The Jaipur Literature Festival goes on unabated. Neither necessary or unnecessary hullabaloo over the visit of Salman Rushdie the renowned writer and winner of many of awards and honours bestowed to the best in the literary world, to the festival has catapulted the festival to the status of a hot news item for the last few days. A controversy that is now more than a couple of decades old has refused to die out and become a thing of the past. As per my analysis of the developments, there have emerged the following broad sides with respect to the issue.
Firstly there are the ones who have vehemently opposed the said visit on the grounds that Satanic Verses is blasphemous to the core and a tricky assault on their religious beliefs. Men and women possessive of varying levels of piety and religiosity are party to this camp that has seemingly displayed little regard for the author’s freedom of artistic expression. The other section of the public consisting of men and women of varying literary calibres (most of whom don’t seem to be reliable proponents of the humanitarianism that they preach and whose accessibility they demand) has equally vehemently defended Rushdie’s right to visit and be a part of the festival. The hollow clamour arising from this camp has centred around some notion of right to artistic expression that according to them should be absolute and un-curtailed. Thirdly there are those not so interested members of the (civil) society who have been ambivalent about the issue. I see myself belonging to this camp. Lastly there are those who haven’t even heard or don’t want to hear about the controversy. Out of these four camps the first two seem to have taken the entire onus of either opposing or defending Rushdie, on their shoulders as a matter which they consider to be nothing less than some ‘holy responsibility’. They have so far acted as the spokespersons of certain constituencies they think exist to second and vouch for all their views. The entire universe of readers and writers, pious and the secular are being appropriated as devoted constituencies by these camps. Hardly any attempt at the deconstruction of what people belonging to the last two camps have in mind about this issue seems to have been undertaken. The silence of certain people has been somehow automatically understood by the leaders of the first two camps.
A voice that I wish to raise in this post is that ambivalence, confusion or even ignorance with regard to such an issue is a matter worthy of equal consideration and analysis. The fact that a large section of the populace does not even know or care to know what the fuss is all about, is not to be dismissed as irrelevant or of no concern. This segment comprises of the very same citizenry that votes, that decides things as far as the future of the ideals of secular democracy and life in the world remains at stake. People who are literate, erudite and equally responsible in their thoughts and actions form a part of these sections in the same way as the ones whose slogans no more excite me. The attitudes of these segments can well be written off as ignorance and political insensitivity only to yield a grossly overestimated sense of power resulting from their constituencies that the ‘representatives have increasingly come to rely on.
The idiom ‘make hay while the sun shines’ has been taken up quite seriously by those opposing or defending Rushdie. While one faction has the upcoming elections in various legislative assemblies in mind, for the other pashmina clad section, this controversy is its chance of rising to the occasion, speaking up and showing their secular, liberal genius to the world. They well know that such moments do not recur so often. In these largely successful manoeuvres, social media has helped them tremendously. What the ambivalent and the ignorant receives from these representatives is disdain, pity and a condescending eye that actually the looked down upon has hardly cared to notice. This self celebratory aspect of the entire affair makes me very unsure of my belief in an intellectualism that ideally should help us in making sense of the complexities that characterise the contemporary world and should also gradually arrive at better argumentative positions.
I have no intention of offering a solution to this issue. I only want to focus on what as a section has until now been written off as politically immature and incapable of a kind of nauseating mode of articulation that certain sections of the wise and politically alert citizenry believe to have conquered in both letter and spirit. Such articulation is predominantly put on display in the public domain. (Remember the nods and the movements of the hands of the ‘experts’ on Television shows!). No one knows enough of the private aspects of the street smartness that today surrounds the sensibly lost and confused citizen (like never before). Who actually are these ‘guardians of the faith’? If they come out in the open as a response to such a post and declare themselves as one, I would like to ask them about their personalities and would like to decide those eligibilities based on which they have begun to execute a responsibility which was never granted to them whether on an personal or a communal level. At the root of this grossly mistaken self-burdening is the fantastic manner in which the discipline of politics has of late emerged as the wholesome cause and effect of every phenomenon, reality, event, saying and doing. Even dreams occur to us because we are political beings! What is not political or not worthy of being politicised (almost everything is political though!) does not and should not exist. At the best the resting, loving, compromising soul is needs to be awakened from the slumber of stupidity and has to be reformed. Else the world is in danger. We shall soon be eaten up by monsters because everyone did not wake up while it was time to do so. Neither did they attest to the reign of the well read, wise avant-garde which was forever willing to raise them in their laps.
Politics (the term used in whatever sense one pleases) seems to have (in all those senses) dominated the intellectual landscape and clouded every alternate possibility after resorting to which any meaningful way out of contentious issues like Satanic Verses might be achieved. I find all political articulations which necessarily base themselves in the belief of coming up with a clear stand on an issue utterly foolish. Such are the times that voicing an opinion like the one I am trying to do invites its own forms of ridicule and intellectual intimidation. My question to the people in the first two camps then is : “What have your political stands and the mindless actions based on those stands done to help us in thinking of the issue in a better way?” “The problem that you have raised and sought a solution for- has it been solved?” I know the answers. Would it not be a better option then to seek alterations in the dominant mode that has trained us to continually think of our lives and those of the others in a one-sided way?
A break from politics I think would be one attempt at reconciliation. Most importantly it would offer us an opportunity to invent or discover newer vocabularies that can be depended on for future thought and action and such opportunity has to be immediately seized. Better late than never!