Tag Archive for 'Salman Rushdie'

Why Salman Rushdie could not set foot in Calcutta

In The Telegraph:

The state machinery swung into action to prevent Salman Rushdie from setting foot in Calcutta today and launched an equally spirited effort to conceal its footprints, accounts from multiple sources and events through the day suggest.

 Hours after it was confirmed that Rushdie would not reach the city, one of the senior-most government officials made a statement at Writers’ Buildings on one condition: his name cannot be revealed.

 The official declared: “The state had no information about Salman Rushdie’s visit. But a rumour spread last evening that the author was supposed to come to the city for a series of programmes. The city police were asked to enquire about this. The Mumbai police confirmed to the city police that Rushdie was not supposed to visit Calcutta today (Wednesday). The city police informed the state home secretary last night.” More:

Salman Rushdie and John le Carré end fatwa face-off

Alison Flood in The Guardian:

Fifteen years after Salman Rushdie called John le Carré a “pompous ass” and Le Carré responded with an accusation of “self-canonisation”, one of the most gloriously vituperative literary feuds of recent times has come to an end.

Last month, Rushdie told an audience at the Cheltenham literature festival that he “really” admired Le Carré as a writer. “I wish we hadn’t done it,” he said of the 15-year-old feud which played out in the letters pages of the Guardian in 1997. “I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britain.”

Now Le Carré has also extended an olive branch. “I too regret the dispute,” he told the Times. The fight had its roots in Le Carré’s criticism of The Satanic Verses: “My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity,” said Le Carré. When Le Carré was later accused of antisemitism, Rushdie wrote to the Guardian expressing his lack of sympathy. Le Carré responded, saying Rushdie’s “way with the truth is as self-serving as ever”; Rushdie called Le Carré a “pompous ass”; and then Christopher Hitchens waded in, taking Rushdie’s side and saying: “John le Carré’s conduct in your pages is like nothing so much as that of a man who, having relieved himself in his own hat, makes haste to clamp the brimming chapeau on his head.” More:

A dangerous precedent

Why a ban on the entry of women to the so-far inclusive Haji Ali mosque and dargah in Mumbai should concern every Indian. Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times.

In all the years that I lived in Mumbai, I must have passed by the mosque on the sea over a hundred times. For me, Haji Ali is imprinted in my imagination as an indelible part of the syncretic, inclusive culture of a city I love. But I never actually went inside. So why does the news of a ban on the entry of women into the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah dismay me? How does it concern me? There are dargahs where women traditionally do not enter the actual mazaar (grave) of the saint. In Delhi’s Nizamuddin, women can pray at the shrine, but cannot enter it. The entry of women is also curtailed at the shrine of Qutubuddin Bakhteyaar Kaaki, the patron saint of Delhi, points out film-maker Sohail Hashmi. But the shrine of Pir Haji Ali Bukhari built in 1431 has traditionally allowed men and women equal access. It is only over the past year that someone put up a steel barricade that now prevents women from entering the actual shrine. more

Midnight’s Children the movie: “the story of modern India movingly told”

Amit Roy reviews the movie in The Telegraph:

In the West, there have been a few reviews that are a trifle lukewarm but they are to be ignored for far too often reviewers have allowed their personal hostility to Rushdie, the person, to colour their assessment of the film.

 Also, the film is almost a private dialogue between Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie, the director and screenplay writer, respectively, and Indians across the world.

 When Mumtaz (who is to be Saleem Sinai’s mother) is falling in love with Nadir Khan, she tells him the food she has prepared for him is getting cold.

 “Eat, nah?” Mumtaz urges Nadir, who is to be her first husband.

 Foreigners may be puzzled by this exchange but Indians will understand the emotion conveyed in Mumtaz’s words.

 There is an amusing exchange between Dr Aadam Aziz and his wife, Naseem Ghani, on their wedding night. She had been his patient, first spotted through the perforated sheet (he was done for after he had a good feel of her breast).

 On their marital bed, he would like his bride to be, well, a bit more responsive.

When he encourages Naseem to “move, like a woman”, she retorts angrily that he must have met foreign women with dubious ways when he was abroad training to be a doctor: “Listen Dr Saab, husband or no husband, I’m not the moving type….” More:

Salman Rushdie meets Super Mario

Nina Martyris at The Millions:

In his newly released memoir Joseph Anton, which is narrated in the third person, Rushdie briefly describes how he went through a phase when he found himself immersed in Super Mario Bros, the popular Nintendo game that his son Zafar taught him to play.

Those were dark days for the 41-year-old writer. Every morning brought fresh reports of either The Satanic Verses being burnt or him being burnt in effigy. Then came the chilling news that the police had foiled a group of assassins dispatched from overseas to execute the fatwa. If it sounded straight out of a bigoted video game, well, it wasn’t – or not yet, at least. But more on that later.

Given Rushdie’s lonely and claustrophobic circumstances in what his late friend Christopher Hitchens called “the time of the toad,” it was scarcely surprising that the fantasy-loving novelist whose favorite childhood stories were The Wizard of Oz and The Arabian Nights should occasionally transform himself into Mario the mustachioed plumber and run away to Mushroom Kingdom. The magic console was the next best thing to a magic carpet or magic lamp, and it quickly became the “Genie-come-lately” in his fantasy arsenal. It helped that in this digital world of magical mushrooms and fire flowers, he was hunter rather than hunted. A vital role reversal, even if his wife didn’t think so. More:

On the state of Indian fiction in America

Keith Meatto in The Millions [via 3quarksdaily]:

In the fifth episode of the hit sitcom New Girl, a self-styled stud tries to impress an Indian-American woman by declaring that he loves India. When pressed for details, he stumbles his way through the following catalogue:

I love Slumdog. I love naan. I love pepper. I love Ben Kingsley, the stories of Rudyard Kipling. I have respect for cows, of course. I love the Taj Mahal, Deepak Chopra, anyone named Patel. I love monsoons. I love cobras in baskets…I love mango chutney, really, any type of chutney.

The point is clear: the average American’s knowledge of Indian culture is superficial, stereotypical, and offensive. Nevertheless, the mere existence of the joke — and an Indian-American woman in a leading role on primetime TV — confirms how much Indian culture has permeated American pop culture. This should not be surprising: With a population that increased to 2.8 million from 1.7 million between 2000 and 2010, Indians are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in America. They may also be one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in literary fiction — in America and the larger Anglophone world.

Fiction written in English by authors of Indian descent has been critically acclaimed and commercially successful for decades. Now a new wave of talent has arrived: In 2012, the Indian-American writers Rajesh Parameswaran and Tania James published their debut short story collections — I Am An Executioner: Love Stories and Aerogrammes, respectively — while British-Indian author Hari Kunzru published his fourth novel, Gods Without Men: While it may be too soon for these authors to have achieved the heavyweight status of a Salman Rushdie or Jhumpa Lahiri, their imaginative, provocative, and well-crafted books suggest the continuation of a literary legacy and a move into “post-post-colonial,” “post-ethnic” territory. More:

Zafar Rushdie: how my dad’s fatwah made me who I am

‘I have a sense of pride in my father,’ Salman Rushdie‘s son Zafar tells Sebastian Shakespeare, in London Evening Standard:

Zafar Rushdie seems remarkably relaxed for a man whose father finds himself once again in the eye of the Muslim fundamentalist storm.

 Just days after an Iranian foundation raised the bounty on Salman Rushdie’s head to £2 million, we meet in a pub around the corner from his office in Langham Street. “It’s one guy shouting with a megaphone,” says Rushdie sipping a Diet Coke. “It’s not the government saying: ‘We are raising the bounty’. It’s a foundation.

Quite frankly, almost every Valentine’s Day of my life, which is the anniversary of the fatwah, somebody cries out, saying: ‘We’re increasing the bounty’. It doesn’t change my life. There are a lot of things that have been said about my father over the past 20 years and you know I’ve dealt with it. I’ve become immunised.”

Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton is dedicated to his sons Zafar, 33, and Milan, 15, and their respective mothers Clarissa Luard and Elizabeth West. The warmth and compassion the novelist has for his children shines through the book. At one point he calls Zafar an “astonishing boy”.

What is astonishing is that Zafar, who could have so easily fallen off the rails or become a paranoid recluse, is so relaxed and easy-going, with a self-deprecating sense of humour. “Lethally, disgustingly, charming,” as his father once said. “He has it like a weapon.” More:

The Departed: By Salman Rushdie

In Ihe New Yorker:


Afterward, when the world was exploding around him, he felt annoyed with himself for having forgotten the name of the BBC reporter who told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She called him at home, on his private line, without explaining how she got the number. “How does it feel,” she asked him, “to know that you have just been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini?” It was a sunny Tuesday in London, but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: “It doesn’t feel good.” This is what he thought: I’m a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left, and guessed that the answer was probably a single-digit number. He hung up the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom, at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living-room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.

