I have just spent the last week or so in India, having been invited to speak at the Kumaon Literary Festival in Nainital, to talk about life there during the colonial period. This is obviously my ‘Mastermind subject’, my protagonist (Phyllis, my grandmother) in Dance with Fireflies having run a restaurant in the hill station in the 1920’s. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life … one I shall cherish forever.
Eight hour Night flight to Delhi. Very little sleep but too excited to care! It’s the first time I have arrived at an airport with someone to greet with me with my name on a board. Got driven off to Claridges …an utterly beautiful heritage hotel.
Spent an amazing afternoon in Delhi (Red Fort, Chandi Chowk and Connaught Place).
Up at 5am to catch a train to Kathgodam (the nearest train station to Nainital). Amazing A/C carriage. Watched all the fantastic scenery speed by as tea and food was served all the way up into the foothills of the Himalayas.
Taxis were arranged for us for the last one hour leg of our journey to Nainital, the summer home of my ancestors. This is my second visit to this beautiful Hill Station, the last being 18 years ago. I felt very emotional as we drove along The Mall, past Barnes’ location (the restaurant Phyllis ran), The Boat House Club and lake.
We arrived at The Shervani Hill Top Hotel, greeted by abundant flowerbeds and overflowing terracotta pots of colour. Another beautiful hotel in an amazing location. We spent a few hours getting to know some of my fellow speakers. Such a lovely bunch of people including: writers, poets, bloggers, journalists and authors.
This was our only opportunity to go into the town and explore a little. We headed straight for the Boat House Club. This building means a lot to me and my family. My grandmother (Phyllis) and grandfather (Arthur) used to be members here. We have a picture of them attending a fancy dress party here.
We walked further on down The Mall to find the location of the all important restaurant, to compare the Dance with Fireflies book cover image in the 1920’s to now.
We walked back up to Mallital, so many amazing colonial buildings, but in desperate need of renovation.
The festival begins! I could relax on the first day as I wasn’t speaking until the second day…this gave me a chance to meet up with everyone and see how the ground lay! The location was superb, a colonial lodge homestay owned by the Prasada family.
Met loads more amazing people, including Sumant Batra, the founder of the festival….a wonderful man…..who has done the most splendid job in making this festival a truly memorable event.
One of the thoughts going through my mind at this point was…that will be me on the stage tomorrow!!!
After a long and informative day we spent the evening at The Boat House Club!!!! So excited to be allowed in as it is members only…and they are pretty strict!
We had a tasty buffet and met more amazing people…..James Champion (author and conservationist) and Rosemary Fox (conservationist from Canada)….remarkable people… James is the king of funny anecdotes, including one about a Japanese Yukata, a ladies only bathroom and snowdrifts!!! Still laughing now 🙂
My turn today! Woke up feeling a little nervous but put some loud and Adrenalin inducing music in my ears on the walk to Abbotsford, to gear myself up for my 10am session. Met the lovely Rudy Singh who chaired the panel…another lovely man from Nainital. Then that was it, I was called on stage and introduced. It was brilliant. I loved every second of it…rather surprised myself!
Lots of people wanted to chat afterwards about my family’s story and Dance with Fireflies… it was tremendously exciting.
After a lovely afternoon we were taken to Gurney house (Jim Corbett’s old home) in Jim’s Jungle Jeeps to meet Nilanjana Dalmia who now owns it. We had a lovely few hours there listening to a reading by James Champion.
Finally we drove back to Abbotsford for a closing ceremony with some incredible musicians, before saying fond farewells to so many amazing people and new friends. We were off to Rishikesh the following morning for a good old chill out!