24th November 2015
I returned from Spain yesterday. On the way to the airport, the Nigerian taxi driver asked me if I was from India. “I heard many people rape a woman together there. Is it a sort of religious ritual?” I tried to explain to him that modern India is a work in progress but my reply got lost in a swirl of traffic.
In the meanwhile, the first snow had fallen on the Spanish Sierra and I watched the mountains speed by. After a night in Madrid, where I had a late night dinner at, yes, an Indian restaurant with a chef from Uttarakhand, I
set off the next morning for Segovia, an hour’s drive from Madrid, it has hosted the Hay Festival for 10 years now. I was in the car with Lindy Cooke of the Mother Hay Festival in Wales and Sheila Cremaschi who has nurtured the Segovia edition since the beginning. As seasoned (hardened?) Litfest pros we exchanged notes on writers, publishers and audiences. I watched the pine covered slopes and remembered all the mountains I have been to this year, from the Himalayas in Bhutan, to the Rockies in Boulder Colorado, from the Kasauli Literature Festival to my hometown in Kumaon for the newly minted literature events there. These are beautiful mountains, noble and enduring and there are stories woven around the landscape, too long to tell here but which remain embedded in my memory. Segovia is where Ernest Hemingway wrote For whom the Bell Tolls. Segovia is where Walt Disney copied the charming contours of the local castle, for his Cinderella replica.
The rather slightly fuzzy photographs don’t do justice to the beauty and the peace I encountered there. And onto Valladolid, where I gave a talk at the Casa de la India, we spoke in Spanish and in English about festivals, literature, language and art. I have put up the photograph, and the artwork on the wall behind us is by an Indian artist from Jaipur. I am not one for museums, in fact, I find them slightly depressing and reductionist in their patched together assemblage of an impermeable past. But this exhibition on the mystic St Teresa of Avila was different. St Teresa was an earlier feminist in her thoughts and actions. The catalogue begins with the moving words “Fear nothing, she says”. The display juxtaposed some startling contemporary art by international artists including Anish Kapoor and Anila Quayyum Agha next to the sacred museum pieces.
My host Guillermo Rodriguez took me to the home of Cervantes, for it was in Valladolid that the great Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote Don Quixote. Tilting at windmills is the surviving metaphor for ironic absurdity of the Cervantes vision and there I a
m, a bit of an ironic absurdity myself next to the plaque and the relief carving.
Hope to go back to Spain soon!
Will keep you posted.