Full transcript: I'm returning to India, deal with it - Salman Rushdie to NDTV

Full transcript: I'm returning to India, deal with it - Salman Rushdie to NDTV
Jaipur Writer Salman Rushdie spoke exclusively to NDTV's Barkha Dutt after his video address to the Jaipur Literary Festival was cancelled. 

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

NDTV: One of the best known passages from Salman Rushdie's much acclaimed Midnight's Children  went something like this: "No people whose word for 'yesterday' is the same as their word for 'tomorrow' can be said to have a firm grip on time". These words ring especially true today as India seems locked in an anachronistic, antediluvian controversy over Salman Rushdie. The author, one of the world's foremost writers and commentators, was initially forced to cancel his visit to India, where he was scheduled to take part in the Jaipur Literary Festival, after there were intelligence reports of a threat perception to him. Intelligence reports that later became contentious because no agency seemed willing to claim ownership of them. Then, he was all set to take part via a video link on the last day of the festival, a conversation that I, in fact, was scheduled to moderate, with him. Just a few seconds, in fact, before this conversation was to begin we were all informed that the organizers had decided, on the advice of the police, that there was a serious law and order situation developing, that there were protesters on the grounds of the venue, and that protesters had even taken to marching to the venue, saying that anybody who telecast this interview would be liable to a threat, and a physical threat, to themselves. The organizers then decided that to prevent this threat to anybody present here, as well as to the author himself, they would be calling off this video link. For the last week, in fact, so many of us have lamented this sort of situation where a state and a government cannot guarantee safety based on freedom of speech and expression. Salman Rushdie was not able, eventually, to take part in the Jaipur Literary Fest but he is joining us today. Salman, I can't even begin to imagine how angry and disappointed you must be right now. What are your first thoughts, your first reactions, to all that has happened. You have not even been able to participate via a video-conference as we were hoping to do.

Salman Rushdie: Well, I mean, of course I have a lot of personal disappointment. But my overwhelming feeling is a disappointment on behalf of India, which is a country that I have loved all my life and whose long-term commitment to secularism and liberty is something I've praised for much of my life. And now I find an India in which religious extremists can prevent free expression of ideas at a literary festival, in which the politicians are too, let's say, in bed with those groups to wish to oppose them for narrow electoral reasons, in which the police forces are unable to secure venues against demonstrators even when they know the demonstration is on its way. This decline in public standards, and in the liberty of ordinary Indian citizens to engage in discourse, to hear differing points of view, that's the thing that makes me saddest. Of course, I'm very sad not to be there, but, as I say, I am sadder on behalf of the country in which this is happening.

NDTV: Salman, there is an acute sense of deja vu in this moment because many people have opened the newspaper archives and brought out your open letter, published in The New York Times to Rajiv Gandhi, back all those years, more than two decades ago, when The Satanic Verses was first banned here in India. And at that time you said to the former Prime Minister, "Mr. Gandhi, what sort of India do you want to govern? Do you want to be an open or a repressive society?" You also spoke about becoming a political football. Do you believe that history has repeated itself in India today in the most tragic fashion?

Salman Rushdie: Unfortunately I think that is true. I am at a loss to understand why it's happened now, other than, of course, what everyone has said, that it's somehow connected to the UP elections and the desire to collect the Muslim vote in those elections. But, I've visited India, as you know Barkha, a number of times in these last years; five or six times in the last eight or nine years. I've even spoken at the Jaipur Festival with you, four years ago. I spoke at the India Today Conclave in Delhi last year. I brought my family for a several weeks-long holiday in India the year before that. I've been coming and going a lot and it's astonishing to me that suddenly not only my physical presence, but even my image on a video screen is considered to be unacceptable. I think it's pretty shocking.

NDTV: That's the irony, isn't it Salman, that I remember talking to you in Jaipur at the literary festival. I remember hearing and listening to you in rapt attention last year when you were here. Do you believe that a certain kind of competitive politicization ahead of the UP elections is what has led to all of this?

Salman Rushdie: I believe that's so, yes; that must be so because there is no other sensible explanation. And I would just like to say that while I've been cast as this so called enemy of Islam, which seems ludicrous to anyone who knows how I have written and spoken over the years, the real enemies of Islam are the leaders, the Deobandis, the various extremist leaders and their followers, who behave like this, because what they do is to strengthen the extremely negative image of Islam as an intolerant, repressive, and violent culture, as an ideology masquerading as a gentle faith, whereas actually what happens every time it's crossed, or every time it dislikes something, is that it resorts to threats and violence. People like this, who behave like this, are the ones who feed that image and they are the ones responsible for the negative views of Islam in the world, and they should be called the enemies of the faith.

