Aarathi Prasad, Bee Rowlatt, Rob Schmitz, Nidhi Dugar and Simon Winchester in conversation with William Dalrymple, introduced by Karan Anand
Presented by Aga Khan Foundation
By Rahul Nair, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Blogger
Writers from diverse walks of life discussed their experiences of travel: the people, places, and experiences that had inspired and affected them. The panellists read from their books, each showcasing a different and unique method of documenting their journeys. It is the individual’s voice and viewpoint that lends travel writing its beauty, remarked writer and co-director of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, William Dalrymple. As a tribute, he read a passage from One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round, by the famous Italian travel writer Tiziano Terzani.
Writer and journalist Nidhi Dugar read from her book The Lost Generation, which chronicles her travels around India, exploring the country’s dying professions. She described her experience documenting godhna (tattoo) artists with members of a nomadic tribe from Jharkhand. Dugar’s words illustrated the tattooing process with vivid detail: the women dancing and singing songs about men, and dogs following cats; the elders pacifying the crying girls as they endure the pain.
Women’s rights activist, writer, and journalist, Bee Rowlatt read from her book In Search of Mary, inspired by the life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Rowlatt’s passage featured a very interesting story about the origins of Wollstonecraft’s Letters from Norway. Apparently, her boyfriend in Paris was a silver smuggler. When a consignment went missing, she was sent to retrieve it, and during that journey, ended up writing the book. ‘Travel writing is all about capturing moments,’ Rowlatt said.
Rob Schmitz’s book Street of Eternal Happiness is set in Shanghai. It is a tale of people growing disillusioned with a system that forces them to simply chase money. The different protagonists move out of the urban centres in search of an ‘ideal place for idealists,’ with clean water and healthy food. One of the protagonists is a successful engineer who opens up a sandwich shop. The shop doesn’t make him any money, but it brings him into contact with artists, painters, and others like him, which is all that he really wants.
Aarathi Prasad, a biologist and writer, read from her book In the Bonesetter’s Waiting Room. The book was a result of her exploration of the state of the health industry in India. Prasad, who grew up in the United States, said that since this was her first time in India, she was ‘rediscovering India via health.’ Many of the mystical health practices she encountered in her research were outside her normal knowledge systems, and she conceded that as an outsider, she wasn’t really in a place to have strong opinions about them.
Simon Winchester joked that he had found the words – ‘some settling might occur’ – written on a piece of paper inside a jar of coconut macaroons whilst travelling, and decided it would make an apt title of his autobiography. He narrated a passage from his book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, about the formation of the Indonesian island-volcano and its cataclysmic eruption in 1883, whose impact was felt as far away as France.
The vivid accounts and personal retellings of the panellists’ adventures left many members of the audience with a renewed longing to travel themselves, for in that short hour, we were taken on a journey around the world.
Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill