Ships and shoes and sealing wax

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:

One last link on the subject of books and bans: a favorite resource. [Too many links to take in all at once? Here’s one more apropos, from Harvard Business Review, on death by information overload :-)].

Amuse yourselves; more later, if I stumble on anything interesting in course of play work.

27 thoughts on “Ships and shoes and sealing wax

  1. Pingback: The making of a movie buff « Smoke Signals

  2. I am amazed at the shallowness of Indian liberals. How can one criticize Narendra Modi for banning books & films while they are silent when the church protests release of DaVinci Code movie or the muslims protesting release of Tasleema’s book?

    Why the adoration for MF Hussein when he takes too much liberties with hindu goddesses whereas the police has to arrange for a ‘peaceful’ muslim protest against Dutch cartoons depicting Muhammed?

    I think India has gone on to the other side when it comes to dealing with the minorities. Pamper them completely & punish the majority.

    PS: I am not supporting any of the idiocy that the right-wing does. The best way of protesting MF Hussein is to stage a peaceful, silent protest in front of the venue. Alas, some rightwingers don’t realise that non-violence is the most powerful weapon while violence is the trait of the cowardly!

    • Vimal you are equating the act of banning of a book by Govt and protest against by some group are not same.

      Protests by a group is a expression of a public opinion ( many times these protest may violate the law of the land ) on the other hand Banning of a book by a Govt is suppression of an opinion.

      In my opinion Banning of any book is wrong and in this age of internet meaningless. People should be allowed to protest as their right to freedom of expression as long as they are not violent.

      The reason Modi banned this book is b’coz he fancies himself as “Chote Sardar’ since RSS do not have any great icon from freedom they have more or less adopted Sardar Vallabhai Patel as their hero from that era.
      What Modi does not realize is that his hero Sardar Patel shared his passion of banning things. Sardar Patel banned the RSS and jailed Savarkar after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Just for this reason Sardar Patel is my hero too.

      • I am not equating these 2 acts as equal. All i want to do is to call attention to the fact that liberals cry a river when the minority ‘feels’ oppressed while they remain silent for the acts/omissions of the minority.

        Was Modi right in banning the book? Hell no. His action was sheer foolishness written all over it.

        • And all I want to do was call to attention RSS-BJP apologists cry a river whenever these groups are criticized for their acts and they remain silent on the actual criticism try to deflect by listing out some vague totally unrelated talking points

    • HI Vimal
      You hit the nail on the head-I am amazed at the narrow mindedness and political correctness of our parties-Anything which is pro Hindu is communal and pro minority is secular.It is this double nature of the law which irks me.You are right when MF hussain took too much liberty of Hindu Goddesses none raised a voice-Basically in India we have taken the tolerance of the majority to the extreme
      200 people all over the world have died-for what?for a silly reason that some one somewhere in one obscure corner of the world had the audacity to draw some cartoons-We are lucky that no one died in India but I was fearing the worst

      • Ram: With no intention of holding a brief for one party or the other, how do you mean no one raised a voice with ref MF Husain? We’ve exiled the man from his own country without due process of law — when a Bangladesh does that or a China, we spout outrage.

        • I feel the motive behind MFH’s paintings was different from Taslima’s writings.. and the protest was not only against the person but were mainly aimed against the motive behind his paintings..

          Taslima’s case in Bangladesh was different, she was trying to expose the flaws in her religion..(this is what I believe) the same happens in India to any Hindu/Christian writer if he writes anything similar against his own religion.. but the fact of the matter needs to be accepted.. (which aam admi might never do gracefully)

          It happened to Taslima too in Hyderabad, AP!!!!

          The bottom line is protests are inevitable… until the mindset of aam admi changes…

          Now did anyone speak about Freedom?! It is omnipresent but costs a lot when we try to use it…..

        • Thought MF Hussein went out of the country on his own and he “fears persecution” if he returns to India. The country did not banish him and this is a democratic country and Hussein can always fight it out in the court of law.

          However, he chooses to make it a big issue by staying out of the country.

          • Even Nadeem (Shravan) used the same pretext to stay out of the country when he was wanted in some underworld links.

