Best books presented in Jaipur Literature Festival 2017

When a book lover and writer wanders off into India’s biggest Literature Festival, words are going to fly out. JaipurLitFest (JLF) had been on my mind for some time but 2017 was the year to be when JLF itself turned 10 years old. I have a bitter sweet relationship with books. They kept me awake at ungodly hours in early school days and I took my revenge by writing one years later. I thought the patience required to have a comprehensible story reveal itself in my words will teach me a lesson strong enough to not attempt it ever again but alas! The writer’s demons would not leave me alone and the addiction ran deeper than any booze or weed can induce. I worked on more books and articles including this one right after attending the ending ceremony of JLF.

To walk into Diggi Palace, the famed venue of JLF (described as ‘nashediyon ka adda that ye pehle’ by my auto rickshaw driver – that does make it perfect, doesn’t it?) is like walking into a cerebral riot. The festival when calling in stalwarts of Art/Lit fraternity such as Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Shashi Tharoor, Richard Flanagan, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, Prasoon Joshi, Devdutt Patnaik, Vikram Chandra, Sadhguru and so on, has to rise itself to meet the standards of its guests. Teamwork team led by Sunjoy Roy, did exactly this by making the festival itself a piece of art. Be it a funky decorated scooter or tuk-tuk providing intravenue commute or the elegant tent designs or the kulhad chai, the festival radiates Rajasthan, Indian culture, art and more art. So that when the literary youths wearing a turban with boots enter the ground, they mingle in rather than standing at odds. The aesthetics not only spoke and listened to the crowd in its own language, inspired it to funk up its crazy quotient.
Here’s a roundup of my favorite moments and reading lists for you lazy fellows out there!

1. Gulzar sahab opening the JLF in his trademark graceful yet cynical note – ‘Don’t make me sit on that high Guest of Honor chair in which my feet are left hanging off the ground. When feet don’t touch the soil, pen stops respecting the ink.’

Gulzar at JLF

Reading List: He is a living poetry himself. His latest launch is Suspected Poems

2. Sadhguru: Watching the famed guru for first time on stage, expectations were high. This comment of his stayed with me ever since – ‘Our souls are constantly trying to expand so as to increase our capacity to experience the cosmos – be it through arts, creation, power or sex. It is just our deepest desire to expand our being.’

Reading List: Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy

3. When I casually strolled into the Mughal Tent session by Vikram Chandra on visual poetry of medieval Sanskrit times, I was just trying to escape the crowd thronging the front lawn where Rishi Kapoor was launching his book. But in hindsight, that was the hand of destiny shepherding me towards the genius of this talk. In this nerdy talk, it became clear that he has embraced the formal logic of computing as much as his comfort with ambiguities of literary narrative. Effortlessly weaving the narrative between seemingly disjoint worlds of sanskrit grammar, and geometrical structures, Chandra never lost the grip on his subject or the audience. He gave vivid examples of medieval sanskrit poetry which when written formed interesting geometrical shapes such as matrix, spokes of a wheel and so on. I felt compelled to read him end to end after this talk.

Reading List: Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code

4. Neil McGregor, a name I had not heard of before. The British historian’s talk on Shakespeare’s Restless World covered themes and the times in which Shakespeare wrote his plays. It was reliving the moments of Elizabethan era – what people were like, what they felt, ate or saw. The fantastic execution ceremonies of law breakers, conspiracy of murdering the kings and disguises were Shakespearean themes picked from the very streets of London life! This was the first generation that had house clocks – that heard the ticking of a minute in their households. This was the generation that read Bible in English but whose grandparents were still reading in Latin – a theme observed in Hamlet where old people use Latin terms more commonly. If someone can make art history as interesting as this person (who headed London National Gallery, refused Knighthood, presented Art series on BBC and so on), then that someone has to be an extraordinary orator and presenter of facts. The talk was one of the most thought provoking and enchanting sessions of the festival.

Reading List: Shakespeare’s Restless World

5. Shashi Tharoor received raucous applause every time I heard him speak in 3 different sessions. After his viral Oxford Debate, Penguin was savvy enough to ask him to write a full book on British oppression. And being the walking historical encyclopedia that he is, he did it with flair! His speeches/arguments are music to one’s ears – the clarity of thought, articulation and relevance to the point with pleasurable succinct is a deadly combination. Although it was mostly rehashing of the Oxford speech, that takes little away from his oratory or the ability to get the audience going. No wonder, he was the part of panel for closing debate moderated by Barkha Dutt.