It was Valentine’s Day, but he hadn’t been getting along with his wife, the American novelist Marianne Wiggins. Five days earlier, she had told him that she was unhappy in the marriage, that she “didn’t feel good around him anymore.” Although they had been married for only a year, he, too, already knew that it had been a mistake. Now she was staring at him as he moved nervously around the house, drawing curtains, checking window bolts, his body galvanized by the news, as if an electric current were passing through it, and he had to explain to her what was happening. She reacted well and began to discuss what they should do. She used the word “we.” That was courageous.

A car arrived at the house, sent by CBS Television. He had an appointment at the American network’s studios, in Bowater House, Knightsbridge, to appear live, by satellite link, on its morning show. “I should go,” he said. “It’s live television. I can’t just not show up.” More:

Salman Rushdie gets back to his day job

Rick Groen in The Globe and Mail:

“Fuck ’em. To hell with them. Actually, my life has been pretty much your average writer’s life for over a decade now. But I remember Martin Amis had this phrase back when it happened; he said that I had ‘vanished onto the front page.’ So I feel happy to have re-emerged onto the book pages and now the film pages.”

Yes, the voice is Rushdie’s. He has arrived – light grey suit, unbuttoned dress shirt, black boots, thinning hair, stumpy hands, a garrulous imp – to break, no shatter, the strange office silence. Some writers, certainly not all, are born talkers and, for over two hours, his conversation flows in tributaries, surging forth into passionate pronouncements, branching off into witty anecdotes, generous in its depth and ease. I can’t speak to his reputation as a party animal, or to that parade of four ex-wives on the domestic scene, yet this much is evident: The public Salman Rushdie is a gracious, charming and, apparently, unscarred fellow.

The river of talk opens with two “splashes,” a pair of his creative efforts come to fruition almost simultaneously. The first, set to unspool as a gala at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 9, is the adaptation of Midnight’s Children, his most critically lauded novel, directed by Deepa Mehta and written for the screen by Rushdie himself. The second, slated for release a mere 9 days later, is Joseph Anton, his memoir of the fatwa period. The title refers to the pseudonym he employed then (think Conrad and Chekhov), and the contents, sight unseen, promise to be a publishing sensation. Indeed, the sight had damned well better stay unseen – the book is being treated like a state secret.

“I’ll get killed if I talk about it now. Commandos will come through the door.” Big hearty laugh. No doubt, in the memoir, words like “kill” and “commando” will be loaded. Here, they’re happily playful again, returned to their healthy place in the land of self-effacing humour. More:


A Tall Story – How Salman Rushdie Pickled All India (1 of 3)

via 3quarksdaily

Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight’s Children, winner of the Booker Prize 1981, talks about India and the autobiographical elements in the book.

Part two here and three here

Salman Rushdie’s PEN speech

In New Yorker, Salman Rushdie on censorship and creative freedom.

No writer ever really wants to talk about censorship. Writers want to talk about creation, and censorship is anti-creation, negative energy, uncreation, the bringing into being of non-being, or, to use Tom Stoppard’s description of death, “the absence of presence.” Censorship is the thing that stops you doing what you want to do, and what writers want to talk about is what they do, not what stops them doing it. And writers want to talk about how much they get paid, and they want to gossip about other writers and how much they get paid, and they want to complain about critics and publishers, and gripe about politicians, and they want to talk about what they love, the writers they love, the stories and even sentences that have meant something to them, and, finally, they want to talk about their own ideas and their own stories. Their things. The British humorist Paul Jennings, in his brilliant essay on Resistentialism, a spoof of Existentialism, proposed that the world was divided into two categories, “Thing” and “No-Thing,” and suggested that between these two is waged a never-ending war. If writing is Thing, then censorship is No-Thing, and, as King Lear told Cordelia, “Nothing will came of nothing,” or, as Mr. Jennings would have revised Shakespeare, “No-Thing will come of No-Thing. Think again.” more

Salman Rushdie: From exile to everywhere

Once forced into hiding by death threats, Salman Rushdie is now an indefatigable presence on the New York social scene. Laura M. Holson in NYT:

AT 8 p.m. on a rainy Tuesday last month, Salman Rushdie strode into Junoon, a Flatiron district restaurant where 90 people awaited his arrival, some sipping chamomile-infused vodka cocktails. Mr. Rushdie, the Indian-born British author, was the guest of honor at a dinner sponsored by Dom Pérignon and Booktrack, the maker of an app that synchronizes music to e-books.