NDTV: What you are really saying is that everybody who has done this, the extremist Muslim groups, led by their Maulvis, have, in a sense, hurt the image of Islam and they have actually been unfair to Indian Muslims.

Salman Rushdie: Exactly. I would have said that the vast majority of Indian Muslims really, frankly, don't give a damn whether I come or go. They have many other pressing concerns of their own, to do with their own economic conditions, their own educational conditions, their own prospects in the country, and they are concerned with those. They are concerned with their personal lives and whether a writer comes to speak at a literary festival or not, I would suspect, is a non-issue for the vast majority of Muslims in the country. And maybe, there are a few who actually might want to come and hear me speak.

NDTV: Salman, it's interesting, I actually read a tweet by somebody yesterday who said that "If the government doesn't know how to handle the mullahs, that's the government's problem, not the problem of Indian Muslims". Would you agree with that?

Salman Rushdie: I don't know. I think it's everybody's problem. I think in a society you can't compartmentalize blame in that way. I think it's the responsibility of everyone. The community needs to decide who its leaders are, it seems to me, and you could argue that currently the people who claim to be speaking for India's Muslims are either not the true leaders, or they are certainly extremely bad leaders. And the fact that the political system plays with those leaders, wants to placate them, and curry favor with them, that of course is the fault of the political system.

NDTV: And in the political system are you more disappointed with the ruling Congress, because the fact is that they are the ones in power. They are the ones in power in Delhi. They are the ones in power in Rajasthan. They are the ones in power in Maharashtra. And now there is this entire controversy over what the intelligence threat actually was, and who put it out, because nobody seems willing to take clear ownership of it.

Salman Rushdie: Yes. It seems incredibly fishy to me and I feel a bit of a fool to have been taken in by it. But, obviously what we see today is, that had I come to Jaipur, the level of violence that that would have unleashed might well have been far too great for anybody to be safe. I was sent, by email, by the festival organizers, an email on which very senior Rajasthan Government officials were cc'd and the email was sent at their request, with their knowledge and approval. And what it told me was: first of all, it told me about the likelihood of protests such as the ones you've seen today. But it also told me specifically that they had received intelligence from Maharashtra that a Bombay Mafia Don had handed weapons and money to two hit men who were on their way to Jaipur to, as the email said, eliminate me. At the first instance I was not told the names of these people. So I wrote back and I said, "Look, if somebody is trying to kill me and you know who the name is then I deserve to know those names". So then they sent me three names. I have my own contacts in Bombay, through journalist friends, of people who know and investigate and write about D-Company and the Bombay underworld in general. I sent these names to them and said "Could you please tell me if these names make any sense to you and who they might be?" One of the names, this guy Sakib Nachan I think, who was identified as a member of that banned group SIMI, and obviously is a person with a violent history, but no known contacts to the Bombay underworld. The other two underworld names were frankly ones that everybody who responded to these emails said they'd never heard them. And afterwards I read in the Indian press Bombay Police officials saying that the names were funny and had made them laugh. These were non-existent names. So, I had been told that a Mafia Don, who turned out not to be a Mafia Don, had given money and weapons to people who turned out not even to exist. This was the line I was fed. Subsequently, the Bombay intelligence people denied it, the central intelligence people in Delhi denied it, even bits of the Rajasthan Police denied that they knew anything about it. But yet I was sent this, at the request of, and with the approval of and knowledge of, senior Rajasthan Government officials. Now that's a very, very poor state of affairs.

NDTV: So, essentially, Salman, it's your feeling that the entire threat to you was either exaggerated or fabricated.

Salman Rushdie: Well, the threat of assassination was either exaggerated or fabricated. And my view is that it was probably fabricated. The threat that did exist was the threat to the festival grounds of the sort that we have seen today. I think for that you have to blame, obviously, the Muslim groups that were so unscrupulous, and whose idea of free speech is that they are the only ones entitled to it. Anyone else, who they disagree with, wishes to open his mouth, they will try and stop that mouth. That's what we call tyranny. It's much worse than censorship because it comes with the threat of violence. That threat was there. There is no question. And you've seen some of the result of it today. It would have been, obviously, bigger had I been there is person. That would have been a threat to everyone at the festival.

NDTV:
What made you eventually decide to not come? Is it because you felt that it is not fair to put the entire fest through what you seem to be told? Is it that you didn't think it was worth it or did you at some level instinctively feel that "I don't fully buy what I'm being told"?

Salman Rushdie: Yes. I thought the whole thing was fantastically fishy. I think that from the moment, the way in which the Congress Party, wherever the Congress Party led government, or in Rajasthan, or wherever; the way in which Congress officials, and many other party officials of other parties, all stated their opposition to my coming, I felt quite clear that some way would be found to prevent me from coming. And in the end, sadly it was.

NDTV: Salman, now there were a clutch of authors here, Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil, Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, who actually read out from portions of the banned The Satanic Verses. Now they are facing multiple complainants, not yet FIRs, I just want to clarify that. The police has not converted those complaints into FIRs. These cases are now in court. There are complaints against the organisers as well. Where do you weigh in on whether reading from a banned work is a smart way of protesting? Because opinion here was quite divided over whether that had raised the stakes, as it were.

Salman Rushdie: Well, let me say, first of all, that I am very grateful to all the writers who read from the book as an act of solidarity and support. I was proud of them for doing so and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them publicly. Now, my understanding as of today is that the ban on The Satanic Verses in India is a ban under the Customs Act. That's to say, it's only a ban against importing the book. It is not a ban against discussing the book, reading from it, from copies already in India. The ban is only against the importation of the book. It's not against the expression of the ideas in the book. Even at the time that the ban was imposed, I remember the Rajiv Gandhi government making this ludicrous statement saying that "The ban in no way was a comment on the merit of the novel"; one of the strangest, good reviews I ever received. My understanding is that no law was broken by these people making these readings, because, as I say, it's not a ban of the book, it's an importation ban. That means that everybody, if there are copies in the country that somebody can pick up and read from, they are entitled to do so.

NDTV: Well, actually that's what makes it so absurd in any case, because technology means that anyone can read anything on your iPad, on your iPhone, on your computer. It's completely antediluvian, isn't it?

Salman Rushdie: Exactly. We live in this age. We live in the information age in which information moves freely. And no matter what this gang of protesters tries to do, they will not prevent the dissemination of my novel, which is published all over the world in, I think, more than fifty languages and, by the way, is legally published, in my certain knowledge, in Turkey and Egypt, and recently, after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, in Libya. It was un-banned in Libya. So you have several Muslim countries in which the novel is freely able to be sold and read without any trouble, without any problem arising in consequence. And yet, in India; this was the first country in the world to ban the book and after 23 and a half years that ban still survives. If Libya can do this, Turkey can do this, Egypt can do this, does India want to be a totalitarian state like China or does it want to move in the right direction towards liberty and the open discussion of ideas?

NDTV: When you were in India last year you also spoke about how what had happened to MF Husain was extremely tragic. You raised early warnings then about which direction India was going in. Are you a little concerned that, in this game of competitive intolerance and competitive politics that is being played out, people are taking sides and not standing up for an absolute freedom of speech and expression.

Salman Rushdie: I hope that people will stand up for that. I was an admirer of Husain saab. I knew him a little bit personally and I thought that what happened to him was scandalous, scandalous. And that in his old age he should be driven out of his country, I mean, people say that he chose to leave. Well, it's an odd thing to say that "somebody chose" when in fact there are threats against his work and his life. That's a slightly slanted choice, slightly forced choice. What happened to Husain was terrible. There have been attacks, as you know, on works of scholarship, James Laine's book about Shivaji, the shocking attack in Delhi against Ramanujan's essay about the three hundred Ramayans. There have been attacks against movie sets, against actors who'd say things that people don't like. It seems as if across the world of the Arts there is an assault on liberty by, sometimes Hindu extremists, sometimes Muslim extremists. It's not one or the other. Both of them, it seems to me, are equally to be condemned and it's about time we understood, that if this is allowed to go on, that India will cease to be a free country. It will cease to be a free country and that is something, which I think most Indians will greatly regret.

NDTV:
Well, I have to tell you that, at the festival, writer after writer, including myself, has been getting up at every panel and talking about what a disgrace it's been that you were not able to actually come to India. But who would you blame, Salman, when you step back and you look at everything that has happened? Where do you think the buck stops? Do you think the onus is on the government eventually? Because many of us believe that it was their responsibility to guarantee you the safety that you needed in order for you to be able to take part.

