On a lazy Wednesday, random clips in the midst of work:
1. A favorite blog completed five years this week. For lovers of books and movies, it’s a must-visit [as is this]. And if you are in the mood for fun, here’s a series of Jai Arjun posts on the perils pleasures of matrimony, dating back to 2008 when he got hitched: Separate toilets, a travelogue into the subterranean world of water tanks, short circuits, and finding love money in cyberspace.
2. On another regular pit stop on the browsing trail, Great Bong has some tips for the bloggers among you on how to increase traffic. To which I’d add just this codicil: the best way of building traffic is to write, often as you can, on the things that interest you. And ignore the traffic stats while you are at it — blogging can be huge fun if you quit worrying about whether anyone’s reading, and focus instead on what you want to say. More on those lines in an earlier post.
3. Amit Varma’s ongoing, and often hilarious, series on where our tax money goes continues — and not surprisingly, Mayawati stars again.
4. Another of my favorite bloggers, Nilanjana, was last seen last weekend on Burkha Dutt’s talk fest, almost single-handedly making the case against book bans — while on which, an earlier post on the Jinnah book ban. Jaswant, incidentally, is now seen as a hero in Pakistan thanks to his Jinnah book while Stanley Wolpert, who also wrote a book on Jinnah, was banned. Arising from which, both bans stem not from that oft-cited bogey, ‘public sentiment’, as from the desire of Zia in one case, and Narendra Modi in another, of wanting to block any ideas that conflict with a particular image they wish to preserve, for their own reasons.
In her latest column, Nila commemorates an anniversary: it is now 20 years since India banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses [it's a different matter that you can buy copies at any traffic signal in Mumbai]. Is it time, Nila asks, to challenge the ban and have it overturned? Clips:
To state this even more bluntly, there is little doubt that Rushdie had caused offence. The question is whether it’s a crime— punishable by censorship, book banning, fatwas or other means— to cause offence. Publisher and writer Urvashi Butalia puts it very well when she says that writers are bound by the consequences of their writing and must expect dissent (though not death threats)— but that, if an ordinary citizen were to challenge the ban on Satanic Verses today, she would support that action.
Salil Tripathi, author of Offence: The Hindu Case, says: “If the aim of the ban was to prevent bloodshed, it failed: I was witness to riots in Bombay in February 1989, when a Muslim mob wanted to attack the British Council Library because it was believed the library had the book— which it didn’t. In the riots that followed, several people died. In the years since, the state has failed miserably in protecting the rights of artists or writers— ask M F Husain, Deepa Mehta, Taslima Nasrin, and now Jaswant Singh. The consequence of that first original sin, when the State flinched and banned The Satanic Verses has been severely restricted, narrow discourse. This wasn’t what Tagore intended when he wanted his country to awake into that heaven of freedom.”….
But overturning the ban would be the first step to doing something we haven’t done so far, that is bigger than any one book or any one author— protecting our right as Indians to free speech. What happened 21 years ago pushed us in the direction of becoming more fearful, more regressive; and surely two decades is enough time for us to undo this old injustice.
Staying with books and bans for a beat longer, another anniversary: 20 years before Rushdie’s Verses, Philip Roth wrote a book that jolted my teen sensibilities. I didn’t get to read it the year it was published — a bootleg copy got to me only around 1973; many of us in MCC named our right hands ‘Portnoy’ around that time. Much later, I got to see the Richard Benjamin-Karen Black film version helmed by Ernest Lehmann and was terribly underwhelmed; here’s an NYT piece on why books by the likes of Saul Bellow, John Updike and Philip Roth make for indifferent movies. Back to Roth, and from my archives, a Spiegel Online interview and a two-part interview [1, 2] from Bookmarks. And here’s the man speaking to you direct:
Amuse yourselves; more later, if I stumble on anything interesting in course of play work.