Authors, poets and academics gather together at the Jaipur Literature Festival to share their work and to bask in the adulation of fans. Rudrani Rana is both a fan and a writer, and brings her work in progress in a canvas bag to the festival: a manuscript of a novel, titled ‘UNSUBMITTED’. Not just any manuscript, however: this is something Rudrani has revised and rewritten over the course of most of her life, until only one sentence remains unchanged: ‘my body is a haunted house.’ Perhaps this will be the time she actually submits the great work of her life.
The book follows Rudrani and a small cast of other characters as their paths intersect and they experience their own epiphanies and life-changing moments at the festival. Anyone who has been to a literature festival or other literary event will recognise the descriptions of the performances, the panel discussions, the audiences. But this one seems to be a microcosm of the world outside, and the connections forged over the course of those few days are as intense as they are transient.
It was refreshing to see an older female protagonist at the centre of a book, and Rudrani is independent and memorably eccentric. Her penchant for writing lists and sending poison-pen letters in the form of cute cards depicting kittens and flowers, with harsh truths / accusations spelled out in purple ink, made me think of her as a cross between Vikram Seth’s Mrs Rupa Mehra and Shirley Jackson’s Adela Strangeworth – but without the maudlin streak of the one or the sinister side of the other.
The rest of the characters are not without their foibles either, so we have a tailor-turned-thief-turned-poet, an unlucky-in-love academic, and a gay journalist who goes saree-shopping with strangers. There’s even a tongue-in-cheek reference to Rupi Kaur fans.
Gokhale evokes a sense of the atmosphere and beauty of Jaipur – the distinctiveness of the landscape, the heat and colour of the city. She also gives a sense of the myriad unique stories bubbling beneath the surface of the seemingly ordinary people whose paths we cross every day in a bustling city like Jaipur.
I enjoyed this affectionate but teasing love letter to the Jaipur Literature Festival, and the way author Nimita Gokhale pokes fun at literary circles and the sometimes self-absorbed pretentiousness of artists and academics. The mix of humour and pathos in their behaviour and their stories reminded me of David Lodge in some ways, and it felt like Gokhale had an intimate knowledge of these events and the kinds of people who attend them.
I enjoyed it all the more because for 223 pages I could escape from our current reality and imagine myself at an actual literature festival, with actual human contact, rather than the virtual versions we have been compelled to have in the past year.
Recommended for anyone who loves and misses travelling, conferences, and the literary ‘scene’. Also anyone who has their own ‘Unsubmitted’ sitting in a drawer somewhere; take it out, dust it off, and send it out into the world before it’s too late.
|Author Namita Gokhale|
Join the conversation at The Brown Brontë's Book Club .