'India has more people than I've seen in my life'
At a quarter-past eleven on Sunday morning, American chat show queen Oprah Winfrey strode onto stage to thunderous applause. Dressed in an olive green and pink kurta with a pink dupatta over olive tights, her hands folded in a Namaste, she walked across to hug TV journalist Barkha Dutt before settling into a chair to the left of the stage.
Charming the crowds: Oprah Winfrey gestures while in conversation
with Barkha Dutt. The TV chat show queen received a rock star's welcome
when she spoke to a heaving audience of thousands of fans at the Jaipur
The hundreds who had managed to squeeze into the Front Lawns of the Diggi Palace on the third day of The DSP Jaipur Literature Festival were the lucky few. Those less fortunate waited outside in lines that snaked well beyond the palace entrance. In Dutt's words, they were all there to see "easily the most loved and respected person on TV."
After Dutt's introduction that compelled Winfrey to quip, "You just did that without a prompter!" the 57-year-old was asked, "What struck you about India?" Winfrey replied that her first impression of India was that it was "chaotic" and that it had "more people than I have ever seen in my life", but that there was still an underlying sense of calm.
Winfrey, who is in the midst of filming a documentary in the country, went on to talk about taking back a sense of karma and family tradition from India. She also declared that she would never be able to drive here, given the lack of adherence to traffic rules. "What is it with the red lights! Does the red light mean stop or not? Is it for your entertainment?" she enquired of the amused audience.
Dutt encouraged Winfrey to talk about some of the issues she has continued to highlight during her 25-year chat show history, including sexual abuse, self-actualisation, her Leadership Academy in Africa and women's rights. "I have spoken for years of the marginalisation of women; for women to own their own voices; that you get to decide for yourself what you get to do," she said to resounding applause.
An Oprah fan listens to her conversation. Pics/AFP
Winfrey spoke about growing up in rural Mississippi, being brought up by her grandmother who, she said, was influential in shaping her spiritual beliefs. "My grandmother taught me to be religious. Her greatest dream was that I would be a maid and that I worked for a family that was not disrespectful."
The Book Club
Often credited with getting America to read again, courtesy her Book Club, Winfrey confessed that she initially had her reservations about the idea, and had said to her producer, "You can't do books on TV. People don't read books."
She also agreed with Dutt about social media diminishing attention spans, going on to talk about her 'No-Phone Zone' campaign that requires one to pledge not to text while driving. "Have you signed the pledge," she asked the audience, adding, "Texting while driving is stupid, In India, it's insane."
Asked if she would return to the country, Winfrey replied, "Yes!"
While most of the 30 plus events were packed to capacity, some of the big-draw events included 'The Return of the Rishi', which featured spiritual guru Deepak Chopra in conversation with TV journalist Amrita Tripathi, 'Survival Strategies in the Time of the Twitterati' in conversation with journalist Shoma Chaudhury and featuring actor and writer Suhel Seth, author Chetan Bhagat and politician Shashi Tharoor, and the launch of actor Anupam Kher's book, The Best Thing About You is � YOU! The day's events were followed by two music performances. The first featured the Grammy award-winning artiste Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Satvik Bhatt, followed by Ethiopian music by Dub Colossus.