Photo above: Jaipur literature festival director William Dalrymple and some of the animals with whom he shares a home in Delhi. New Delhi, India ©Tom Pietrasik 2009

Jaipur’s fifth annual literature festival gets underway today. According to festival director and author William Dalrymple, writing in last Sunday’s Observer newspaper, the gathering is distinctive for it’s egalitarian spirit. Still in it’s infancy, but already attracting a long list of literary luminaries, Jaipur has apparently so far avoided the need for VIP enclosures and green rooms. Dalrymple proudly recalls the assimilation of Bollywood celebrities into the genial mood of previous gatherings at Jaipur. Having attended a few of book launches myself, I fully appreciate that maintaining this atmosphere of innocent bonhomie will be a difficult task.

It was ten minutes into the launch of the biography “Two Lives” by Vikram Seth at a hotel in Mumbai a couple of years ago that I noticed Bollywood star Aamir Khan taking his seat in the audience. If Khan thought that his late arrival would go unoticed, he was sadly mistaken. As soon as the press photographers attending the launch caught a whiff of the actor, they immediately dispensed with Seth and converged on Khan. The photographers’ tactless display of celebrity-worship completely undermined Seth’s introduction as his soft-spoken words were lost behind a blur of flash lights and the fuss surrounding Khan.

The potential for such commotion is unlikely to distract William Dalrymple from the infectious enthusiasm with which he champions the Jaipur literature festival. When I took this portrait of him just before Christmas, Dalrymple was already wearing his director’s hat and eagerly anticipating the literary excitement.