yes, and you know what? We also have ice-cream in Pakistan.”

Jaipur Literature Festival, Part Two :-D

Latin American writers Ariel Dorfman and Santiago Roncagliolo are on stage and Chandrahas Choudhury can only laugh along. On being told he looks nothing like his photographs, Roncagliolo tells Choudhury that he had conjunctivitis and didn’t look at himself in the mirror for two weeks. After which he discovered he had a beard, and decided to keep it.

“But when you have conjunctivitis it’s others who don’t look at you. Why didn’t YOU look at yourself?”

“I never look at myself.”

At which point Dorfman chips in. “But wait, there’s a contradiction here, Santiago. If you never look at yourself, how did you recognise yourself in the mirror when you did look at yourself?”

“I recognised myself because the guy in the mirror looked like my father.”

“I happen to be a friend of your father’s, and you don’t look like him at all,” declares Dorfman.

Then they have a discussion on who’s slimmer, Roncagliolo senior or Roncagliolo junior. Dorfman assures junior that he still has time to grow as fat as his father is now.

“Thank you. That’s the most horrible thing anyone ever said to me in my life.”

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