Jaipur, Jan 22: Even in absence, author Salman Rushdie continued to cast his shadow on the Jaipur Literature Festival despite the presence of crowdpuller TV mogul Oprah Winfrey.
While Winfrey was addressing a session, high drama was witnessed in a separate wing as Publisher S Anand clashed with organisers of the festival for distancing themselves from the controversial author and those who supported him.
As Anand, who was moderating a session on the “Literature of Protest”, lashed out, festival organiser Namita Gokhale walk in with an immediate clarification.
Four authors - Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi- had created a ripple at the festival by reading out from Rusdhie's “Satanic Verses”, after the India-born author announced cancellation of his visit citing death threats.
Festival organisers had issued a strong statement dissociating themselves from the actions of the four authors, against whom a case was registered for the act of reading from a banned book at a public platform .
To emphasise his point, Anand quoted from Rushdie “What kind of idea are you” which led to applause from the audience.
He said, “We have been discussing about books....there are other writers and authors like Salman Rudhie. There is Oprah and whatever happens there is no excuse to say this controversy should shut down our voices.” Gokhale intervened to say, “It was hurtful of Anand who has been coming here for many years to suggest that we have asked the four authors to leave.
“The festival is still looking after their safety and they were not asked to leave.”
“I want to explain that what is most hurtful is that the festival has over 265 authors and writers who are being sidelined due to this ...the police and the state government have been cooperating with us... we have the responsibility to ensure the safety of those who are attending the festival,” said Gokhale.
She said there were some sections of people who “were spreading the wrong idea” and requested “everyone to behave responsibly”.
After the authors' protest residing of Satanic Verses, organisers had said they were responsible for preventing any violation of law at the festival and such actions cannot be tolerated.
Gokhale said today, “We must talk abut Salman Rushdie and read Salman Rushdie. But the law of India for better or for worse has banned the book (Satanic Verses)... and the readings should not be at the cost and consequence of people who have travelled to the festival.”
She also said while it was important to always stand up and and give voice to questioning censorship, they should do it responsibly.
“There is no problem with talking about the Satanic Verses and other writings of the Booker Prize winner but not at the cost of those who have travelled from far and wide across the globe to attend the festival,” she said.
The full quote of Rushdie's “What kind of idea are you” reads: “What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? - The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.”
Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan who was on the panel moderated by Anand chose to read out a poem on Irom Sharmila, who is demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur.
“We discuss a lots of protests but Sharmila has been carrying out a fast for the last 10 years. This poem is for her,” he said.
Earlier today, Rushdie, who called off his India visit citing threat to his life, tweeted, “Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie' I've investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.”