La’affaire Rushdie casts long shadow (Jaipur Diary)

January 23rd, 2012 - 9:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, Jan 23 (IANS) There was no getting away from the shadow of Salman Rushdie at the sprawling Diggi Place where the grand literary show Monday continued to draw big crowds on the first working day of a new week.

In fact, conspiracy theories were proliferating about what kept the author of “The Satanic Verses” out of this thought-fest. Adding fuel to the fire was the quiet instruction by the organisers to four authors, who defiantly read out excerpts from the banned book, to go home on security grounds.

“The voices of protest are very small,” said Bangladeshi novelist Tahmina Anam while standing up for the freedom of expression. “It’s disappointing and a shame,” said Iranian writer Kamin Mohammadi.

“Nobody is talking openly, but more people are buying into the conspiracy theory that the security threat was a ploy to avoid needless trouble. Salman is right. It’s a pity that India is pandering to this lunatic fringe,” said an author, who did not wish to be named.

The controversial author has said in a tweet that the Rajasthan police invented a plot of “hitmen on way to Jaipur” to kill him to keep him away.

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No full stops for Stoppard

Nobel-winning playwright Tom Stoppard is easily the show-stealer at the lit fest, which is a carnival mix of serious discourse, social chatter and pure entertainment. Wherever Stoppard goes, there is no stopping the besotted fans. There was not an inch to even stand at the Front Lawns when Stoppard and fellow playwright David Hare spoke Sunday evening about the art and craft of playwriting.

Stoppard’s sparkling wit and rich baritone resonated through an open-air makeshift auditorium. “Theatre is a young man’s game. I hope it does not stay that way,” said the irrepressible dramatist who at 75 is hardly young, but can give any adolescent a complex for sheer creative energy he exudes.

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The Business of Books

The festival bookstore is doing roaring business. Hundreds of bibliophiles, students and the curiosity-struck could be seen browsing through racks and racks of books. The good thing is that book store has books of all the writers who are participating in the festival.

The performance and readings by the authors is certainly helping boost the sales of their books. It’s hard to get a precise estimate, but a man at the book store said books worth Rs.60 lakh to R.s80 lakh have been sold so far. And there remains another day of the litfest.

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Diplomacy and building bridges

Diplomacy is allied to the art of the word as diplomats have to traffic in words all the time to articulate complex positions on international issues. But at the lit show, the dense prose of diplomatese is out as several diplomat writers have found time to be part of this feast of words.

Pavan K. Varma, India’s ambassador to Bhutan and the author of several acclaimed books, including “The Great Indian Middle Class” and “Becoming Indian”, Navdeep Suri, joint secretary (public diplomacy) in the external affairs ministry and an author, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) chief Suresh Goel are among Indian diplomats who are building here bridges through literature.

There are many former diplomats-turned-authors like Burmese writer Thant Myint-U and David Malone, former Canada high commissioner to India and the author of “Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy”, a finely-nuanced critique of India’s foreign policy postures. The external affairs ministry is also sponsoring several sessions at the five-day festival, including a session by Bangladeshi writer Tahmina Anam.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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