            It is a common ruse used by many in India. that cannot be equated with a govt action against him. All the govt did was to slap an FIR on Hussein based on complaints from aggrieved parties. He has not been tortured by a vindictive govt, has he been?

            • Oh no, certainly not. He has merely had his person, and his apartment, attacked; galleries showing his work attacked and vandalized, et cetera. Do you recall anyone filing FIRs in those cases?

              Look, leave MF Husain out of the argument for now. The point is, this is a tactic that is increasingly coming into use: “aggrieved parties” indulge in violence to shut up those they disagree with. Accept it in the case of a Husain, say, and you create the precedent that will tomorrow come in handy against you. Our problem is that in focusing on the singular case in front of us, we totally lose track of the larger problem.

            • Prem – Why should we leave MFH out of this discussion? Why can’t the liberals criticise his actions? How can he draw lewd images of hindu goddesses and expect everyone to pat his back?

              Liberals cried blood when the sena (the hundreds of them!) stopped filming of “The Water” while there was not a word of criticism for the bishops when they protested the screening of “The DaVinci Code”

              I am not supporting vandalism at all. In fact the opposite, i would have absolutely loved if they held a non-violent, silent protest outside the gallery. Would have sent a much more powerful message.

            • Discuss MF Husain’s art, its aesthetics, relevance, and whether it sets out to denigrate the feelings of a particular community, by all means.

              My point is simply that there are two separate discussions: One is on artistic merit and related issues, whether it is MF Husain or Laine or Jaswant or whoever.

              The other is about states unilaterally banning free expression, in whatever form, which is against our constitutional guarantees. That is the debate I sought to provoke on the post, and which has gotten hijacked into a discussion on MF Husain. Hence my attempt to get the debate back on track.

              To your example: the Sena unleashed violence to stop the filming of Water. No action was ever taken, and the film maker was forced to flee.

              Sections of the Church protested the Da Vinci Code, and even launched a website to refute it. Fair enough. But there was no ban anywhere in the US — people were allowed to see the film, whereas in the case of Water violence was used to prevent it even being filmed.

              In India, there was a similar Catholic outcry. The Censor Board however released the film for public viewing, with an A certificate.

              The Supreme Court rejected petitions that called for a ban on the film.

              So how is the Sena-Water incident even remotely in the same zip code as the Da Vinci Code?

              There was not a word of criticism when the Sena let its goons loose. Is that what you want from the state? Against that, the Catholic angst against the Da Vinci Code was widely debated — and the movie [which, incidentally, led to a very religious friend of mine flooding me with two books and several dozen print outs denouncing it] was actually released for public consumption.

            • The DaVinci Code was banned in quite a few places in India – Andhra Pradesh (incidentally, the CM was a christian!), Goa and seven other states.

              So, your point that these folks didn’t abuse state powers isn’t valid.

              To me, the goons of the various senas and the minority muslim & christian leaders aren’t all that different.

              Hey, but that’s just me!

            • Yes, it was banned in some states, and that wasn’t right either.

              My point all along is state bans, pandering to sentiments whether minority or majority, is not right.

              Incidentally, the ban was legally challenged only in AP — and the High Court struck it down.

          • I am just taking a wild guess here the potential of getting arrested and spending sometime in jail could be a big issue for him ,more so being in his 90s. May be for some regular jail birds it may not be a big deal.

            The issue here is Should he be arrested for some paintings and or even more basic question has a crime been committed ?

            As i said earlier an artist or author should be able to publish whatever without the fear of criminal charges or a ban slapped on them. However these artist should expect a civil libel lawsuit if they try to unfairly defame some individual or a group.
            Any group should also have the right to protest all they want against a work of art or a book but without doing any kind of intimidation.

            Also Nadeem was charged with murder and Hussain is charged over a painting. There are no similarities between those 2 cases other than the fact that they are both Muslims. Nadeem comparison helps in this argument makes no sense other than to arouse anti-Muslim feelings.

          • Sorry? I haven’t heard him make an issue out of it. The court of law is one thing — but do we expect him, and artists everywhere [I could throw up enough links from just the last 12 months, but you know them as well as I do] to also have to deal with “enraged citizens”, while the state turns a convenient blind eye?