It was the second party that night for Mr. Rushdie, 64, who earlier in the evening could be found chatting with Diane Von Furstenberg at a downtown show for the artist Ouattara Watts, hosted by Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, one of his gallerists.

At Junoon, after plates of baby eggplant and lamb were scraped clean, Mr. Rushdie grabbed an iPad and read aloud his short story “In the South,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 2009 and which Booktrack had scored to original music played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. After he finished, Mr. Rushdie approached a long-legged, slim brunet woman sitting at the end of a long table. “How did I do?” Mr. Rushdie asked. She cooed over the recitation, and he thanked her for coming. As he walked away, she turned to a fellow partygoer. “It’s nice to see him out, isn’t it?” she said.

Perhaps a more apt question would be: where haven’t New Yorkers seen Mr. Rushdie lately? More:

Swing away from sanity

In The Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan on what’s wrong with illiberal arguments

I knew about Imran Khan in a second-hand way well before I’d heard of Salman Rushdie. India didn’t play Pakistan at Test cricket till 1978, so Indian cricket fans didn’t know that much about Pakistani cricketers through the Seventies, but we knew about Imran, mainly because of a three Test series in Australia in 1976-77 where Imran’s bowling made sure that honours were even at the end of it. This was a real achievement, given that the Australians had wiped the West Indies out, 5-1 in a six Test rubber not long before. Then Bishen Singh Bedi’s team toured Pakistan in 1978 and Indians got to see Imran in awesome action, in live, black-and-white telecasts. We lost 2-0 and Imran’s fast in-swingers had a great deal to do with that defeat. I remember thinking at the time that it was the first time I had seen a genuinely quick south Asian bowler in action.

Salman Rushdie became part of the collective consciousness of anglophone Indians in early 1981 when his second novel, Midnight’s Children, was published. For many desireaders of my generation, Midnight’s Children was proof that it was possible for a post-colonial Indian writer to write ambitious fiction in English. There had been many worthwhile novels written in English by Indians after 1947 but none that had used the language in this unafraid, proprietorial way. I was a graduate student in Cambridge at the time the book was published and I watched Rushdie collect the Booker Prize on television (it was the first year that the BBC did a live telecast of the event). There were similarities with my first sighting of Imran: I watched the telecast in black-and-white because a black-and-white TV set was all my friends could afford; also, it felt like a sporting contest. According to the bookies, the two main contenders for the prize were Rushdie and D.M. Thomas (for The White Hotel). Everyone in that room was a desirooting for Rushdie; our team won. more

A puny politician and man of faith

In Economic Times, Nadeem F Paracha on the politics (or lack of it) of Imran Khan, ‘a good man gone wrong in his politics and moralistic dispositions’.

Recently, Pakistani cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan boycotted an annual event in India in which controversial author Salman Rushdie was also invited to attend. As a Pakistani and a Muslim I can entirely understand Khan’s stand in this respect, both as a matter of principle as well as a political move.

Rushdie, an accomplished author, faced the wrath of Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini after the publication of his satirical novel, Satanic Verses, in late 1988. There was a lot more to Khomeini’s contentious ‘fatwa’ than the simple case of a sensitive Muslim going haywire about a perceived insult to his and his community’s religious sentiments by an agonistic.  more

Imran Khan cancels India trip over Rushdie

From The News, Pakistan:

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan on Wednesday abruptly cancelled a visit to India after it emerged British author Salman Rushdie would speak at the same conference.

Khan was scheduled to attend the India Today Conclave in New Delhi on Friday as a keynote speaker but pulled out, in a move likely to raise further fears among liberals about his brand of politics.

A statement from his party said “he could not even think of participating in any programme that included Salman Rushdie, who has caused immeasurable hurt to Muslims across the globe”. More:


Salman Rushdie and me: By Amitava Kumar

In the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival were asked to hand over to the police the videotape of a reading from a novel last month. The tape will show the writer Hari Kunzru and me reading from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, a book banned in India since its publication in 1988. We were protesting Rushdie’s absence from the festival. He had been forced to withdraw after extremist Muslim groups expressed displeasure, and, more urgently, when intelligence reports revealed that hired assassins from Mumbai were on their way to kill the writer. (Those reports were later revealed to be fiction. Cops as magical realists.)

