Guest post by SAJAN VENNIYOOR, our cultural correspondent
Threats from Hindu, Muslim and other cultural organizations may derail the Jaipur Literature Festival set to begin on Thursday, 24 January.
The BJP and RSS have threatened not to allow seven Pakistani authors to attend the event. “Looking at present Indo-Pak relations, it is unacceptable to allow Pakistani writers to be here as guests. We will make sure they are not allowed to enter Rajasthan. If they come, they will meet the fate of many others who have met similar fates,” said Suman Sharma, BJP state vice-president.
The Pakistani authors included in this blanket ban are British-Pakistani Nadeem Aslam, Canadian-Pakistanis MA Farooqi and Sharmeen Ubaid Chinoy and plain old garden variety Pakistanis Mohammed Hanif, Jamil Ahmad, Fahmida Riaz and Ameena Saiyid.
Meanwhile, Muslim organisations informed the organizers of the Jaipur Fest that rivers of blood, which have hitherto not flowed, will now flow if they include poet Jeet Thayil or Ruchir Joshi. Last year, Thayil and Joshi, along with Amitava Kumar and Hari Kunzru, had read out excerpts from Satanic Verses, outraging the sentiments of many Muslims who had never heard of the book.
On Sunday, at a national conference on ‘Azmat-E-Namoos-E-Rasool’ (respect and honour the Prophet Mohammad) a resolution vowed that if the writers attend the festival, the community will agitate against it. “Their actions have hurt the sentiments of Muslims and we will not tolerate their participation,” said the co-convener of Azmat-E-Namoos-E-Rasool, “We are not against the literature fest, though. We are only against writers.”
British historian Charles Allen and many of the invited American authors pulled out of the Festival following the receipt of an anonymous threat with a Mahasamund post-mark accusing them of capitalist, imperialist, neo-colonialist and, in the case of Allen, revanchist and IRA dentist tendencies. (This was corrected to ‘irredentist’ in a subsequent CPI-Maoist communiqué which regretted the typo caused by a faulty auto-correct setting in Windows 8). The Tamil author, Dr. CS Lakshmi, Andrea Robilant of Italy and the remaining US authors decided to stay away following violent protests and demarches from Colombo, Asmara and the rest of the world, respectively.
An unidentified Israeli group lodged a formal protest by attaching a sticky bomb to novelist Ahdaf Soueif’s car in Delhi. Though little damage was done (“All it needs is some denting and painting,” said the driver, a Mukherjee), a shaken Soueif returned to Egypt immediately to work on a sequel to The Map of Love.
Car bombs also exploded in several West Bank townships as Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad protested the grant of an Indian visa to featured festival speaker Benyamin Daniel. “Death to all Israeli terrorists,” explained a masked Islamic Jihad spokesperson in Ramallah, setting fire to a passing school bus. He described Daniel as a well known Zionist oppressor and author of infamous anti-Islamic tracts like Pravachakanmarude Randam Pustakam and Akaporinte Irupatu Nasrani Varshangal. The Indian Home Secretary later clarified that Daniel was a Malayali Christian from Pathanamthitta, now settled in Bahrain, but sporadic riots continued to erupt in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan and France for several days.
All seven members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), quoting Leviticus and relevant clauses from the Book of Ezekiel, objected to the presence of author Andrew Solomon and his husband at the Festival. “Discern between good and evil, my slurpee lovers, and stop worrying about whether or not you’re going to offend someone,” said Pastor Phelps, threatening to picket the Jaipur Festival. “How can you be more tolerant of homosexuals when you don’t let preachers preach the truth? India = Sodom.”
This compelling scientific argument against homosexuality found immediate support among Catholic, Islamic and Hindutva groups in India, until the source of their inspiration was traced to a WBC website, ‘God Hates India’, upon which the Secular Catholic Conference condemned all Baptists as apostates and schismatics. The Sri Ram Sene burned down two pubs and, deceived by the red cross above its door, a Mangalore drug store.
The Indian Nationalist Party also condemned the presence of several openly gay authors at the festival. “Sex should be a beautiful thing between a woman and a man,” said an ailing party spokesperson at a hastily called press conference in NIMHANS, where she was undergoing treatment for ingrowing chastity. “Or between several women and a man,” added her colleague, highlighting the relevant passage from Amar Chitra Katha’s Kama Sutra, Special Edition. “Or a horse… My point, however, is that – at the very minimum – two sexes are mandatory. Woman should ceaselessly serve the Higher Interests of Man… kind. Mankind. Most of our sages are quite unanimous on this,” he said, stroking his mustache pensively.
Soon after the People’s Liberation Army began massing in Aksai Chin and the Guangming Daily published a railway map connecting Itanagar to Beijing, the Dalai Lama – without any pressure whatsoever from the Indian Home Ministry – decided to remain in Dharamsala and address the Jaipur Literature Festival through an intermittent video link. His Holiness later gave a private audience to Fariba Hachtroudi, the Iranian journalist whose participation in the festival was, in a rare display of solidarity, condemned both by Israel and Iran. She plans to return to Paris after a brief meditation on identity at McLeod Ganj.
Anti-nuclear protestors from Koodankulam sent a strongly worded letter to the organizers of the Jaipur Fest, accusing them of pandering to nuclear hawks by inviting Homi Bhabha to speak at the festival. Festival Director William Dalrymple tried to clear the air – quoting selectively from hitherto unseen material in the National Archives – pointing out that live author Homi K. Bhabha was manifestly different from the late Homi J. ‘Strangelove’ Bhabha. However, the Koodankulam activists, by then facing sedition charges and water-logging, could not be reached.
On three successive days, Ilina Sen’s participation was denounced by a Times Now anchor who spoke for the nation when he demanded to know something… anything… while Namrata Joshi, the noted film-critic, withdrew following threats from three separate film producers, a Dubai-based film financier and Ram Gopal Varma.
In unrelated developments, the well-known parliamentarian and tweeter, Shashi Tharoor, begged off on health grounds having accidentally shot himself in the foot, as did author and biographer Patrick French after a brief phone call from Nadira Naipaul which he described as ‘intense’ and ‘life-changing’.