# tigers met = 0
# literary giants met = 2
Ain't it just the way. I spend hours being bumped around in a freezing jeep on no less than four 'tiger' safaris only to be shown a 'jungle cat' that I'm reasonably certain was wearing a flea collar and a dozen rabid monkeys. Good thing I had the sense to visit Howlett's Wildlife Park last year where tigers are in abundance. It didn't help that the only vague chance we had of getting up close and personal with a Bengal was scuppered by the family who had the foresight to bring their squealing toddler along. She proved a whizz at responding to the guide's entreaties to 'be quiet' with a symphony of jungle penetrating shrieks.
What India lacks in wildlife, it makes up for in literati. I found myself in Jaipur in the middle of a free literary festival. That such a thing exists is alarming enough. How on earth do they exploit the book buying public in India? It's a mystery. I'd previously mentioned that Gore Vidal would be present, but it wasn't until the next morning at breakfast that I discovered a free screening of Atonement was to be shown, followed by a Question and Answer session with Ian McEwan and Christopher Hampton (who'd just been nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay). Regular readers may recall that I thought enough of the movie to write a favourable review back when it first opened.
I looked down the programme to see 'invitation only' in brackets after the entry. At that very moment, one of the organisers sauntered by and I called him over and asked for an invitation. You actually do have more chance of seeing a tiger in Britain than getting yourself invited to a shindig with a Booker prize winner. The rest of my tour group were going off to a Bollywood film (three and a half hours, no music, no subtitles - torture by all accounts). I packed myself onto a bus to be transported to a soulless cinema complex in new Jaipur where I watched a great film all over again for free.
It was on this bus that I met the first of two Vickies. V1 has a farm in Kota. She is very personable and we chatted away on the bus like old pals. IM and CH were frank and amusing in the Q&A afterwards. I can't remember what they said exactly. CH revealed that Atonement director Joe Wright is dsylexic which explains all that typewriter clattering throughout the film and IM talked about 'living on the inside of people's faces' which struck me as a Booker worthy turn of phrase if ever there was one. He also made what sounded like a witty but derogatory comment about the most recent Booker winner, Anne Enright which I don't trust myself to repeat because I didn't in fact hear it - just the tittering of the earnest young scribes to whom it was addressed. (This is why I never made it as a journalist).
Back at the Diggi Palace Hotel, V1 and I discovered the drinks were free. We further discovered that IM and CH were standing right next to us. This is where V1 came into her own. I turned to mush and had no idea what to say but V1 started discussing the book and the film like a normal person as opposed to a star struck imbicile and I nodded knowingly (go girl!). It was then that V2 joined us. An adventurous lone traveller from Manchester, she initiated discourse with IM about Saturday. Great, I thought, I loved that book. Then I started wondering why I hadn't thought to go and buy a copy of Chesil Beach from the book stall and get IM to sign it. By the time I'd returned to the present moment, the conversation had moved on. Why can't I keep my mind on the job?
It was V2 who got the picture above. It was after our fourth or fifth beer and I didn't even care that I'd been in the same clothes for four days. We had a few more after that too. IM did say something I remember - there may be hope for me yet. He said he thought we all carried a sense of incompletion, a fear that we've committed some act of malpractice for which we feel we need to atone. In wondering why I couldn't think of a single question to ask one of the best writers in the world as he stood right in front of me, it occurred to me that I might have been overwhelmed by my own incompleteness. I imagine success gives you the confidence to feel you can talk to anyone about anything. Lack of it has the exactly the opposite effect. Thanks to the Vickies though, I have the photo to prove I'm in my life somewhere...