On the tape, the police will have seen that, during our reading, I told the audience that just before the start of the protests in Tahrir Square last year, the Google executive-turned-cyber-activist Wael Ghonim had entered Egypt with a message ready on his computer. It said, “I am now being arrested at Cairo airport.” All he needed to do was press Send.

I joked that perhaps Hari ought to do something similar. Within minutes of my saying this, the festival’s producer arrived and asked me to stop reading. I didn’t. When the reading was over and we came out, a bank of television cameras was trained on us. A Hindi reporter asked me, “Aren’t you guilty of provoking religious violence?” And then, a little later, the police were there, informing us that we had broken the law.

I was staggered at the speed at which all of this happened. We were told that the tweets we had sent immediately before the reading, announcing our plans to read from the banned novel, had gone viral. Here was proof that we were living in the age of social media, and that, as in Egypt or Tunisia, public protest was being conveyed through Twitter. More:

The fatwa against reading

Nilanjana S Roy in Business Standard:

Among the many things forgotten about the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini on Valentine’s Day 1989 is that it did not stop at naming Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. The author was condemned to death “along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents”.

In retrospect, this was a fascinating inclusion. There was the minor matter that by including Rushdie’s editors and publishers, the Ayatollah had effectively declared war against the publishing industry in general — the typesetters who laid the book out, the printers and proofreaders, all the innocent foot soldiers caught in a battle that they had not chosen. He had also declared war against those not of the faith — if mere awareness of the contents of the Verses was a crime, then arguing that one was not of the same religion and blasphemy or apostasy did not apply was no longer a defence.

More crucially, the Ayatollah’s argument was both a curiously modern and a vengefully medieval one. His recognition that awareness itself of the contents of a controversial work was a crime was both an acknowledgement that knowledge is dangerous, and stands as an indictment of readers along with writers. More:

Amitav Ghosh on festivals and freedom

Amitav Ghosh on his blog:

I have never attended the Jaipur Literary Festival; nor does a visit loom in the foreseeable future. This is largely (but not wholly) because I have no taste for tamashas. Although unusual, this aversion is by no means unknown in the Indian subcontinent. I know of many writers and readers who share it, and I suspect that most of us were drawn to the world of books precisely because it provided an island of quiet within the din of tamasha-stan.

My own inclinations make it difficult for me to understand why Salman Rushdie is so drawn to this festival. But each to their own and I recognize that I am in a tiny minority. The great majority of writers seem to want to go and anyone who does should certainly be able to. It is appalling that Rushie was prevented from attending and I am wholly in agreement with those who believe that this bodes very ill indeed for the future of free expression in India.

But the controversy also raises questions about another issue that touches directly upon writing: this is the way in which literature is coming to be embedded within a wider culture of public spectacles and performances. This process, which got under way almost imperceptibly, has now achieved a momentum where it seems to be overtaking, and indeed overwhelming, writing itself as the primary end of a life in letters. More:

Myth and fiction at the Jaipur Literature Festival

William Dalrymple at India Ink / NYT:

Over the last week I have watched with dismay a similar process of mythologization take place in the Indian and international press over the succession of events which tragically led to Salman cancelling his visit to Jaipur and the decision to abandon our back-up plan: showing a video link with Salman from a London television studio (we did go ahead with the broadcast, just couldn’t show it live at the festival venue.)

While those journalists who actually attended the festival were able to write with accuracy about what happened, the further away journalists and columnists were from the event, the more distorted became their reports. Increasingly we have seen ourselves, and the festival we run, caricatured beyond all recognition.

The first myth I have watched developing after Salman cancelled his visit was that there was never any threat to his life. This is nonsense.

While we at the festival have no way finally to determine if the intelligence agencies really did exaggerate the threat perception to Salman—and that is certainly possible — what we do know is that there was a very real threat of violence at the venue if he did come. In a meeting held in Jaipur with representatives of 19 Muslim organizations on the 19th of January, the day before our opening, while the great majority of the groups were happy to pursue peaceful protests, we organizers were confronted by a few thugs who were hell bent on creating serious trouble and threatened large scale violence and personal harm to Salman and us. More:

Salman Rushdie to NDTV: I’m returning to India, deal with it

After even his video address to the Jaipur Literary Festival was cancelled, writer Salman Rushdie, in an exclusive interview to NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, says he is coming to India and the politicians will just have to learn to deal with it.

