That poem about Batman…


It does not behoove a writer to wring her hands and fret about having left the camera back in the hotel room. She ought to be able to use her craft (Art! Say it!) to freeze the image that stopped her short.

In trying to get to the Front lawns at Diggi Palace, she has almost stumbled upon two boys sleeping on top of a pile of fabric that looks like tenting. Their limbs are awkwardly aligned to bamboo poles. She stares for a long moment, and then realizes that there are three other young men – all fast asleep.

She concludes that they probably worked all night to get the venue up and running in time for the Jaipur Literature Festival. She herself wouldn’t mind stretching out and catching the last of the pale afternoon. But it is time to get kullad chai, seek out familiar faces and ask the usual mundane questions – When did you get in? What session will you go into next?

She herself is going into a session that isn’t likely to be overcrowded. But venues had to be exchanged last minute and some bewildering moments were spent trapped between dozens of people trying to go in opposite directions at the same time.

She doesn’t want to complain, though. These are the book-readings hordes and she hopes they will inherit the earth. She turns to a friend instead, and makes a joke about how this is the mela where siblings get separated and families are rent asunder.

The friend grins and says it will turn out alright; such narratives always have happy endings. She is about to say “Not always”, but a stranger is smiling at their conversation. She does not tell that sad story after all – the Hindi film where brother must die at the hands of brother.

Abraham Verghese, meanwhile, is talking about how he won infamy in Silicon Valley by inventing the term ‘iPatient’. He says he applies nearly the same skills to medicine and writing novels – listening. He says that writing helps him to come to a clearer understanding of medicine.

It has taken him eight years to write ‘Cutting for Stone’, partly because of work, but that he would rather give up writing than give up medicine. It makes her sulky and nervous (she hasn’t got anything to give up in exchange for writing) but she feels better when he mentions his therapist.

Later, on her way to the front lawns, she is ambushed by a stray phrase in Charbagh. Somebody is saying that he doesn’t publish 80 percent of his poetry. She stops to hear Simon Armitage for a moment. He is saying that Marvel comics will be our new classics, that Batman may replace Hercules in modern mythology. And he recites a poem addressed to Batman. It feels like a tender, quick knife thrust of humanity into a bat-suit and it snags her ankles.

Later, she walks into an entertaining, if somewhat fruitless, discussion on the ‘Novel of the Future’. It turned out to be only the same old exhausting question, after all – the future of the novel, and whether it was exhausted.

But in her heart that poem about Batman is lingering. She is wondering if she can afford his book of poems. She is wondering whether to accost Armitage. But she is no longer wondering whether it made sense to dig so deep into her pockets to be here.