Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Rushdie Episode - Do We Ban a Thought or the Person?

It is interesting to see all the drama that is going on at the Jaipur Literary Festival about Salman Rushdie's coming to attend the festival, the famed assassination plot, the claim that the assassination plot was a ruse planted by the Rajasthan police to keep Rushdie (and therefore controversy) away, the readings from the banned book of Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' (which earned him the famous fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, the first of the many fatwas I had heard since) and now subsequent clamour for arrest of the authors who read from the book, prosecution of the Litfest organisers or the authors for hurting religious sentiments and so on. For all those liberal voices who have come out in favour of Salman Rushdie (what are they in favour of, lifting the ban?), there are also conservative voices, especially from the big boss of Indian fiction, Chetan Bhagat who has said that such banned books and banned authors should not be made into 'heroes'. More fuel for the fire surely.

But what is interesting to me is this - do we ban the book or the person who wrote it? Do we ban the thought or the person who thought that thought? Can the person come and visit (suparis and fatwas notwithstanding) as long as one thought of his is banned? When the person comes, does he bring his thought along with him or does he leave that thought behind? How does one ban an idea, a thought? If Salman Rushdie, the person where the thought originated from, is free to walk in the country, and is not banned, can the thought be banned? The book cannot enter India but Salman Rushdie can. It is a curious case to me that the person is treated as separate from the idea.

Since publishing of books is a collaborative process, are all others in the process banned too? Not really - because the ban it appears to me covers only the idea, the book. I read somewhere that much of this furore has to do with the UP elections and the Muslim vote.

The world will move on - Rushdie or not. For all his perceived faults the winner of the Booker of Bookers, an Indian by birth, is an exceptional writer, a rare talent, and no one would deny that. It is even more interesting to know that while M.F. Hussain, another Indian of rare talent, has been hounded out of the country by Hindu fundamentalists and lived abroad and died there in his later years, Salman Rushdie could well be facing an almost similar fate, being banned by the Muslims.

But I still wonder, in these times of the internet especially, how anyone can ban an idea.

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