Full interview here

The emptiness of literary protest

Shiv Visvanathan in The Asian Age:

Protest has a code, a system of norms. It demands conviction and courage. It demands clarity of messages. This protest did not follow a satayagrahic code. It was not an act of civil disobedience, which refuses to obey an unfair law and stands its ground, by challenging the law, confronting it and accepting the punishment. The protest would have meant something.

A Thoreau or a Gandhi or Solzhenitsyn would have gone to jail. If Kunzru and Amitav Kumar had done that, they would have won respect. Now they sound merely like attention-grabbing diasporics. Worse, they reinforce stereotypes between an English-speaking elite and the regional culture. Literature has to break stereotypes, not reinforce them.

There was something adolescent about the act; something weak-kneed about the way they left town hinting that the organisers had suggested it. Courage cannot be a mere capsule or byte on TV. What could have been an act of eloquence in defending free speech, a critique of fundamentalism, a challenge to the state turned out to be empty liberal rhetoric, mere sentiment without political substance. Instead of heroism, what we had was empty heroics.

Contrast the behaviour of a Kunzru or a Kumar with a Teesta Setalvad, an Aruna Roy or a Medha Patkar. More:

India’s political blasphemy

Dan Morrison in IHT:

According to the Sachar Committee’s 2006 report, in Rajasthan state, of which Jaipur is the capital, 41 percent of urban Muslims live below the poverty line, compared with 27 percent of Hindus. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Darul Uloom is located, 44 percent of urban Muslims live in poverty, compared with 24 percent of Hindus.

Also from the report: 25 percent of Muslim children aged 6 to 14 had never attended school or had dropped out. Muslim-majority villages are less likely to be served by government schools, paved roads and bus stops. Muslims hold a tiny proportion of civil service jobs that are an important route to the middle class here.

More recently, a November 2011 report by Gallup found that 32 percent of India’s Muslims consider themselves to be “suffering,” compared with 23 percent of Hindus, who make up India’s majority. More:

Hari Kunzru: Why I read from The Satanic Verses

On Friday, over lunch, I heard the news that Salman Rushdie would not be attending the Jaipur Literature Festival. His visit had been in doubt for some time. Initially, we had been scheduled to have a conversation on stage that afternoon, but since Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, the head of the Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband, had called for him to be prevented from entering India, the festival organizers had been fighting a storm of manufactured controversy, not unconnected with the upcoming Uttar Pradesh state elections. Salman has been visiting India without incident for many years, and spoke at the JLF in 2007. Clearly, the sudden eruption of righteous indignation at his presence was not spontaneous. The manipulation of religious sentiment for political ends has a long history in India, and this was merely a particularly cynical example of a traditional election-time activity.

Initially, the directors of the JLF asked Salman to delay his arrival, while they worked with the authorities to provide security, and attempted to defuse a planned protest. Our Friday event was moved to Tuesday morning, and his name was removed from the festival program. Then came the news, apparently originating in police intelligence reports seen by the festival team, that three assassins had been despatched from Bombay with orders to murder him. Now there appears to be doubt about the veracity of these reports – Mumbai police deny that they communicated any such intelligence, and the Hindu newspaper has reported that the story of the assassins was concocted by the Rajasthani police. Whatever the truth of this, it was enough to prevent Salman from travelling to India. More:


Police invented plot to keep Rushdie away from Jaipur LitFest

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Local intelligence officials in Rajasthan invented information that hit men were preparing to assassinate eminent author Salman Rushdie in a successful plot to deter him from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, highly placed police sources have told The Hindu.

Sources in the festival administration told The Hindu that Rajasthan Police intelligence officials had claimed that the threat to Mr. Rushdie came from two underworld hit men who they identified as “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” The intelligence officials also said an Islamist terrorist, Saqib Hamid Nachan, was suspected of financing the plot to assassinate Mr. Rushdie.

“I received a call from one of Mr. Rushdie’s friends on Friday, asking about these names,” said a senior officer of the Mumbai Police, who deals with organised crime. “I thanked him for giving me something to laugh about.”

The officer said the Mumbai Police’s dossiers on organised crime figures had no reference to individuals who might be using “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” “We’ve had a Salim Langda [‘the lame'], a Salim Kutta [‘the dog'], a Salim Tempo [‘truck'] and a Javed Fawda [‘the spade'] — but no ‘Kongo.’ Lots of Batlis [‘bottles'], but no Kongos.” More:

Rushdie Tweet: “Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie’ I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.”

