OUTSIDE THE HEAVY WOODEN GATES that guard the Neemrana Fort-Palace against unwanted day visitors, local villagers and the curious, a dusty, winding path leads back to the highway. In 2003, this path was no more than a narrow lane, so narrow that two vehicles could not pass side-by-side, and to find it blocked by the carcass of a dead pig brought a caravan of writers to an unexpected halt.
The writers had been brought to Neemrana by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and a team of enthusiasts that included Namita Gokhale—now one of the directors of the Jaipur Literature Festival—who felt that India needed a festival of its own. Delhi, in particular, and India, in general, had been no stranger to such events in the past. The grand mushairas of the Mughals were so splendid, so challenging and so famous that Mirza Farhatullah Baig could create an imaginary Last Mushaira of poets from across the country, with imaginary sawaal-jawaabs, in the court of the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar.
The tradition continued, as Nirad C Chaudhuri recorded in 1937: