The Jaipur Literature Festival has had a rough brush with controversial author Salman Rushdie albeit in absentia and its organsiers now rue the fact that they announced the author’s attendance beforehand.
At the Idea Exchange this week,litfest organisers Sanjoy Roy and Namita Gokhale said announcing Rushdie’s visit was a ”foolish mistake”. ”In September last year,the Kashmir Literature Festival Harud to blunt protests on Rushdies impending visit,” Roy said.
But organisers had told Muslim groups that Rushdie’s visit would not come as a secret to them,Roy added,and therefore the subsequent announcement. The organisers said a similar situation had passed off smoothly in the past because they kept the visit of author Ayaan Hirsi Ali under wraps till the last minute.
Death threats to Rushdie,media hype and four authors reading from ‘The Satanic Verses’ blew the issue out of proportion,they said.
Roy gave a sense of the protests to Rushdie’s visit: ”The head of a minority group even said,’for us this is war. Anyone who dies here will be a martyr.”’
But Gokhale feels the organisers were used. We were soft targets and manipulated by everyone. The government should have done something,should have taken some action but they stood in a corner.
Roy and Gokhale also said they had no knowledge beforehand that four authors would read from ‘The Satanic Verses’. ”The authors should have taken us into confidence and should have told us about it. We would have done something.
We had to honour our invitation to Rushdie. We tried every possible thing video conference,his session with Barkha Dutt. And we were optimistic we would be able to bring Rushdie to the festival with safety and security measures properly in place, they said.
”Cancelling Rushdies visit and video conference was a decision mutually taken by the Diggi Palace owner and the organisers. People from various groups were present at every event and were closely watching each and every move. A balance had to be maintained between our invitation and forces on ground. It was a riot-like situation.
”At the event,we gave equal importance to all authors,no one was sidelined. The media did not cover other authors, was the duo’s recurrent grouse.
But the two felt the festival the cultural gala was a success as it recorded the maximum footfalls. The event started in 2006 and has become the largest literary festival in the Asia-Pacific region.
The event provides platform to writers from various backgrounds with the motive of giving attention to grassroot voices than to glorious ones. ”As India is the place of explosive ideas,the event brings contradictions and complexities together,” Gokhale said.