Four writers who read from The Satanic Verses leave Jaipur to avoid arrest

In The Hindu:

The four writers who read extracts from Salman Rushdie’s banned novel The Satanic Verses — Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil have all left the Rajasthan capital on the advice of a lawyer, William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Jaipur Literature Festival told The Hindu here. They would otherwise have risked arrest in the State.

A source close to the festival said the police had gone to Hari Kunzru’s room to question him. But that information could not be independently verified, especially since Mr. Kunzru had already hurriedly left town.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that even reading from a banned book is against the law. This is part of a piece of absurd and draconian legislation going back to 1867 or thereabouts. I am convinced that the writers who did the readings were not aware that this is a punishable offence and could carry a fairly long prison sentence. You can discuss a book, read from other writings by the author, have conversations with him, invite him, but you cannot either possess a copy or publicly read from a book that is banned. That is a punishable offence,” Mr. Dalrymple said. More:


On Rushdie visit and free speech

For a moment of statesmanship

Manu Joseph in Open:

The Indian government, on the other hand, is a direct beneficiary of not only electoral politics but of the powerful values on which this country was built. If the Indian government enjoys far greater dignity than the Pakistani government, if the Indian Army general has to plead his case with the government or fight in the Supreme Court against it for a one-year extension of his term while, historically, the situation has been the reverse in Pakistan, it is because of the philosophical foundation of modern India. But the government has often chosen the cowardice of practicality over the courage of morality. And it has, once again, failed to stand up against religious thugs because it is afraid that it will lose Muslim voters in UP and elsewhere, who are crying hoarse anyway saying that they are not so stupid. It is atrocious that a representative of such a government will allow himself to be a guest speaker at the Jaipur Literature Festival when his government has not guaranteed the security of Salman Rushdie. More:

It’s a two-way street

Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times:

Three parables from modern India. A man writes a book that offends some people enough to ban it and, for good measure, demand his head. Salman Rushdie goes underground, in time the fatwa is forgotten, he emerges from hiding and continues writing and travelling.

Then, a curious thing happens. He is invited, again, to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival. His name appears on the programme, again. Out pops seminary Darul Uloom Deoband demanding his visa be revoked (in fact, as Rushdie tweets, he does not require a visa). It is no coincidence that a state election where Muslims are a sizeable presence, is around the corner. It does not matter that most have not read the still-banned Satanic Verses. Yet, a Congress spokesman replies cautiously that the government is ‘considering’ the request; others hint at law and order problems and Rushdie cancels his visit. More

Salman Rushdie and India’s new theocracy

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Salman Rushdie’s censoring-out from the ongoing literary festival in Jaipur will be remembered as a milestone that marked the slow motion disintegration of India’s secular state. Islamist clerics first pressured the state to stop Mr. Rushdie from entering India; on realising he could not stop, he was scared off with a dubious assassination threat. Fear is an effective censor: the writers Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, who sought to read out passages from The Satanic Verses as a gesture of solidarity, were stopped from doing so by the festival’s organisers. More:

Vikas Bajaj in NYT:

Mr. Rushdie’s cancellation is the latest in a series of blows to free speech in India that have included a court challenge to Google and Facebook for what a petitioner claimed was content that is offensive to various religious groups, and a proposal by a senior Indian minister to prescreen content posted on social networking sites.

The Indian Constitution offers its citizens only a qualified right to free speech and allows the government to restrict speech if it deems it offensive or unacceptable to community sentiments. Moreover, the national government has often done little to protect artists, authors and others who have been singled out for violent protests by religious, ethnic and other groups. Maqbool Fida Husain, one of modern India’s greatest painters, died last year in London after living in self-imposed exile for the last several years because the government could not guarantee his safety from right-wing Hindu groups that criticized his paintings of Hindu goddesses. More:

At Jaipur LitFest, writers read excerpts from The Satanic Verses in support of Rushdie

Salman Rushdie persuaded to stay away from Jaipur Lit Fest

From The Times of India:

A major flashpoint ahead of the Jaipur Literary Festival has been avoided with a jittery Rajasthan government on Monday persuading organizers to ask Salman Rushdie, the main draw at the book-lovers’ jamboree, to call off his visit.

Rajasthan chief secretary Salauddin Ahmed is learnt to have called the organizers to discuss Rushdie’s presence that, sources in the state government said, would have created a huge security risk, given the threat of protests by Muslim groups.

