The Satanic Bourses

I have not seen so many levels of bigotry, liberalism, and the medium path before. Tags are being flung around. Everyone is looking for moderate Muslim voices as they would pins in the haystack, when these voices are the darned haystack. But you don’t like the idea of something so obvious.

Here’s your Stop Press moment. Salman Rushdie was to come live in a video conference after not being permitted entry and the whole Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) turning into a battleground of ideologies, many newly-acquired. The news is that this chat has been called off, too. It is time to mourn for the freedom of expression once again. More martyrs. More ‘rabid Muslims’. More snide comments about ‘hurt sentiments’. More disgust about how people are feeding off this episode, even if some are raising legitimate questions, who have been following the writer’s work and the literary trail for years. No word about how Rushdie has himself milked the fatwa cow at every single opportunity. He needs this identity more than anyone else. He needs some little thread to connect him to his Muslimness so that when he writes again about one of the angels from jannat, he can by default be seen as an ‘insider’.

Not a single person or any of the ‘freedom’ groups has had the sense to file an FIR against the miscreants. Why? On what grounds, then, do you expect the police to take care of you? The cops have been on duty. To call the government cowardly makes no sense. How brave are the organisers? Are they being held to ransom by some Muslims? In what manner? What exactly is the threat? There has not been a single word on that. We heard about the Raza Academy and SIMI earlier, and Mumbai dons as well. Any case filed against them? What is the liberalism you speak about if you cannot act upon it?

There is a yo-yo even in the attitude towards the government. Sometimes, it is accused of advising against Rushdie’s visit, then there is denial, then back again. It is the government’s job and the police’s job to protect those who are there, not those who are absent. Has a single incident occurred that any of the delegates or visitors can complain about?

A report says:

Despite Rajasthan government supporting the organisers of the festival, the link was called off amidst much drama at Diggi Palace in Jaipur. The owner of the Diggy Palace Ram Pratap Singh said that he decided to not allow the video link fearing violence. Singh said that several people had entered the venue and threatened to take the law in their own hands if the video link was allowed. 
"I have taken a decision on not to allow the video conference to go ahead on the advise of Rajasthan police. There are a large number people who are inside the property and a large number who are marching towards the property. This is necessary to avoid violence and harm to the property and my family," he said.

Don’t they have video cameras to shoot this march of the brigade? Are the police advising on their walkie-talkies while these people are stomping in droves to the venue? Why is there no clarity, and why is no one bothered to ask? Because, creating fear is a lucrative industry in such a situation. It gives everyone, including the cow that apparently is around to add an exotic touch at the venue, an opportunity to feel the pain of artistic muzzling.

Barkha Dutt was supposed to conduct the interview. She tweeted, “Wish me luck”. This is the woman who has gone to Kargil, covered wars in other parts of the world, interviewed separatists and people who are dangerous. Did she need luck for those coverages?

The problem is that the issue has had a snowballing effect and a good deal of it was allowed to get out of hand. Why the need for such a video chat when he was being asked to talk about ‘Midnight’s Children’? What’s the occasion? Just a rebellious act? Had he not been able to make it for personal or health reasons, would there have been such a need to link up? We know the answer.

So, should we applaud this freedom of speech? Will those in Jaipur and those following the festival circus care to oppose the move by the Gujarat police that detained six activists from the NGO Anhad when they attempted to enter Godhra for a programme ‘In Search Of Justice’ as a counterpoint to Narendra Modi’s Sadbhavana fast?

Whose sentiments were they hurting, these six people from an organisation? Do they have freedom of expression on an issue that is more palpable and real and certainly has greater consequences on people’s lives?

Now, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat), incidentally Anhad was formed by its founding members, has extended an invitation to Rushdie. Member Ram Rehman said:

"We have watched with dismay the unnecessary controversy which erupted over the presence of Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival. We strongly disapprove the threats - real or concocted - issued against Rushdie’s participation. Sahmat is issuing an open invitation to Salman Rushdie to come to Delhi to deliver a lecture or participate in a discussion on literature at any time of his choosing. We will host him under any circumstances along with an exhibition of the works of the late M.F. Husain, driven into forced exile by a similar retreat by the state in its cowardly unwillingness to stand up against communal politics.”

Do these people know what exile is? We must also remember that Safdar Hashmi belonged to the CPI (M). He was killed by goons of the Congress while performing the street play “Halla Bol”. We are getting into another political arena here. There is no doubt divisive politics, but it would be interesting to see how they would have viewed these two outside of the present strictures. The comparison of Husain and Rushdie is disingenuous.

For one, Husain’s paintings are not banned, and he chose available iconography. There is nothing that is not seen in ancient art. However, I have said this earlier, he lost the case when he took up the citizenship of Qatar. He was painting for patronage. He chose to be shackled. He kept in touch with his socialite hangers-on that used him to the last. He was an establishment man.

Rushdie too is very much establishment, and his ‘sin’ is not just of writing what he did but using that as the benchmark for a limited idea of freedom. A ban cannot change his basic outlook. He does not speak for the rights of the dispossessed. He makes his diaspora status sound like banishment, which is where even the Leftists join him. How do those who are now crying for Rushdie view this? Would they speak up for Maoists and separatists too?