Salman Rushdie:
Yeah. Well I would say that. I don't know if I can choose only one person. I think that the gentleman from Darul uloom, Deobandis, they have banned the leaders, I mean for goodness sake. Darul uloom is the group from which the Taliban learnt their ideology. This is the group which in the notorious case Imrana case, a couple of years ago, said that a woman would be raped by her father-in-law, should be divorced by her husband as a result. These are dreadful people, and then if this is the face of Islam and it is going to take root in India, then it is a very bad state of affairs. And so I blame them very strongly. But of course it seems that I am a person of Indian origin. I was born in India; it has been my inspiration, my greatest inspiration for most of my life. My desire to come there and be there amongst my fellow Indian people is very great, and the fact that the Indian government could not defend that, but indeed many ministers and other government figures, and as I say members, rather parties who opposed my coming. I think, in the end the government, the buck stops there you know. And the fact that the central government deferred to the Rajasthan government, and then the Rajasthan government behaved as it did. I mean this is a scandal state of affairs and believe me it will not stop me coming to India. I will come to India as many times as I choose to. Do what I will and I will not allow these religious gangsters and their cronies in the government to prevent me.
 
NDTV: I think it's really important what you are saying, you are saying despite what happens, Salman, you will come back to India?
 
Salman Rushdie:
Most certainly, most certainly and many times, so deal with it.

NDTV: I think many of us will root for you Salman on that issue. But I have got to ask you, I know you have spent so many years hiding when the shadow of Fatwa was over your head, a lot of your best literature came from that very sort of unfortunate experience, there was a time when you slept in 56 different beds as you moved from home to home, safe house to safe house. Has fear returned to your life today after what you have seen happened? That there is a militant minority, because I do believe it's a minority, and not the majority here, that there is a militant minority that has kept you away, forced you away this time? Are you feeling scared again for yourself and for your family?

Salman Rushdie: No, not really, I mean even I have a life in England and United States. You know it's pretty much normal nowadays and I don't think that has changed. And I think this has been clearly a very bad episode. And I mean, had I been coming, not to something as crowded with the people as the Jaipur festival, where my presence could endanger other people, I might have well taken a different decision. But you know I have been fighting this battle too long to give it up now. I have been fighting this battle, not just on behalf of myself, not just on behalf of The Satanic Verses, but on behalf of the great principles that have evolved here; the principles of freedom of expression, which is the principle on which all other democratic freedoms rest. If you don't have freedom of expression, you don't have any other freedom. That's the corner stone and the bedrock of any free society and that's why I fight this battle. That's why I fight not just for myself, but on behalf of other artists, as I said in India now, who have been prosecuted and banned and had their work traduced, falsified and attacked over these years. And I will go on fighting that fight, because I think it is for anyone who believes in liberty and in the freedom of speech and in the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, all the freedoms that come in an open society. I am going to continue that fight and that's just how it is.

NDTV: Do you believe at all that the freedom of expression should be subjected to, what in the law are called reasonable restrictions? Do you buy into that at all, because in the end that's what we were confronted with in Jaipur? You had the police saying, look if you want to go ahead, go ahead, but we cannot guarantee that there won't be a riot of some kind or there won't be threats. And in light of that, this is what we are advising the organisers to do. Do you at all buy that reasonable restrictions are a legitimate basis to stop somebody?

Salman Rushdie: Well, I find it quite remarkable that a police force, which is told that a demonstration is going to take place at a certain time, for a certain reason, cannot contain the situation so that the demonstrators can demonstrate, as it is their right to do, and that the event can continue, as it is its right to do. In a free society, yes, people have the right to demonstrate. They do not have the right to disrupt and silence the people with whom they disagree. Both voices can be heard. It is the job of security forces to make sure that that happens and that did not happen.

NDTV: In other words, you are saying that had you come to Jaipur and, let's say, there had been a thousand protesters at the gates, holding up placards, peacefully saying that they hate you, even that's okay as long as they didn't threaten you and they did not disrupt what you were doing? They have the right to hate you. They don't have the right to threaten you. That's the distinction that you're drawing, right?

