The late night rumour in Kolkata is that author Salman Rushdie is holed up at a hotel in the Salt Lake area of the city.
That's how cloudy and shadowy the story has been through the day on whether the author of Satanic Verses was coming to Kolkata or not to promote Midnight's Children, the film based on his book by the same name. One city newspaper front-paged his itinerary; another said his visit was cancelled. But the fact is: he did not come to Kolkata on Wednesday though he was supposed to.
Though he did not show up, some minority outfits held demonstrations at the Kolkata airport in the morning. Their protest: they were not going to let the author of Satanic Verses - the book banned in India - set foot in this city.
Both the Kolkata Police Commissioner RK Pachnanda and Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra denied any knowledge of Mr Rushdie's probable arrival.
But, according to sources, PVR Cinemas, which will screen Midnight's Children across the country from Friday, had planned to bring the controversial author to Kolkata to promote his film, as he has done in several other cities in the country. Director Deepa Mehta, producer David Hamilton and some members of the cast were scheduled to accompany Mr Rushdie.
Bookings had been made for their stay at a Kolkata five-star hotel. There was no press conference scheduled, but PVR had sought requests from some media houses for one-on-one interviews with Mr Rushdie. But, it seems, the venue for this exercise became a problem.
At least two days ago, police officials contacted PVR officials and advised them against getting Salman Rushdie to Kolkata. The police also contacted the organisers of the Kolkata Book Fair and the Kolkata Literary Meet and warned them against inviting the author to the event. According to sources, some of the organisers were told they would be arrested if Mr Rushdie came to the fair.
The Kolkata Literary Meet, inaugurated at the Kolkata Book Fair on Wednesday, had a session last evening where Deepa Mehta, actor Rahul Bose and David Hamilton would discuss the challenge of transferring the magic realism of Midnight's Children from page to reel.
Many, including the police, thought that Salman Rushdie would be part of the event. But the organiser, Malavika Banerjee, denied he had been invited. The organisers said that director Deepa Mehta will instead attend the event. The suspense continued till late in the day, but Ms Mehta did not turn up. Only Rahul Bose, an actor in the film, attended the event.
According to PVR's public relations agency, Mr Rushdie, Ms Mehta and other were supposed to come to Kolkata on Wednesday. But they cancelled at the last minute because they were tired after their hectic schedule and had a busy day on Thursday when Midnight's Children will premiere at a gala red carpet event in Mumbai.
Author Amitava Ghosh summed it up thus: "In a general sense its very unfortunate that Salman Rushdie is not able to go where he wishes and he certainly should be allowed to go wherever he wants to."