A petition for lifting the ban on ‘Satanic Verses’ is being circulated. It has been endorsed by Hanif Kureshi, Charu Nivedita, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and "ordinary college students", as a report quoted one of the drafters say. Had a petition been circulated among ‘ordinary’ people for a religious/community cause, they would be deemed brainwashed idiots.

Anyhow, what it states is revealing:

The petition argues that the ban places India “alongside Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Liberia and Papua New Guinea” which are some other countries where the ban stands.

India often figures among the most backward countries where crime, corruption, gender disparity, standard of living are concerned. Do we want an Egypt-style revolution? Will we even have the ‘courage’ to overthrow a political leader in this manner? Such random comparisons are ridiculous. Why did the NDA government not lift the ban?

You already know that India was the first country to ban the book, even before the fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini. Ever since then the liberals have taken charge of telling us how the mullahs will threaten us, and they are only too happy to oblige.

This is not to suggest that the maulvis are blameless. But just look at how the events unfolded. The Deoband protests. In the beginning that was it. They have protested many times. Let us say they are exercising their right to express their views. Everyone agrees it was political. However, it was beyond political politics. It was literary politics and opportunism as well.

It brings us to the Fab Four. How many know about their politics, their views on The Satanic Verses? They say they acted on their own. What freedom were they upholding? What about those who joined in the chorus? Can a writer who takes extreme poetic licence about reality speak of freedom? Can someone who has a Rajya Sabha seat from a rightwing party that bashes up journalists fight for Rushdie’s rights? Can someone who writes hagiographical accounts talk about freedom? Can those who are silent when smaller artists are banned talk about freedom? Can we talk about the freedom of banned organisations? Or of politicians who are forced to resign because of some ‘incident’ where they hurt someone?

Yes, they can. But only if they first look in the mirror.

- - -

And since I know I will be seen as anti-Rushdie, and I do not have the time or inclination for ifs and buts now, here you are.

Today, I am a Muslim for your pleasure. So listen up. If it has been convenient for you to label me, then it is convenient for me to use that label. Remember the times I have been shamed into the pigeonhole of belonging to the ummah? The times I was told that India tolerated me, that I should go to Pakistan, that I should try driving in Saudi Arabia? Where was your liberalism then when you could not see me? Where was the liberalism of the liberal editor who said I looked “too Muslim” in my photograph? Where was the liberalism of the newspaper that could not palate criticism of a sadhu? Where was the liberalism of the radical rag that told me not to write a spoof on Muslims? Yes. This too.

Where are the voices that don’t go around looking for mountain causes only so that they can hear the echoes?

(c) Farzana Versey

PS: Blog comments are moderated. I am curbing your freedom, but you know you compelled me to.


  1. Thus spoke the Naari ...I read it and I read it again ....and one more time just to be sure ..and Oh Btw...This is called Sahi Jawaab....
    So My 2 cents on this, Rushdie minus Satanic Verses is equal to and average (behry behry average) writer, people give far too much importance. That said..the Maulvis are helping him be ....if they ignored him, he would have come and gone without anyone asking for his autograph...Zara Sochiye

  2. Prajwal Shetty25/01/2012, 02:23

    I used to read your columns in asian age long time back(stopped my subscription)and thought of you as a religious bigot.today someone retweeted a link to this blog.i went through some of your blog posts.all i can say you are a very complex thinker,can't bracket you under any label.P S i like your individualism though not necessarily some of your views.

  3. Maybe, you should go to Pakistan along with your Dar-ul-uloo folks. We don't need people like you. And we don't care for your prophet as well. He has brought nothing but trouble.

  4. >>>Maybe, you should go to Pakistan along with your Dar-ul-uloo folks

    aah, the conveniences of being Secular Democracy without any inconvenient minorities with a real substantive difference of opinion ...

  5. Akash, If all muslims went to pakistan then India is at Huge risk, Konkanastha Brahmins will fight Bengali Brahmins and Tamil Brahmins, Yadavs will fight Thakurs and babas will declare Tuesday as Holiday,were we one country before Babar came , btw, Rajput brothers were chopping each other's heads off and stealing each other's wives, thats why they lost to the invasion. Problem is not in any religion but denial of who we are as South asians, just the same people ..poor, insecure and prostituted by religion. From South of Lanka to Hazara ...all ...run by our insecurities.
    Btw, pakistanis themselves are least preferred in any "brother" country. Compare Mallus in Gulf to Pakis ...