Tharoor at JLF

Reading List: An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

6. Luke Harding is a journalist at The Guardian, who was contacted by Edward Snowden. He had the unenviable opportunity to sift through the cryptic, intricate documents from NSA sent by Snowden and received multiple threats from intelligence agencies in USA and UK alike. In his talk, he repeated what we have been hearing about how nothing we do on Internet is private. But perhaps it was listening to his own story of being spied upon in Russia or the fact that it was a real person talking about it in front of you live – he was able to generate that sense of creep in the public. According to him we are living in an era which has crossed Orwellian fantasies in 1984. Thankfully, he ended up on a not so glum note, giving us tips on how to stay more secure – use paper for writing important mails and switch your phones off in any important meeting. Ha! Interestingly, while Harding sympathizes with Snowden, he has a much less forgiving take on Julian Assange.

Reading List: The Snowden Files

So, that was the JLF special for me. And here are some memories

  

Bali Diary 6: Accomplish and Celebrate

Ok, I admit I’m somewhat of a workaholic. Whenever I get stuff done (the slang is get shit done!), I feel awesome and then I get more stuff done. My projects are coming together naturally as I surround myself with other interesting people – we have marketing geniuses, content writers, film makers, app developers here at Hubud. Monday to Wednesdays have been super productive and then we have our social time on Thursday lunches and Friday excursions.

On my third Saturday, I attended the energetic Invasion pool party (there is no dearth of these in Ubud) in the picturesque Bali Resort. I spent the Sunday relaxing on Sanur beach with Colleen. And I got the Balinese massage which was fantastic. Bali is all about healing, massages and spa. I had not planned any tourist activities in Bali and have let things happen on their own. I think there are better beaches to explore in Bali, perhaps some other time.

Invasion Party, Ubud
Invasion Party, Ubud
NT2
Sanur Beach

Fourth week of working hard resulted in my coming up with strategic decisions for next season of SS. I also managed to publish the divorce article that I have been holding for too long now on DailyO. It seemed fitting that I post it from here where I have felt most myself.  Our third Tribe lunch was at the permaculture center, Moksa Cafe where all the ingredients are grown fresh. We had most amazing organic coco drink and rice bowl. Oh and the bamboo straw was so cute! The rice fields surrounding the restaurant called for a lovely walk. For my last Friday here, I headed to the beautiful Tjampuhan Spa where Amber even tried to give me some swim lessons! This, by the way, is a very beautiful place. The hot water pool is enclosed in carved rock caves overlooking the jungle and the river. I love how Balinese preserve their greenery.

Rice fields behind Moksa Cafe
Rice fields behind Moksa Cafe
Organic food at Moksa Cafe, Ubud
Organic food at Moksa Cafe, Ubud
IMG_8484
Tjampuhan Spa, Ubud

I spent a very soulful last weekend with Ash when we headed to the Holy Water TemplePura Tirta Empul. I had been wanting to go there ever since I landed, thanks to Ash for pushing me to go there finally.Bali offers some very beautiful temples and this is more than a 1000 years old now. The fresh water comes from the spring in the temple and thousands of visitors bathe in it. I and Ash took turns to bathe under the designated spouts. Definitely, an experience I would remember. I do not see any prominent statues inside Balinese temples although there are lot of carved figures outside. We also visited the stone temple next to this one that featured gigantic rock with faint carvings but were at a loss to understand its significance. On Sunday, we walked around the famous Monkey Forest in the center of Ubud. Balinese monkeys look slightly different than Indian monkeys but compete well in terms of mischief and chaos. Many a times, they would jump on the roof and garden at Hubud, making for amusing scenes.

bathing at Holy Water Temple Bali
bathing at Holy Water Temple Bali
Holy Water Temple Bali
Holy Water Temple Bali
Monkey Forest, Ubud
Monkey Forest, Ubud

Last week went by quick with a merry happy hour at Watercress with Ash and Aline and a closing lunch at Laura’s place. Her daughter cooked for us and that to me was very sweet 🙂 Laura’s home was again very beautiful with a garden and sunbathed pool. She served us some traditional Russian equivalent of potato filled tortellini and salad. We ended with fruits, honey and spicy tea. In this last lunch together, I had a lot to acknowledge. After all, Bali has given me so much.