“Rushdie’s trip has been cancelled. We have been informed,” said a senior Rajasthan police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The organizers, however, didn’t confirm the cancellation but the Booker Prize-winning author’s events on the January 20-24 programme were purged from the JLF website. More:

The slimy cowardice of the soft state

One small step?

Primary-Red in his blog reads hope in the nude photograph of Veena Malik

I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.

From The Thunder: Perfect Mind


Veena Malik bared her body and exposed the nakedness of her society.

But she is not alone. In recent weeks, Egyptian Aliya Magda Mahdi posted bold self-photographs on her blog. Tunisian actress Nadia Bostah posed provocatively to promote a film.

Something’s happening here. And it could be very significant. more

Salman Rushdie is not afraid

He thinks ‘Game of Thrones’ is dumb, bemoans the lack of good modern novels and believes terrorism is dying out; over 20 years after fleeing for his life from an Iranian-issued fatwa, novelist Salman Rushdie is still unafraid to speak his mind. Interviewed by Gidi Weitz in Haaretz.com:

Why is it always Muslims? Why didn’t Martin Scorsese have to run for his life after making “The Last Temptation of Christ”? Why does no one want to murder Woody Allen for making fun of Jews?

“There is a widespread difficulty in the Muslim world, which has to do with how the people are taught about examining their own history. A whole range of stuff has been placed off limits. The meaning of that material is dictated by religious people, not historians and scholars. If you believe that the [Quran] is the uncreated word of God, then sociology, politics and economics have nothing to do with it; but if you believe it is a text that arose in a certain place as a result of particular social, economic and political pressures, then you explicate it in a different way.

“The problem was that I learned to look at it like that from my father, and that was crossing a boundary into heavily defended territory. The question is who has power over the story. The response of anybody interested in liberty is that we all have a say and the ability to have an argument is exactly what liberty is, even though it may never be resolved. In any authoritarian society the possessor of power dictates, and if you try and step outside he will come after you. This is equally true of Sovietism, of China and of Iran, and in our time it has happened a lot in Islam. The point is that it’s worse when the authoritarianism is supported by something supernatural. More:

Q&A with Salman Rushdie

In New York Times, Shivani Vora catches up with Salman Rushdie on Chetan Bhagat, Twitter and his favourite hang-out places in Mumbai/Bombay

The author, who was a guest at the Pierre’s recent Diwali party, agreed to answer a few questions before the event about his connection to Mumbai, his time on Twitter and the state of Indian fiction today.

Q. You’ve agreed to read an excerpt of a new book about the history of the Taj hotel in Mumbai. What connection do you have to the hotel?
A. I’m a Bombay boy, so my connection to the Taj is life long. I went there as a boy with my parents, and as an adult I’ve taken my own family to stay there a number of times, and in general have always made a beeline for it when in Bombay.
Q. Have you visited Mumbai since the 2008 terror attacks? In your view, how has life in the city changed since?
A. Yes, I have. There’s much more security, around places like the Taj and other hotels, of course, and yet there isn’t much of a feeling that the city’s defenses have been improved.
Q. What’s your favorite pastime or place in Mumbai?
A. The secret of Bombay (excuse me for not saying “Mumbai”) is its people, so the best thing to do there is hang out with friends. As to favorite places, I used to meet the late, great poet Arun Kolatkar at the Wayside Inn in Kala Ghoda, a marvelous spot.
And I have a nostalgic soft spot for the Old Woman’s Shoe in the Kamala Nehru Park on Malabar Hill: my childhood playground. more

Ban the ban

India bans books with depressing frequency, says Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph.

Earlier this year, the Gujarat government banned a book on Mahatma Gandhi by an American writer. The book was not then available in India, and no one in Gujarat had read it. The ban, ordered by the chief minister, Narendra Modi, was on the basis of a tendentious news report and a still more tendentious book review.

After Modi announced his ban, the first instinct of the government of India was to emulate him. Congress spokesmen called for a countrywide ban. The then law minister, Veerappa Moily, indicated that he would follow their lead. There was a spirit of competitive chauvinism abroad; how could the Congress allow a non-Congress politician to claim to be defending the reputation of the Mahatma?

In the event, the government of India did not enforce a ban on the book. This was principally because of two quick, focused interventions by Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Both are grandsons of the Mahatma; both, besides, are scholars and public figures in their own right. Rajmohan and Gopalkrishna wrote signed articles in the press saying that a ban would be contrary to the spirit of Gandhi, a man who encouraged and promoted debate; it would also call into question India’s claims to be the world’s largest democracy. more