NEW DELHI: Salman Rushdie feels “hurt” by the “rebuffs” given to him by India where his books are rejected for university syllabus on the grounds that he was “not really” an Indian writer.
“What kind of rebuff” from India had “hurt him a lot”, he was asked during an interview to CNN-IBN ahead of the release of his memoir ‘Joseph Anton’ on his days in hiding after writing the controversial novel ‘The Satanic Verses’.
“I have heard about how my books get rejected for university syllabus as they say I am not really an Indian writer…really? In what sense? Where is the foreign blood?
“And that is insulting. These books have been influential in the development of Indian literature, at least they should be studied,” Rushdie said.
Talking about the ban on ‘The Satanic Verses’ in the country, he said the book was banned “without ever being looked at” and that seemed “shocking” to him.
“One reason why it seemed shocking was since that time the attacks on free expression in India have mounted and its become easier and easier to attack writers, painters, scholars (and) cartoonists,” he said.
Describing himself as “an Indian from a Muslim family”, Rushdie said the Indian Muslim could be “a little bit” moving towards harsher Islam.
“For instance even in a place like Kashmir where the kind of Islam on offer used to very Sufi influenced Islam, you see the beginnings of this very harsher Islam and I think that is going to spread.
“And of course there are groups in India which are interested to push that harsher ideology. So that’s a great change, because the Indian Islam in which I grew up was always a very open, tolerant, argumentative, talkative community. All the great poets of India came out of that tradition and it would be a shame for it to be lost,” he said. . Rushdie feels that India is no longer the haven of creative thinking and cited attack on the inclusion of A K Ramunajan’s essay ‘300 Ramayanas’ in Delhi University and Rohinton Mistry’s novel in Bombay University syallbus.
“The fact that (M F) Husain was lost to India for so long, that much of his work has been permanently lost to India is a tragedy.
“There are also many of these stories now….it seems like everyday there is another story. That I think enormously endangered free expression in India and I think it is something for Indians to think about,” he said.
In an apparent reference to the sedition charges leveled against a cartoonist, the writer said India has such a great tradition of political cartooning and “suddenly everybody becomes so thin skinned”.
Asked what is the best way to defend freedom of speech, Rushdie answered, “fearless” as one lives in a “very timid time” partly because there have been all these threats and attacks.
“I think the artist at least must remain fearless and do his work without regard to those kind of consequences. And then it’s up to society as a whole to make sure that the space in which art can flourish is protected. And may be, India is not doing such a good job,” he said.
On reports that the film based on his novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ is finding it difficult to get a distributor, he said the media has just “got ahead of itself” and the film producer had told him that “many conversations were going on”.
“I saw some stories that my voiceover narration be taken off the film.thats just garbage. There is no such story somebody made that up and certainly we would not do that…
lets wait and see,” he said.
Commenting on the recent attack on the American Embassy in Libya killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens following an anti-Islam film, the writer said the movie obviously was a “piece of garbage but a piece of garbage cannot justify killing anyone”. -PTI