Happy Hours at Ubud
Happy Hours at Ubud

The reason we all are able to spend good time celebrating is the fact that we are getting so much done. When you are productive, you feel happy. It has nothing to do with how much time you have. It is all about how you spend whatever time you have. Ever since I started working, I had felt a need to maintain a very healthy work life balance that gives me time for myself. But although I now get a lot of time for myself, I often squandered it away in India. As a result, I was neither productive nor enjoying as much as I should. This month at Hubud has shown me the promise of ‘work hard, celebrate harder’.

My first innings at Bali came to an end. I had come distraught but am leaving with a smile. I am heading off to Singapore now. This is not the end.

And, here are the previous posts in Bali Diary:

  

Bali Diary 4: Eat and Meet

Saturday morning, we decided to go take a walk around the famous paddy fields of Ubud and there is a comfortable trek called Campuhan Ride walk for the same. So, I joined Chantal, Colleen, Derek, Julie and Andrew at 9 am in the Starbucks which is located in the beautiful Saraswati temple area. As I was clicking pictures of the beautiful lotus pond, I bumped into Tulasi, a great Indian origin but now in Holland girl who makes films! She is soon joining BBC as a trainee and was traveling solo too. So, we clicked pics for each other and got chatting. She ended up joining us for the walk. That is what I love about meeting people randomly on road.

Pura Saraswati Temple, Ubud
Pura Saraswati Temple, Ubud

The ridge walk was fun although we were quite sweaty by the time we ended up at Karsa Cafe which is a great restaurant cum spa located in between the rice fields. We grabbed our cute hut and ordered pancakes, coconut waters blah blah. We badly needed replenishment. Apart from the food being delicious and we ravenous, we ended up talking random stuff – tinder, spirituality, game of thrones, why one should go vegetarian as we heard chicken screams in the background etc., for more than an hour. It was time to head back and get a good shower. I have heard nice things about Campuhan Spa and that goes into my to do list.

Starting the Campuhan Ridge Walk
Starting the Campuhan Ridge Walk
Campuhan Ride walk
Campuhan Ride walk
Campuhan Ridge walk
Campuhan Ridge walk

Saturday night, I joined Colleen at Eric’s party. So, one good thing about working from hubud is getting invited to a lot of events and parties even if you don’t know someone directly. Eric’s house was beautiful and I met more interesting people there (shout out to Gabriel, the serial entrepreneur who has lived and worked even from Alaska!, Prof Rachael who is gathering some material on digital nomads and might interview me) and celebrated Mose’s bday party too. Sunday was more chilled but Colleen graciously invited me to tea at her place. Looking at her place makes me hopeful about life. This is the kind of place humans should live and not those rathole apartments in the cities. There were flooded rice fields in front and jungle at the side. Her cottage is more beautiful than many resorts I have seen. She told me that she follows minimalism and owns very few things. I hear you Colleen, I totally do. Her swimming pool is out of this world! I am so happy for her.

Beautiful places to live in Ubud
Beautiful places to live in Ubud

Anyway, I do also meet the cute Emily at the tea. Somehow the conversation veers to cuddle parties (yeah apparently that’s a thing!), visa extension in Bali, polyamory and topics that I would probably never hear of in India. But at the end of day, one thing is universal – relationships and one’s eternal longing for love. What I am amazed at how fluid people are here. Everyone is going in and out of places, more living in the moment and laughing.

Oh, and I also discovered that I really like Kafe Ubud which is quite close from my room. I love sitting on a low table there and writing. I have spent many a lunches/dinners there writing the book. One day, I ordered the Asian Curry noodles and was delighted when a maggi like dish came up. Yes, it was delicious! I am liking the Balinese food, there are lot of veggie options.

Balinese food
Balinese food
  

Bali Diary 3: Local Rituals

Are we not always on a journey? It can be external too, but internal it always is. Where it leads is something time will tell.

