Mumbai-A week after Rohinton Mistry's Booker-nominated novel Such a Long Journey was dropped from Mumbai University's curriculum following pressure from Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray, the budding Sena leader's own college has struck a defiant note, questioning the rationale of banning a work of literature "merely because it dares to critique us" , reports Mumbai Mirror.
In a notice put on St. Xavier's college's web site, principal Dr Frazer Mascarenhas S J has expressed his displeasure at Mumbai University's decision to withdraw a book just because it carries a few passages critical of Sena's violent ways.
Not mincing words, the notice says that while the book does reflect critically on political parties of all hues and in particular deplores the threats of violence unleashed in the 1970s by a particular party, "it is inconceivable that in the 21st century, a political outfit will not show the maturity to accept criticism and answer it by the evidence of its own actions."
The notice adds that the management, staff and students of the college read with consternation Mumbai Mirror's October 2 report on the "emergency withdrawal" of Rohinton's book by the university. "The book in question has not evoked any controversy in civil society and is considered an example of excellent literature, recounting life as lived by the common men and women of our time," the notice says. Mistry, whose book has been translated into German, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish and has won several awards, is an alumnus of St Xavier's college, where Aditya Thackeray is a final-year student of history.
Thackeray, who is likely to be launched as leader of the Sena's youth wing at the party's Dussera rally later this month, had asked the party's students wing, Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, to launch a protest against the book. While he himself did not participate in the agitation, BVS burnt copies of the novel and petitioned Mumbai University's vice-chancellor Dr Rajan Welukar to drop it from the secondyear syllabus.
The very next day the university bowed down to this demand and issued notices to all colleges dropping the novel from the syllabus, regardless of the fact that it was mid-term, and papers for the first semester were already set.
A Xavier's teacher, who did not wish to be identified, said he was surprised that the book was withdrawn by the university without any debate. "It was like some sort of emergency that had been created. All groups do have a right to debate, but what were the compelling circumstances for the book to be withdrawn like this,” he asked.
Another teacher from a renowned college in south Mumbai said the university's decision to withdraw the book smacked of a lack of conviction on the part of the university. “The book was on the syllabus for four years. Before a book is included in the syllabus, there is a thorough procedure that is followed. How can you suddenly withdraw it because a political party so demands,” he said.
Such A Long Journey, set in the backdrop of the events of 1971, chronicles the story of Gustad Noble, a Bycullaborn Parsi, and his personal struggle with what is right and wrong. The superbly evocative book has been routinely listed as one of the best books on Bombay/Mumbai along with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. Aditya Thackeray did not respond to repeated calls from this reporter. Messages left on his cellphone too went unanswered.
In a strongly worded letter to Mumbai University Vice-Chancellor Rajan Welukar, Awhad said, “You have shown the courage of withdrawing a book from the syllabus on the pretext of obscenity in it. I cannot praise you enough as each time the son of a political leader does not like a particular book, you will ban it.”
The letter also suggested that Welukar should hold a seminar at a five-star hotel where he can summon the sons of biggies and have a discussion on the books in the syllabus. “This means you will not have to remove any book from the syllabus and it will save you the trouble of pleasing a big man's son,” the letter added.