  6. Will reply later to this and other comments. Meanwhile, if anyone cares on 'Why I choose to be 'communal':


  7. "God is what believers – and non-believers – make of her/him and that provides the attributes of good or evil. A creation takes on a life of its own outside the creator"
    To continue my chain of thought, any GOD didnt ask for a religion to be created and pursued in this manner, I am not sure if Christ set out to build "christianity" he just pursued his journey, we made it Christanity..we made the ritual of Church on Sunday and The christmas Carols and Lunch. Jesus didnt ask us to do that,Krishna didnt profess Arjuna with an intent of Hare Krishnas chasing you to buy Bhagvad Gita at Times Square...Guru Nanak didnt know that 300 years later, this will be the state of Sikhism, he didnt set out to BUild this shape and Form ..WE gave this shape and form to religion.
    In my view, If i prefer Tommy Hilfiger for wallets to spectacles,I am as communal. I dont agree with the Armani with Hugo Boss and and cant be convinced to use. WE make a choice to agree, to pursue ..I am communal in my sense of clothing ...I am also "communal"in my sense of spirituality ..whats the difference.

  8. >>Why I choose to be 'communal'


    It is not so much being 'communal' but the purpose behind it. Is it to embark on a holy war against competing community or is it the betterment of your chosen community?

    Given the history of the humanity and what was available in terms of resources and knowledge, I don't believe any of these 'communities' were created by consent.

    Choice and consent are relatively modern ideas and it still needs time to take hold in our collective minds.

    In the meantime, yes I believe people matter more, not inanimate books.

  9. JJ:

    This was getting a bit out of hand, and so…jawaab sahi ya ghalat, it was something I had to say for myself.

    Of course, it would have gone unnoticed. It has become a bazaar. Someone reading, extracts being mailed, who the hell would have bothered otherwise? Maulvis and the media are helping him. NDTV was running loops of the special interview, I am told. I have not watched it, but imagine no noise. It means that someone is protected. Anyway, I see this as an underground promo, a version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon…Literary gupt gyan.

  10. Prajwal Shetty:

    I would not like to be bracketed, and am surprised you thought I was a religious bigot in my Asian Age columns. I got the most letters from the Hindutva rightwing, including three politians!

    PS: The idea is not to agree with my views, but probably understand that someday my views will make sense. I will provide the filing cabinet.

  11. Akash:

    Maybe, you should go to Pakistan along with your Dar-ul-uloo folks. We don't need people like you. And we don't care for your prophet as well. He has brought nothing but trouble.

    Who is ‘we’? And can you please let me go through Google maps for locations and check out the Darul site to see which uloos meet my standards, since I do not like them? And then maybe, WE (as in the royal we) will tell you where to go and with whom. I don’t care whether you care for the Prophet or not, just as I don’t give a damn whether you smoke or inhale. There’s a statutory warning, so don’t obsess and kick the habit.

  12. hitesh

    aah, the conveniences of being Secular Democracy without any inconvenient minorities with a real substantive difference of opinion ...

    Shall I say I am feeling ‘sheepish’ today, so I can be shepherded or will I put out to pasture? :)


    Do I need to even say I agree? But what do you have against Tuesday as a holiday? It’s a good idea. Sunday is our colonial heritage.

    PS: Why Mallus in Gelf bowthrink you? Tchhah…

    On the other comment, I object. You left out Islam. You mean to say Islam is shapeless?

    Tell me, if you put the Hilfiger spectacles in a largish TH wallet, then would you be ‘communal’ or incestuous? Just asking!

  13. FV,

    Good to know you learnt how to moderate comments. So far, you could either allow them or delete them altogether, if I rememeber right..

    QUOTE: "The idea is not to agree with my views, but probably understand that someday my views will make sense. I will provide the filing cabinet."

    Sawarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar say nearly the same thing as above. Read the original Marathi versions of their books if possible.

    I hope this comment passes through the moderation..!

  14. >> probably understand that someday my views will make sense.

    Sure, that is exactly what I have been telling people when I describe to them, my Theory-Of-Everything :)

  15. On the topic of the post:

    Rushdie obviously has been looking for publicity, because he is not at the prime of his career.

    Let's add some fuel to the fire..

    Justice Katju has some judgement to pronounce :)


    On the other hand,

    This comment in that thread was also interesting:

    "Memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else's version more than his own.”......Rushdie, in Midnight's Children.

    Anyone with even a minimal understanding of what constitutes good writing would unhesitatingly say that only a genius can write so elegantly and so profoundly.

    I am sure that the good judge belongs to the "so-called educated" class of Indians, for whom he has so much contempt. He should realise, however, that just possessing an ability to read and write does not automatically confer on him the right to pronounce judgements on what constitutes good writing and what doesn't.He is a spectacularly incompetent literary critic.


  16. Hitesh:

    Your earlier comment went in spam.

    My meaning of 'communal' was in opposition/apposition to religion. A holy war is religious, in that although it may not have the consent of all communities, it rises from the core of what it believes to be is faith ordained.

    There are communities that work for the betterment, and it is good. The danger here is a lot of fringe elements of the zealot types - religious and liberal - hijack it.

    But if it comes to what counts, it is the latter and voicing at least the sentiments of some of them.

    Strange that one gets branded a bigot for that.

    Wonder if this finds a place in your 'theory of everything'. Mine is more a theory of Nothingness. Very nirvanic :)

  17. FV,

    I am greatly amused to see that my comment has been found to be too wretched to merit a retort!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.