Jaipur: Our correspondents encapsulate here all the important talking points at the just concluded Jaipur Literary Festival in true Salman Rushdie style, that is by getting nowhere near Jaipur.
# The flavour of the week is literature, and the headlines in the media pithily capture the evolved sensibility of the moment: ‘Jaipur braces up for possible terrorists from Mumbai’.
# Even before the festival opens, controversy dawns. A couple of writers who seem to be the type that pursue its art sincerely are spotted. The organisers, however, assure that in the future that they will be careful and avoid such needless intrusions from ‘total outsiders’.
# Oprah Winfrey is invited to the festival on the basis of her sterling literary achievement, which, as listed in the tournament brochure, is: ‘She once managed to lose weight successfully’.
# Oprah sets the stage for the intellectual discussions by passionately describing to earnest literary-minded media correspondents the details of the party at the Parameshwar Godrej place.
# Some participants insist that he should be allowed to participate at the festival here. ‘If he can’t be at a literary festival, you can as well close it and go away’ is the general gist of those who want his presence at Jaipur. There are others who feel that he cannot get away after offending religious sensibilities. ‘It was a clear case of blasphemy,’ is the sum and substance of those against him. The ‘he’ in reference, of course, is: Jay Leno.
# Salman Rushdie cancels his visit to Jaipur after the security authorities point out, not unreasonably, ‘the fog engulfing North India is getting worse’.
# Elsewhere, Digvijay Singh hits out Salman Rushdie for being a closet sangh parivar man. See ‘Salman Rushdie’ is the anagram of ‘hide RSS manual’, he said by way of explanation to his literary find.
# The moment it becomes clear that Salman Rushdie will not be attending the Jaipur Literary Festival due to ‘external factors’, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, in true intellectual fashion, quickly step on to the dais after downloading from Google excerpts from the book that is deemed ‘the most offensive in the world’, which on closer scrutiny turns out to be Shobha De’s Socialite Evenings. Before any further damage could be done, the red-faced organisers escort the two writers out and continue to discuss highbrow literature with Chetan Bhagat in a session moderated by the winner of the ‘Dada Saheb Phalke award for journalism’, Barkha Dutt.
# There are many interesting sessions involving many serious thinkers. True literary buffs have difficulty in picking which session to attend and which one to miss. And most of them tide over this existential problem by the most literary way: Attend the one that is nearer to the free booze tents. Oh yes, auto expo or literary festival, the attraction is always liquor.
# On the dramatic last day of the festival, shortly after the proposed video chat with Salman Rushdie is cancelled, actor Rahul Bose, who is a littérateur on the basis of the irrefutable fact that he has acted in a film in which Booker-winning novels were spotted in the background, makes a strong symbolic show of solidarity by reading from the Indian Constitution, since, as he eloquently points out: ‘Indian Constitution is the closest that comes to The Satanic Verses, in that both are big-bound, full of dense prose and nobody really knows as to what is actually written inside them.’
# With views tossed for and against the Salman Rushdie imbroglio, it is left to the ever-astute Suhel Seth to cut through the clutter and point out that seeking a ban on books is also a manifestation of freedom of expression. ‘It is Constitutionally allowed to even seek a ban on the Constitution,’ he said and explained as only he can, ‘But once you ban the Constitution, all bans, including the one on the Constitution, will lose their Constitutional sanctity. Hence banning the Constitution constitutionally will amount to banning the ban, unconstitutionally’.
(Disclaimer: True freedom of expression also means attempting pathetic jokes on some of the people who are actually putting their lives in peril trying to defend the very same freedom of speech)