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Salman Rushdie must be welcomed

 | October 5, 2012

The Indian administration seems to be weak-kneed when it comes to protecting Salman Rushdie.

COMMENT

Ever so often, India-born Salman Rushdie storms into the pages of newspapers and onto the screens of television channels. His middle name could have been Controversy.

Whether it was his marriage to Chennai’s Padma Lakshmi or his novel, “Satanic Verses” or his planned visit to the Jaipur Literary Conference, each had sparked a row.

Rushdie’s latest hullabaloo is a film based on one of his novels, “Midnight’s Children”. Directed by India-born Deepa Mehta – also known for creating controversies – the movie premiered at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.

But it will not open in India. And what a pity that would be. For, not only did this book win the Booker Prize in 1981, but its story unfolds in India.

Mehta, who has earlier had a brush with Hindu radicals, who stopped her from filming “Water”, because they felt that it showed India in poor light, decided to shoot “Midnight’s Children” in Sri Lanka. She had also made “Water” there, after she and her cast as well crew were driven out of Varanasi, where the team was all set to roll the camera.

Early this year, Rushdie’s trip to Jaipur had to be called off when the author was threatened by Hindu extremists. Even a televised talk by him was cancelled when protesters said they would march to the festival venue and disrupt the screening.

Somehow, the Indian administration seems to be weak-kneed when it comes to protecting Rushdie. The government buckles under pressure from either Hindus or Muslims.

India was probably the first country to ban Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, which provoked Iran to issue a death sentence on the writer. The sentence was imposed in February 1989 after he was accused of ridiculing Islam, the Quran and the Prophet in the “Satanic Verses”.

Ironically, while Iran itself lifted the death sentence in 2002, India appears to be having a holier-than-thou attitude. The Indian ban on “Satanic Verses” is yet to go!

And what is more, India still hesitates to get Rushdie over officially.

The Joseph Anton story

Rushdie’s latest work – a 633-page memoir recalling the 13 years he spent in Britain (whose citizen he was), virtually hiding from possible assassins and under the protection of the British police – is happily not banned in India.

The memoir, titled “Joseph Anton”, a name he was forced to adopt to escape death, is a fascinating account of the shadowy existence he had to lead, hiding in kitchen dressers and bathrooms.

While he is back to being Salman Rushdie, he tells us how those 13 years in “exile” turned his life topsy-turvy, straining and even breaking relationships and causing complete disorientation in him.

Yet, the book has been written with a lot of humour. Even some of his critical observations have been laced with wit.

“Joseph Anton” will sell hundreds of thousands of copies in the coming months – as his earlier books.

But India must set a wrong right. If it must lift the ban on “Satanic Verses”, it must also allow Rushdie to come to India officially (he does, though privately) and promote his latest creation, an excellent read.

When Britain could have kept him safe from hitmen, surely India could protect him for a few days. Is this asking for too much?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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