IT WAS 2002, four years before the Jaipur Literature Festival kicked off in Diggi Palace, when I was picked by the British Council to be a part of a small band of Indian reviewers and authors invited to see what the fuss was over the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the writers who massed at Charlotte Square Gardens. Most of us book-lovers had spent the 1990s with our noses pressed up to the thick-glassed window that separated home and abroad, knowing that, since we lived in India, we would rarely meet the foreign writers whose books we loved so much.
As a fledgling book-reviewer at the newspaper Business Standard in Delhi, I couldn’t believe my luck when the British Council offered to cover the cost of air tickets and the stay in Edinburgh. My husband and I did some frantic calculations—he had just quit his job in order to kick-start a career in freelance writing, and we had just spent the year’s furniture allowance on, predictably, books—and worked out that if I was very sensible, I would be able to afford meals in Edinburgh, as well as a few days in London if I cast myself upon the charity of friends.
Perhaps it had been foolish of me to try to squeeze in a trip to London, but the temptation had been irresistible. Who could possibly come so far and not drop by Daunt’s bookstore, visit the streets where Charles Dickens had taken his brisk, long, restless walks, and try to see the city through the eyes of the generations of Indians who had visited and sometimes settled in it, from unknown, unnamed convicts and labourers to famous writers such as Dean Mahomet, Toru Dutt, and, closer to our time, Salman Rushdie?