I started this past week by reinforcing my love for my work. A business that I have nurtured from nothing to a respectable size. A book that is a part of my creative instincts. Monday morning, the Tribewanted group met and we set our focus goals for the week. I like this kind of accountability exercise in which we set out what we intend to do and then share our progress after a week. It makes you feel accountable towards your goals. Better for people with no bosses or deadlines. On Tuesday morning, we did an hour of power in which we decided one goal for that hour and did it right there. It was quite productive and we ended up by celebrating with a little dance and shout outs on the Happy song. Colleen, our coordinator is quite fun that ways. In between, I kept doing my writeathons too. And we had this great skillshare session by a British woman who runs the highly successful blog on Russian Art and Culture, which I totally loved!

Skillshare at Hubud
Skillshare at Hubud

Being productive is always such a nice feeling and I am happy the way Hubud’s environment has helped me break some lulls in my work. And I made more friends, enjoying good dinners around. It is fun seeing so many people working on sales funnels, online courses etc. I am sure I can pick some intelligence from them.

Thursday, I heard that a group is going to the water temple and I decided to join them! I even convinced Jay to join us since it was his last day before he headed back to Australia. However, after meeting the group next morning, we discovered that it is not any temple but we are going to meet a water priestess. What?? Ok, so I was confounded. But as I have decided to accept new adventures on my way, I thought why not! (Poor Jay but I thought he was okay with it in the end too). Ok, so off we went in a cab. First stop was to buy a sarong since you need to cover up before meeting a priestess. Then, we reached the priestess’s place which was a typical Balinese compound with a temple and some humble looking houses.

We did not have much clue what to expect and had only heard vague experiences from a friend. It is a form of therapy with water. Let me give you a little background, Balinese people are mostly Hindu and are big on ceremonies and rituals. But nothing like what we do in India. The language, idols and traditions are different. I had never heard of water healing, apparently there are other forms of healing too such as sound healing etc. We made our offerings and waited a long while before she came out. Then she told us that she will be praying on top of a platform and we can all meditate in the verandah below it. It was while meditating here that I realized how I have ended up here without any plans. May be this is where I belong at this moment.

After 30-45 mins of praying, she told us that the therapy will begin. We were made to stand below her seat and then the holy water pouring started. Mind you, it is not sprinkling, it is literally drowning you in pails of water. Being a non-swimmer, I was left gasping for breath. So, she chants and then drowns you in loops. She also says that you should let go of all your inner feelings, make noises or stamp your feet if you feel like. The idea is to cleanse one out of all their emotional residues. Now, it could have been a great thing for me if effective but I was more focused on catching my breaths than really thinking about any other emotions. I like the idea though, it can be a good thing to let it flow out and believe that you have released the unwanted negativities.

IMG_7985
Melukat – Water purification

I wish we were told more context in the beginning. Later, I found out that it is called Melukat and can be used to ‘release what does not serve you anymore’. Colleen told me that she loves doing it sometimes. She also told me that the priestess we went to is the youngest priestess in Bali, Ida Resi Alit – 28 years old. She went unconscious once and upon coming back, she could recite mantras she never knew before and was more knowledgeable than senior priests (see more here).

Weekend was fun, more on it in next post. Stay tuned, send your love 🙂

  

Featured on Femina

Nistha on Femina

I cannot help but wonder how unpredictable life is. When I graduated from University of Illinois, I envisioned myself working in hi-tech fields. But things changed and I found myself needing a business education which led me to NYU to pursue full-time MBA. Within one year, I had hustled my way into New York’s buzzing entrepreneurial scene and I dropped out of the MBA that thousands of students dream of. With more twists in life, I was back in India ready to build tech products and run a tech startup. Along with building 2-3 great products, I found myself publishing a spiritual fiction novel! I mean I was not spiritual or religious 4 years ago. To write it, publish it and then finding people loving it is something I could never ever have imagined. If this is not a testament to our higher consciousness that we don’t bother to harness and karmic cycle, then I don’t know what is.

This is an on-going process of self discovery for me. Interestingly, I am featured on Femina’s May edition to talk about this very journey. What I love about this article is its organic origin. It is not a PR piece. It is written by Kavita who loved Seven Conversations and that is why this holds a special place in my heart. Hope you will like it.

Nistha's interview on Femina

And, if you still haven’t read Seven Conversations, please get it right now and also pass on to your book lover friends! Here are some of it’s noteworthy reviews.