Rushdie shadow on Jaipur Literature Festival: 4 authors who read from 'The Satanic Verses' sent packing
JAIPUR: Salman Rushdie's shadow over the Jaipur literature festival grew longer on Sunday with four participating authors who had read out excerpts from Rushdie's banned novel, The Satanic Verses, being "advised" by the organizers to leave the city.
The four authors - Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar - left the city abruptly on Saturday and Sunday.
JLF producer Sanjoy Roy, while denying that he had asked the authors to leave, said the Jaipur police had sought the tapes of the session in which the four had read out the banned book. Roy said the organizers had met the authors on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday to "apprise them of the issues".
The Jaipur police, meanwhile, said they had not given any advice suggesting that any of the above authors should leave the festival. "There was a possibility of our arrest... so the organizers advised us to leave the festival," Jeet Thayil told TOI while preparing to leave.
Jeet Thayil said he was not protesting against their decision as it was their festival. "They (organizers) are intelligent people and probably they took a right decision," Jeet said.
Asked who exactly told them to go back, Jeet said, "I am sorry, I can't speak any more on the issue. It's a delicate matter and I don't want to add fuel to the fire."
Hari Kunzru, who hurriedly left the festival on Saturday and took a flight out of the country on Sunday, said in a statement, "I risked arrest and might well find myself unable to return home to New York until any resulting cases had been resolved. The festival organizers later informed me that they had been advised that it was unsafe for me to stay in Jaipur, and my continued presence at the festival would only inflame an already volatile situation."
Kunzru refused to blame the organizers for the turn of events. "I consider William Dalrymple and Sanjoy Roy close friends, and I feel that they acted honourably in difficult circumstances which were not of their making. I am relieved that the JLF was not shut down, which appeared to be a possibility on Friday night," the statement said.
Jeet, however, had no regrets about reading from 'The Satanic Verses'. "It was not right, the way Rushdie was not allowed to come for whatever reasons...shame that entire thing happened," Jeet said.
The cops maintained they had no role to play in the affair. "The organizers should know why the authors went back," said Bhagwan Lal Soni, the Jaipur police commissioner. He said they had received a complaint about the four authors but they had no plans to arrest them immediately.
Asked if any of the organizers asked the writers to leave, Sanjoy Roy said, "No one asked them. I certainly did not request them to leave." However, he said he thought the authors had spoken to "legal people" in the city.
One of the festival directors, Namita Gokhale, took a similar stance. "They had to leave. We haven't asked anyone," she said.
Gokhale had sent out a text message to a large number of authors on Saturday, saying, "The Jaipur Literature Festival continues to uphold the right to free speech and expression and the right to dissent within a constitutional framework. We hope all authors express their personal views in an appropriate and responsible manner. Please refrain from actions or readings that might cause incitement to public violence and endanger the festival and the spirit of harmony in which it is conceived. This is to advise you that 'Satanic Verses' is banned in India and reading from it may make you liable to prosecution and arrest."
Rushdie has also been told that the four authors could have been arrested. On Sunday, he tweeted, "Don't know who gave orders. And yes I guess the same police who want to arrest Hari, Amitava, Jeet and Ruchir." He had tweeted on Friday asking why the organizers had stopped the four authors from reading his book.