The Congress’s censorship goes on. After objecting to certain parts of Prakash Jha’s movie Rajneeti,the party is now up in arms against Madrid-based writer Javier Moro’s novel based on its president Sonia Gandhi’s life.
The Spanish book is called El Sari Rojo (The Red Sari,subtitled When Life is the Price of Power),a reference to the red sari Sonia wore on her wedding day,’one that Nehru wove while he was in jail’. First published in October 2008,the book has already been translated into Italian,French and Dutch,and an English translation by Peter Hearn is ready for publication.
And the trouble has begun for The Red Sari.
In an email,Moro,55,said that Sonia’s lawyers,including Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi,’have just written to my Italian and Spanish publishers to demand the withdrawal of the book from the stores. Nobody understands very well why,but that’s what they are up to’.
Moro thinks that the Congress leaders ‘did not like the recreation of her life in Italy as told in my book’.
Singhvi,who said he was handling the legal matter for Sonia and who affirmed that Sonia was aware of the issue,said: ‘It is time Moro stopped distorting facts and misrepresenting details. He knows well that both he and his publishers have been sent legal notices informing them that the published work is completely unauthorised,defamatory and salacious.’
When pointed out that the book is a novel,not a biography,Singhvi replied,’There is no question of fictionalising a living person.’
The novel which,according to Moro’s website,has already sold 2,30,000 copies in Spain and Latin America,opens on May 24,1991,with Rajiv Gandhi’s coffin ‘lying in the great hall of Teen Murti House’.
‘Now it is time to say goodbye,’ Moro writes. ‘Sonia places an offering on the body over the heart. It is made of camphor,cardamom,cloves and sugar and it’s supposed to help remove the imperfections of the soul…. Through the television cameras,the world discovers this stoic woman who reminds everyone of Jacqueline Kennedy twenty-eight years before in Arlington.’
Speaking over the telephone from Spain,Moro said,’Sonia’s legal counsel even objected to a part in the book where Sonia wonders,after Rajiv’s assassination,whether she should return to Italy on her mother’s advice. I think they would like to believe that Sonia had been thoroughly Indianised by then and would not even consider going back to Italy.’
He added caustically,’They would much prefer that she had been born in Delhi – and from a Brahmin family,if possible.’
Moro claimed that before the publication of the novel,the manuscript had been sent to Sonia through her sister Nadia,who knows Spanish. ‘There was no response then,’ he said.
The novel mentions Christian von Stieglitz as ‘the friend who introduced her to Rajiv when they were students’,describes Congressmen persuading a reluctant Sonia to accept the presidency of the party,and then,in flashback,goes to the ‘village of Lusiana in the Asiago mountains in the foothills of the Alps’.
There,’in accordance with tradition the neighbours tied pink ribbons to the bars on the windows and doors’ when Sonia was born in December 1946,a post-war child. Writes Moro,’A few days later,she was christened by the Lusiana parish priest and given the name of Edvige Antonia Albina Maino.’ But her father Stefano called her Sonia. ‘In this way,he kept the promise he made to himself after getting away from the Russian front with his life.’
According to Moro’s book,Stefano was part of Mussolini’s army that was defeated by the Russians. ‘There were thousands of prisoners,among them Stefano,who managed to escape together with other survivors. They succeeded in taking shelter in a farmhouse on the Russian steppes,where they lived for weeks under the protection of a peasant family…. As a tribute to the family that had saved his life,he decided to given his daughters Russian names.’
Moro’s book describes Sonia as going to a convent school in Giaveno where ‘she only studied enough to keep out of trouble,but she was always smiling and helpful’,played peacemaker between squabbling friends,learnt to ski and developed a love for reading. He says she was the only boarder who slept alone because of her asthma and coughing fits. Later,while studying in Turin,the idea of becoming an Alitalia stewardess,of earning a living while travelling round the world,began to seduce her’. But that dream ‘gradually changed into becoming a foreign language teacher or,even better,an interpreter in some international organisation such as the United Nations’.
Her dog,Moro says,was called Stalin.
Moro said he travelled to Lusiana village and Orbassano,where the Mainos later moved,where ‘any neighbour would tell you these stories’. ‘I havent written anything illegal. And in this day and age,you cannot suppress a book.’ The Congress,Moro said,’thinks it can do to the rest of the world what it does to a local hack. It is actually giving me free publicity’.
Meanwhile,Roli Books is holding talks with Moro and his Barcelona-based publishers Seix Barral for bringing out the English translation of El Sari Rojo in India. ‘We will be publishing the book,’ said Pramod Kapoor of Roli,’but it is too early to say when.’ Asked if he would be inviting a legal notice,he said,’It is something Mr Singhvi the lawyer can comment on.’
Moro said he was ‘absolutely sure’ that an Indian publisher would be served a legal notice. ‘And when that happens we would know the strength of Indian democracy.’
Moro’s earlier books too have revolved around India,including Five Past Midnight in Bhopal,which he co-authored with Dominique Lapierre,and Passion India on the flamenco dancer Anita Delgado who married the Maharaja of Kapurthala in the early 20th century.