At the Jaipur Literature Festival last year, Salman Rushdie was the biggest presence without actually being there. This year, away from the festival spotlight, he spoke about JLF, censorship, the growing intolerance in India towards cultural artefacts, and on Midnight’s Children being turned into a film 32 years after it was published.
“In India, it has become easy to attack cultural artefacts. People believe their identity is not defined by what you love, but by what you hate or are offended by. It is a spreading problem,” Rushdie said.
The writer, along with filmmaker Deepa Mehta, who recently brought the author’s 1981 Booker-prize winning novel to life on the big screen, was a guest at The Indian Express’s Idea Exchange programme.
When asked about whether his being in town coincided with the JLF, Rushdie replied in jest: “Yes, I think of the Jaipur Literature Festival all the time.”
Rushdie’s visit to the 2012 JLF was put off after protests by Muslim organisations.
“Last year, the organisers of the festival had to give an undertaking that they would in no way offend religious sensibilities. So the fact that you’re having a literature festival in India, where religion is such an important aspect of life, and the one thing you cannot talk about is religion is a shame in my opinion.”
He, however, had a good word for the four authors — Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Amitava Kumar, Ruchir Joshi — who read out excerpts from The Satanic Verses at last year’s festival, creating a furore. “I thought good for them, for taking such a stand. And I was grateful for their support, I know the way in which they were treated was very poor, the way they were rail-roaded out of town,” he said.
Fielding questions on various issues — from the Kashmir dispute to the nature of the controversy itself — Rushdie answered with a sly humorous irreverence. When asked his opinion on the Kashmir question, the author first quipped about how he had always had the ideal solution for peace in the Valley but no one ever asked him, before turning serious.
“There is an epigraph in Shalimar the Clown, which appeared originally in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet — a plague on both your houses.” And really, that whole book came out of the spirit of what Kashmiris have been saying since I have known them, that Kashmir is for the Kashmiris, not for India