It's a wrap : On the Jaipur Lit Fest, fatigue and censorship
Festival fatigue has indeed set in, but I must remember not to keep asking people if the massive crowds leave them feeling wiped out! The crowds have thinned, the hysteria's dying down and the sun's about to set on another edition of the Jaipur Lit Fest here at Diggi Palace. Just like last year, I'm left confused how many editions of this festival I've seen - I think this is my sixth.
My first would have been 2007, when it was much smaller and the guests of honour -- as it were -- were Kiran Desai, Suketu Mehta and Salman Rushdie.
Which is of course far from the case this year. Do watch our special coverage and interviews with Mohammed Hanif, Booker Prize winner Ben Okri, Tiger Mom Amy Chua and others. Michael Ondaatje, Steven Pinker, A C Grayling were other huge draws, but the Jaipur Literature Festival this year was almost defined by the absent, rather than those luminaries present. (Watch the full coverage of the Jaipur Literature Festival here)
The main man in absentia Salman Rushdie, as of now, is expected to address the festival via video-conferencing (think skype) this afternoon. The back and forth we've been reporting throughout (not breathlessly or hysterically, I'm happy to note) are enough to give anyone a migraine. But apparently "this is how things are in Rajasthan" journalists say, citing "classic double-speak" from the government. So they keep everyone confused till the last minute -- as of now we're learning on the one hand (from sources in the government) that the videoconferencing will be allowed if certain assurances are made. On the other hand, organisers held a brief press conference last night to say no assurances were made, apart from details on time and logistics etc. They were clear to point out that the session is expected to be about the movie adaptation of Salman Rushdie's seminal work Midnight's Children, his journey so far -- note, no mention of The Satanic Verses.
Organisers say the government has not asked for any undertaking, if indeed the government has asked for reassurances that there will be no "reference to" The Satanic Verses, let alone quoting from the text that is banned in India a quarter of a century on, there's something outright ridiculous about that. It would be ridiculous, if it weren't so insidious. Quoting from the banned text or reading from a print-out may be an offence -- the jury's still out on that one. But how on earth, while proclaiming to be a democracy to you stop someone from referring to something. How are we taking this lying down?
Is this not precisely the censorship that liberals denounce in other countries (note the spectre of the Other that pops up when we discuss closed societies like Iran, China, other countries not-like-us, in all our bumbling democratic splendour).
I'm not even going to bring in the recent issues we've seen, from MF Husain to Rohinton Mistry's classic work. I'm just going to cite an interview the remarkable Kiran Nagarkar did with CNN-IBN's Raksha Shetty in Mumbai, saying it's come to the stage where writers are beginning to censor themselves, for fear of repercussions.
That should send a chill down your spine.
All this doesn't have to do with UP elections, or potential law and order issues, no matter what they might tell you. Ask Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Lelyveld, whose book on the Mahatma and the frenzied speculation -- prior to its publication here in India -- that he might have described Gandhi as bi-sexual, led to talk of a potential ban. He didn't (describe Gandhi as bi-sexual) and it wasn't banned, except in Gujarat, he tells us ,saying he should "thank Mr Modi for the sales!" (Watch that interview here).
Back to Mr Rushdie -- we take credit for him when we feel like. And really, it's hard to imagine anyone who influenced the then-relatively new/ignored genre of Indian Writing in English (an awful label I hope we've outgrown) more. Mr Rushdie WAS the tipping point. And we loved him for it. But when it suits us, he's the outsider, left to his own devices, likely to incite people to riot (really? Have any of them heard him speak?!)
I haven't yet read The Satanic Verses, but have been meaning to.
Especially after this latest uproar, after reading various excerpts, and indeed reading Hari Kunzru (one of the "Gang of Four", who quite unceremoniously had to leave the festival, along with Amitava Kumar, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil) -- "We wanted to demystify the book. It is, after all, just a book. Not a bomb. Not a knife or a gun. Just a book."
Apparently, there's no such thing. In less trying circumstances, that would be something to cheer.
(Have your say -- you can comment here or tweet @amritat with your feedback)
More about Amrita Tripathi
Amrita Tripathi is a news anchor with CNN-IBN, and also doubles up as Health and Books Editor. An MA in Philosophy from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, she has also taught a few undergraduate classes at her alma mater, informally! When she is not tracking health issues, Amrita is busy chasing the literary dream. Her debut novel Broken News was published in 2010. Before joining CNN-IBN, Amrita worked with The Indian Express.