A couple of days ago, I mused that I wasn’t sure if the government of Rajasthan deserved the Wimp of the Year award or if it should go to the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. I’m now able to report that the question was definitively answered earlier today when the festival organisers circulated this.
This press release is being issued on behalf of the organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. It has come to their attention that certain delegates acted in a manner during their sessions today which were without the prior knowledge or consent of the organizers. Any views expressed or actions taken by these delegates are in no manner endorsed by the Jaipur Literature Festival. Any comments made by the delegates reflect their personal, individual views and are not endorsed by the Festival or attributable to its organizers or anyone acting on their behalf. The Festival organizers are fully committed to ensuring compliance of all prevailing laws and will continue to offer their fullest cooperation to prevent any legal violation of any kind. Any action by any delegate or anyone else involved with the Festival that in any manner falls foul of the law will not be tolerated and all necessary, consequential action will be taken. Our endeavor has always been to provide a platform to foster an exchange of ideas and the love of literature, strictly within the four corners of the law. We remain committed to this objective. (Emphases mine)
The delegates that have JLF’s knickers in a twist are Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi. All of them read extracts from The Satanic Verses at a mid-day session. Kunzru read first. When Kumar was to follow, the organisers asked him not to. Thayil and Joshi joined Kunzru and Kumar. The decision to read The Satanic Verses was possibly spurred by the revelation that Salman Rushdie was not going to attend the festival because apparently, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had ordered the author be “eliminated”. There was also something about some Mumbai don threatening to assassinate him, which sounds like a bad Bollywood film from the ’90s but never mind that. It seems the original prize of Rs. 1 lakh for throwing a shoe at Rushdie wasn’t deemed enough to get Islamists riled up. There are those who are sure that everything from shoe-throwing to the SIMI threat is an attempt at securing the Muslim vote in upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh (the first phase of legislative assembly elections in the state are in February). I’m inclined to agree, for what it’s worth. But the actual point of this post is that in that press release up there, William Dalrymple, Namita Gokhale and Sanjoy Roy (the chief organisers of JLF) distance themselves from writers protesting bigoted ignorance by reading from a book. If there is such a thing as karma, this will bite all of them on their bottoms. And painfully at that.
For now though, judging from the happy post-party, going-to-bed tweets of those who didn’t read from The Satanic Verses, the Tata Steel Lawns and Bank of America Mughal Tent in Diggi Palace are under no threat.
I, on the other hand, am feeling sick to my stomach. Not just because I love many of Rushdie’s books or because I like to think of myself as a writer and it is my tribe that is being attacked, but because this contemporary India is not a country to which I want to belong.
In case you’re interested, the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick wrote a blog post about the first day at JLF. You can read it here. The drama was also written up, complete with the above press release, here. So far, the best JLF diary is by Tom Wright of Wall Street Journal, in my opinion.