            The point actually underlines the insidious nature of such “bans” — there is never a legal basis to the things, which is why interested parties resort to violence, the object being to browbeat whoever their target is into de facto submission/censorship.

            You don’t seriously mean it when you compare Husain’s case to Nadeem-Shravan’s case, do you?

            • A person of Hussein’s stature can always cover himself with legal help. The FIR does not mean jail – he can be taken in for questioning. Since this is a harmless case, he can easily get advance bail. So he is not going to be jailed.

              He can ask for police protection – and I am sure for a person of his stature, the govt will be willing to.

              Heck – people live in India with terrorist threats to their lives (Cho Ramaswamy for example). Threat from fringe elements cannot be that big an issue.

              I am not condoning the attitude of the political parties that resort to such acts. Maybe he is staying out of India for fear of his life. But that is not the same as calling him as “exiled from his country” like what Bangladesh or China does. There is no state machinery behind him.

              I am not equating Nadeem and hussein – I was only comparing the similar arguments they use. When anything goes wrong, pull out the minority card.

            • Okay, I’ll bail. I thought I had made the point clear: this state cannot constitutionally exile anyone. What it can do is incite its sub rosa minions to unleash violence that will force the object of their attentions to flee for his life. If that is okay with you, I have nothing more to say.

              How is it not equating Nadeem with Husain, when you in the very next sentence compare the “similar arguments”? MF Husain at no point attempted to gain sympathy using his minority status. Unless I missed a news report or statement you are privy to.

              Anyway — I’d think our respective positions have been made fairly clear through this exchange, so I’ll move on.

          • One other point: ever heard these two names? Ashok Pandey. Akthar Baig.


            Ashok Pandey is the head, we are told, of the ‘Hindu Personal Law Board’. He is also the one who publicly announced a Rs 51 crore ‘reward’ for Husain’s ‘elimination’.

            Akhtar Baig is a head honcho of the ‘Madhya Pradesh Congress Minority Cell’. He is also the one who offered Rs 11 lakh to anyone willing to chop off Husain’s hands.

            “This is a democratic country and Husain can always fight it out in the court of law’, you said, no?

            In this “democratic country”, the NDTV office in Ahmedabad was vandalized by a group of 20 odd goons under the banner of the ‘Hindu Samrajya Sena’ — because NDTV aired a poll on the Bharat Ratna awards for which Husain was a contender. In this democratic country, apparently polling the democracy is an act punishable with violent retribution. In this democratic country also, violence captured on camera met with absolutely no reaction from the police and the government.

            I could go on listing instances, not all of them relating to Husain, where orchestrated violence is being used as a deliberate tool of state policy. But you know them as well as I do and if we/you are prepared to accept all that as collateral damage, nothing much I can say.

            • and i call out these guys as Idiots.

              The point is not to find the rightwing non-thinkers/property destroyers (we have enough of them!) but to call out pseudo-liberals who are blind to the omissions of the minority …

            • Whose point is that?

              Call out the pseudo-liberals, when merited, by all means.

              But when people put a bounty on someone else’s head, the only reaction you have is, oh, I call them idiots.

              Yeah, well, that is nice to know. If you say something someone else doesn’t like and that someone then comes to target you and your family, I’ll call them idiots, too.

              Question is, what will the state do to them? Clearly: nothing. But, as you say, let’s not worry about that, because the point is of course to keep hammering away at “pseudo-intellectuals” — as defined, of course, by the true intellectuals?

              I call for an end to this practice of banning things you don’t like. If that makes me a “pseudo-intellectual”, I’ll live with that label; that is easier than trying to live with a closed mind.

            • Huzzah, Prem. Thank you for that dose of reality. Pseudo-secular & pseudo-intellectual have become the big right-wing gaalis now (you call yourself secular & intellectual? Then you must be the opposite, puny lib.) And Kalki, Vimal – conflating Nadeem with MF, & Water with DVC, is pseudo, dishonest, ignorant & embarrassing!

  3. IMHO the other Roth adaptation starring Benjamin, Goodbye Columbus, made 3 years before PC, is a much superior movie.

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