Salman Rushdie: Exactly. What I'm saying is that in a democracy they can make their protest. Of course they can. That protest has to be permitted and organised in a way that is peaceful and clear. They can make the protest as unequivocally as they like but they cannot disrupt the people they don't like from saying their piece and from having their point of view. It is the job of security forces, in any democracy, to make sure that that is what happens; that both sides get to speak, not just one.

NDTV: Salman, looking ahead at how this is going to play out, is there a part of you that wants to come to India as soon as possible now, in a sense, to say "See, you can't keep me away"? Or are you going to sit, soak this all in, perhaps review your security, and then decide?

Salman Rushdie: I don't know. The truth is, Barkha, that I am a very busy man. I've got an enormous amount on my plate this year and this was my opportunity to come to India in my schedule. So, now I have to think about when I can next do it. But I will be thinking about it and I will as soon as there seems to be an opportunity to come that fits in with my other plans. Then I will come.

NDTV: I have to tell you that right after the session with you was cancelled, Rahul Bose, who I know is also cast in Deepa Mehta's film adaptation of Midnight's Children, read out from the Constitution of India to mark his protest, saying, "Look, what happened just went against our Constitutional rights". Is it ironic to you that Midnight's Children, which I think in many ways is your biggest and most important book, and an allegory of the birth of modern India, and today you have an India where this is an existential debate for the idea of India? Isn't it?

Salman Rushdie: Yes. I remember when Midnight's Children came out all those years ago, in 1981, obviously the response to it in India was wonderfully heartening to me, because of how well it was received in India. If people had a criticism of it, some people said that they found the ending too pessimistic and why did it have to end on such a down note? At the time I said I didn't exactly agree with them, but now if I look at the ending of Midnight's Children, it looks ludicrously optimistic compared to what has actually happened in India in the last 30 years. With hindsight one might have made that ending a great deal darker than it was. That's a sad thing. It's now 31 years since the publication of Midnight's Children and I believe the country to be in, economically you can say that there have been improvements, but culturally, in terms of liberty, it's in a much worse place now than it was 30 years ago.

NDTV: Why do you think that has happened Salman? Do you blame it on politics? Do you blame it on the infiltration of religion into the political discourse? What has happened? How did a militant minority, people who live on the fringes, become the mainstream of our public discourse?

Salman Rushdie: I'm looking from outside. You would have a much clearer knowledge of this from the inside. It does seem clear really that since the Emergency, which is written about in Midnight's Children, more or less since that time, politicians across the spectrum, this isn't specific to any political party, have begun to move away from the secular principles on which the nation was founded and begun to pander to religious groups of one or the other kind. The result has been the growth of a kind of sectarian, communalist politics in India, which is, to my mind, very regrettable. This incident, it's an incident, is one moment in that larger narrative of the decline of secular standards in India and the slide towards a politics of pandering to religion.

NDTV: When The Satanic Verses was first banned when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, it was a part of the series of decisions by the government that really back-fired, the Shah Bano case for example was another one. Do you in a sense believe that this kind of sometimes liberalism, accords a certain kind of respectability to flirting with the fringes in, I would say, the minority groups and they don't come down as heavily on that as they would, for example, as when extremist right wing forces come to the surface? Do you think that there is a hypocrisy in the political discourse of this?

Salman Rushdie: I don't know. I mean I think you know I am not a big fan of the way in which the Indian politics has been conducted in the last 30 years; and anyone who knows me also knows I am not a great fan of organised religion, so these two forces coming together in India, I think, have had a very negative effect on the quality of public life. And as I say this growing list of attacks on artistic, intellectually scholarly freedom across different media, you know, novels, paintings, films, scholarly essays, biographies, across all the media there is an attack on intellectual and artistic freedom. In a country where intellectual and artistic heritage is one of the greatest aspects of its culture, how can it be that India, which has so rich a heritage of art and intellectual thought, can become a country which is intolerant of the expression of artists and of thinkers? It's something to think about and to debate. And if there is one good thing that may come out of this Jaipur festival episode, it's perhaps that this debate will be sharpened and the people will start asking more difficult questions and become less willing to just let things slide down the slope, as they are at the present time.

NDTV: Absolutely. I think that's the only silver lining right now Salman, because I can tell you, from having spent time at the festival, that this is all anybody is talking about. And right after your session was cancelled, there was a raging panel debate on freedom of expression and what has happened. Even the organisers, in their statements, have said that they have felt that they have been bullied, they felt that they have been pushed against the wall, they felt that they have been left with no other option. Do you at all believe that this could have been handled differently, is there any particular aspect that disappoints you?

