Literature is that medium which is nothing less than a kaleidoscope facilitating an in-depth view of culture, practices, belief prevalent in a society. Celebrating myriad form of literature hailing from different parts of the world seems to be the only achievement of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The event that was held in January this year was very much in news but for all the wrong reasons. An unfortunate thing for any event big or small is getting associated with any form of scandal that tarnishes the congregation and puts a question mark on its integrity.
Thank goodness then that JLF didn’t intend to and ran on the lines of LIFW (Lakme India Fashion Week); gentry were saved from the embarrassment of wardrobe malfunction at least! Let’s first concentrate on the objective of a literary fest – maestros of words from diverse backgrounds are called upon to share their ideas and usher in a debate and a work-out of grey cells like never before. In the eyes of a wily economist it is no more than a transactional meet whereby writers seek another platform of publicizing their work, for the genuine readers and fans a mere glimpse is more than enough backed by the euphemistic exhilaration on reading of excerpts.
In the entire play of Jaipur Literature Fest right from monologue to epilogue, and even the climax was heavily clouded by the Salman Rushdie controversy. Would-he-won’t-he was the question on top of everyone’s mind. Before I decode that puzzle here’s a brief on the profile of the man whose alleged profanity has caused him to be at loggerheads with the Muslim brethren. It was the year 1988 when Satanic Verses saw the light of day only to be shunned by a large majority owing to the blasphemous nature of this piece of fiction based on magic realism.
There is this confession that I consider important to make at this stature – I haven’t read Satanic Verses and therefore much of the perception that I harbor happens to be derived one. But one thing is sure that Mr. Rushdie’s literary piece doesn’t go down well with the religious sentiments of the followers of Allah. How else can one explain the burning notion of vindication which is expressed in the form of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader’s fatwa in 1989 against Salman Rushdie that threatens the very life of this famed writer! Interestingly ‘Satanic Verses’ happen to be those passages that have been removed from the holy Quran since they are regarded as the Pagan verses and are contradictory to the principle of monotheism that is the underlying principle of Islam. Rushdie has dared enough to fiddle around with something that is inherently sacrilegious, for Muhammad has been referred to as Mahound in Satanic Verses and that’s certainly not all; the name of Prophet’s wives are spelled by prostitutes that incinerates the emotions of the followers of this faith who regard Prophet’s wives as their mothers.
Does that mean Salman Rushdie is a person who should be banished universally? Creativity definitely has no limits but then literature has since ages been associated with alleviation of sorts. After all it were the writings of Rousseau, Voltaire, Thoreau that ushered in a revolution altogether. And I’m sorry Mr. Rushdie but your words worth incrimination cannot hide behind the walls of naïve literary skills (mind you he is regarded as a mediocre writer too by many reputed faces of the domain!). Yet I firmly believe that no matter what an attempt to hamper someone’s individuality is worth condemning.
This was not for the first time when Salman Rushdie was due to make an appearance at the JLF. He had come and gone in 2007 without causing any uproar, perhaps dazed stupor and general oblivion didn’t allow anyone to raise an eyebrow. 2012 marks the year when five states in India would be witnessing polls and amidst them Uttar Pradesh, forms the much sought after scrumptious crumb of the bigger cake called governance. Could the Rajasthan government have provided fool-proof security to Salman Rushdie? Do you really consider our forces to be that impotent that it could not prevent the hoodlums from hurling a shoe at the guest or trying and spit on him!
No one wants to be on the wrong side of voter, at least for the moment. Puissant often try to acknowledge their strength by playing stingy games of politics and try turning tables in their favor. Congress has looked upon the Muslim bloc as a hen that lays golden eggs and mints even more so during the electoral process. Nullifying the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case in 1986 via the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act was among one of the many bounties that was handed over to the insecure community whose fears have not been allayed even after sixty-four years of independence. Thus a mum on part of the Congress trying to showcase its callous incapability of handling the situation was explicable on its own. The other parties also did some buzzing job trying to refrain from hitting at the core of the snowballing issue of Rushdie’s visit.
Picture abhi baki hai mere dost and here comes the entertainers of the decade who literally made a fool of themselves. Writers Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil came out as crusaders who wanted to wage a war against the hard-liners by reading excerpts from the banned book. Well, it was nothing less than the anime series of Tom & Jerry coming live for when it was time to face the consequences of their action, these writers vanished into thin air just like the affably irritable mouse used to do after committing a naughty antic. Though Article 19 of the Constitution confers upon its citizens Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression there is a clause that forbids the same on certain grounds, public disorder being just one of them. Needless to say that the authors got carried away too much by the Rushdie mania and sympathy gave way to infantile course of action.
Where does JLF stand in midst of this hullabaloo? Sadly, though the organizers Sanjoy Roy and Namita Gokhale might attribute the event with loads of praise the fact is that it turned out to be a crime-procedural where everyone waited for what’s next. Whether it was a farcical play or an event marred by shrewd politics is something only time can tell.
One might wonder at this juncture what an ideal Literature festival should be all about! Umm, if Literature is about reaching out to people then probably these litterateur should try and open gateways of wisdom to, say a boy struggling with Chunnu Pocket Book’s Rapid English Speaking Course(courtesy: Ravish ki report on NDTV hovering around Khoda, Ghaziabad), gosh! That’s the impossible thing that one could expect from these intellectuals in a lifetime; after all hobnobbing with the elite over a lunch and a booze party is all what this recently concluded fest at the Diggi Place has condensed itself up to.