Oprahmania hits Jaipur as festival tries to turn the page

 

Jaipur

Oprah Winfrey brought her consummate professionalism and folksy charm to India's biggest literary festival yesterday and earned huge applause for comments ranging from the insightful to the slightly bizarre.

At one point, she declared: "My life is a Taj Mahal."

Ms Winfrey, dressed in Indian clothes and telling the audience how much she loved the country, was always likely to be a winner.

The 57-year-old television star did not disappoint, saying of her first visit to India: "It has been one of the greatest life experiences I have ever had."

Her appearance was a welcome respite for the organisers of the Jaipur literary festival, still reeling from the controversy surrounding the decision of Booker prize winner Salman Rushdie to pull out of the event after organisers were warned by police that a team of assassins had been hired to kill him.

Clerics at the influential Deoband seminary had previously demanded he be refused entry to India, reigniting the decades-old row over his book, The Satanic Verses.

If Ms Winfrey was under any threat it was the risk of overdosing on applause that bordered on hysteria.

The star, who had visited Mumbai, Agra and Vrindavan before heading to the festival in the state of Rajasthan, did have some good lines. She mentioned the madness of India's roads and the reluctance of drivers to stop at red lights. Ms Winfrey also talked about the paradox of the importance India attaches to the family and the way widows she met in Vrindavan were treated – effectively exiled by society after the deaths of their husbands.

"Just because your husbands have died, you cannot become second-class citizens," she said.

One of the last questions referred to her visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, built in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife.

Would she want such a place built for her? Ms Winfrey said her life was its own memorial.

Then it was over. There were more cheers and hugs and Ms Winfrey was whisked away by a side entrance.

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