Salman Rushdie: No. I mean I know that the people at the festival have been working day and night really hard to try and make this happen, and I am grateful to them for that. I know that there has been a genuine wholehearted effort to make sure that I was able to come. But as I say in the end, you know, whether I can be at the literature festival or not that's one thing; but the much larger thing is that the question that I asked Rajiv Gandhi back in 1988 is, what kind of India do you want to live in? What kind of India do you want to lead? What is the future of India that you want to have? If you look into the future of India 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, what would you like to see about your country? Would like it to be a free country or would you like it to be one where you live in fear of religious violence? Would you like it to be a free country or would you like it to be one in which the leadership is corrupt and craven and venal? Would you like a free country or you want one in which the police forces and the security authorities are unreliable and untrustworthy? These are the questions to ask and I think it's proper to ask them and to demand answers.

NDTV: Salman, as we wind down on this conversation I have to ask you if this session, if it had happened, would have started with Tom Stoppard reading from the Midnight's Children, and then you and I would have been in the conversation that did not happen. But in a sense Midnight's Children did first bring you face to face with political backlash, Indira Gandhi's sorts of chronicles in that book did not go down very well with the political class here. Now this is happening, do you ever feel that there is any part of you tired and fed up of this kind of censorship of thoughts? Do you ever feel you will be in danger of self-censorship as you write?

Salman Rushdie:
I've been asked this a few times but the truth is that I have a very great, you might almost say, reverence, for the Art of the Novel, for the practice of literature. I think that it's a great privilege, for those of us who are fortunate enough to be practitioners of the Art of the Novel, to be able to do that. Self-censorship is a lie to yourself; if you are going to be trying to seriously create art, to create literary art, and you decide to hold back, to censor yourself, then you are a fool to yourself and it would be better that you kept your mouth shut and did not speak. If you're going to speak, the only way that you can speak is to speak your full mind, to offer your full vision of the world, in your work, in your art, and hope that that finds favour with your readers. The gamble of literature is that I make the best work I can; the most truthful, the most representative of how I see things. I try and do that and then I put it out there and say to you, "What do you think?" I hope that you think well of it, obviously. I hope that you think well of it and if you don't then that's not great for me but that's the only way to make it. The only way to make it is to make it with that fullness of your personal vision. And no, self-censorship is the death of Art. It's the death of Art. I would prefer to never write again than to do that.

NDTV:
In many ways you have been prescient. You have been able to forecast trends in society, especially political and cultural trends. When you wrote Fury, it virtually, in a sense, looked ahead at what happened with the Twin Towers and 9/11. I have to ask you, if you were writing a book today about India, what do you see in our near future?

Salman Rushdie: Well, I see these things that we've been talking about here. I see a kind of downward slide and, I don't know, you have to wait and see, Barkha. Maybe I'll write it.

NDTV: Well, a lot of your literature has, in fact, come, Salman, from your years in hiding and everything that you went through. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, in a sense, written for one son. And he grew up, really, with everything that you had gone through. Then Luka, coming for your other son, but both sharing a recurring motif of a father who looks for protection from his children. Today, what will you say to your family about everything that has happened? And are they worried for you?

Salman Rushdie: If anything, they are angrier than I am. They see what has happened to their father and they see it as a crime against him. The crime has been committed against me, not by me. I think they feel that very strongly. I am proud of them. I am lucky in my sons.

NDTV:
Can I ask you today, which is the word, because you are the wordsmith master, what is the word you would chose to capture what has happened? Would you say it's a shame? Would you say it's a travesty? What is the word you'd use?

Salman Rushdie: I think it's been a kind of farce, really, because this is something that did not need to happen. A writer of Indian origin, born in India, of Indian parents, holding the documentation that allows him to come and go from India as he chooses, wants to come to talk with other writers and readers at a meeting of writers and readers. It is very hard to see how that is offensive to anybody in India. And, had this not been whipped up by the religious extremists of Deoband and then, in some way, colluded with by the political establishment, it didn't need to happen. This just didn't need to happen. It's a stupid thing. I heard Sanjoy Roy earlier saying that "It was an idiotic situation" and I agree with him. It's a farce. It's farce, which has given a kind of tragic twist because of the introduction into it of the possibility of violence. I think the men of violence need to be called by their true name. These are violent men. This is gangsterism. That is the crime. The crime is to introduce violence into a peaceful situation and it didn't need to happen. So it's a black farce. I would say it's a black farce.

NDTV: There is a group, Sahmat that has issued you an invite to come and give a talk before, and standing in front of, a painting exhibit by MF Husain. Would you consider doing that?
 
Salman Rushdie: You know as I said I was an admirer of M F Husain and I read that, I mean I know about Sahmat and well, let me just see as I say it may seem banal to you, but it's just a question of scheduling. I have very, very busy year. I have a film Midnight's Children to complete, I have a memoir of mine that's an introduction and is now being edited, so on and so on, that's going to come out in autumn, I am developing a television series, I have teaching appointments in the United States, you know I have a lot going on so, if I can get to India soon, I certainly will, but if I don't, it's because of these other factors and nothing else.
 
NDTV: Are you at all worried that your big movie, the film adaptation of Midnight's Children will suffer in any way from this controversy? Are you apprehensive going forward about your links with India, the country you have always said that you love?
 
Salman Rushdie: Well it's a bad moment, there's no doubt, but I hope we can get beyond it.
 
NDTV: And has anybody in the government, did anyone put pressure on you from the political establishment to not come to India, Salman?
 
Salman Rushdie: Not directly, no. I mean I wasn't contacted by anyone of the government. So no, that's not true and in fact at the beginning the Rajasthan authorities were saying to the Jaipur festival Organisers that they wanted to work with them to make the trip possible. But as it got closer and closer that commitment, I feel, began to waver and then came this ridiculous episode of the invented threat. And so I have some skepticism about how genuine their commitment to have me come was. I think it was really convenient to everybody in the Congress party that I didn't show up just before the UP vote.
 
NDTV: It is terribly tragic to see this politicisation Salman, but as an Indian I have to ask you, and as an Indian who feels in a sense ashamed that her state could not guarantee safety to you, I have to ask you as a last question, do you believe this will alter your emotional connection with this country?
 
Salman Rushdie:
I don't know. I mean I think a larger problem for me was the long period of time after the Fatwa when I was unable to visit India. That was you know whatever, it was 9 years or something that I could not come. That was very, very hard for me. And it was a great relief when I was able to resume my visits, and I just hope this doesn't turn into another one of those, because it would be very difficult, but I am not planning to allow to do so.
 
NDTV: You sound remarkably calm, Of course I am listening to you on a satellite line. Are you calm?
 
Salman Rushdie: Yeah. I mean you know, I mean this is not new for me, I have been dealing with this kind of nonsense for almost a quarter of a century and I am long past being panicked by this kind of thing. I believe in my work. I think you know The Satanic Verses has been justified, it's widely read and studied and appreciated as a work of art you know. I just, I go on with my work and have my life and I think I am not that easily fazed by this kind of thing anymore, and you know as I say, I will see you in Delhi soon
 
NDTV:
That sounds good. I have to ask you, I know you have got a memoir coming up, you have got a movie coming up, what would like to say to all the Indians? I know many of them have been tweeting you in support, many Indian Muslims have been writing to you. Just what would you like to say as we end to all the people listening to this?
 
Salman Rushdie: Well I must say I have been incredibly appreciative of how positive the public response has been, you know, on the social media and elsewhere. How positive and supportive Indian media have been, almost unanimously, nothing is ever 100% unanimous, but you know the huge media response and the public response has been very heartening. And it is what shows me that the India that I have been talking about, that India which values freedom, is very much alive and kicking, and is not being well represented by its leaders. So I want to thank all those people who sent me messages via social media and others through other ways. I really appreciated it, and I believe in India as I always did. I just don't believe in the people at the top.
 
NDTV: I think that's rightly said, and I think many of us share your cynicism and anger at this point. But it's good to hear that you will be back, you have started a national and international debate. Even as we are talking the debate is raging on in every corner from Jaipur to Delhi. Salman, we look forward to seeing you in Delhi and we remember those words, 'that those who burn books will then burn people'. And I think we must remind ourselves of what our Constitution guaranteed us. Salman Rushdie looking forward to meeting you in India soon.
 
Salman Rushdie:
Yeah see you soon, bye bye!
 
NDTV: Thank you very much Salman.
Story First Published: January 24, 2012 19:52 IST

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