Monday, September 25, 2006


Vikram Seth is in news again. Leading a campaign for gay rights, Seth, along with other luminaries (Amartya Sen, Soli Sorabjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shobha De among others) signed an open letter (titled Same Sex love in India, Section 377) urging the Indian Legal system to do away with section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

This obsolete piece of legislation that criminalizes same sax or gay activity came into being in 1862, when it was introduced by the British to replace the Hindu laws of the time (incidentally consensual sex by same sex people was never an offence under Hindu criminal laws). Over the last few years activists have been appealing to the government and to the judiciary to overturn these century old laws. These laws are creating a major impediment in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In his interview in Outlook, Seth talks about how he took years to come to terms with himself. Go read the piece. The same issue also has Amartya Sen adding his voice.

While Seth was busy sharing his secret, Salman Rushdie refused to share his stage. Rushdie was invited to Vassar College to deliver a lecture, where Amitava Kumar (of Husband of a Fanatic, Passport Photos fame) was to have introduced him. According to Kumar, Rushdie apparently did not like the idea and threatened to withdraw. Says Kumar

Mr Rushdie and I have never met, although I have heard him speak several times. I presume his dislike of me has to do with essays like this that I have written about him in the past. I cannot say whether he has read my Passport Photos but it’d be fair to say that the book takes its cues from Rushdie. It was from him that we really learned to show some attitude. When I say “we” I’m talking of many contemporary Indian writers in English. But we have also sought our own paths, and in doing so we’ve also sometimes sought to renounce our past, the past in which Mr Rushdie looms so monumentally. For the rest of the article read his blog.

Now either Rushdie or someone claiming to be him has a response on Kumar's blog. It reads:
Dear Mr Kumar,

My attention has been drawn to your website, where you claim that I threatened to cancel my visit to Vassar if you were involved with it. This is inaccurate. At no time did I threaten anything of the sort. I did indeed tell the organizer, Joanne Long, that I was unwilling to share a stage with you, and, after she had read what you have written about me in the past, she understood why I would have that view, and asked you to stand down. It might have been more dignified of you to leave this matter private, but as you have chosen not to do so, you ought at least to strive for accuracy in your reporting of it.

It is not for me to comment on your many disparaging remarks about my work, but allow me to make one other correction of fact. You write:


If you had done the most minimal amount of homework, you would have known that my “concern for Indian democracy,” far from being “entirely absent,” had led me to make a feature-length tv documentary film, The Riddle of Midnight, whose long climactic sequence, centered around a moving testimony by a Sikh widow of the massacres, resulted in the Indian government pressurising Channel 4 in Britain not to run the programme — pressure which, I’m happy to say, they resisted. It is odd, to put it mildly, to be accused of indifference to a cause which one has, in fact, passionately taken up.

Yours sincerely,

Salman Rushdie.

One fails to understand why a writer of Rushdie's stature, would bear a grudge against so junior an author and critic. Surely more is expected of a man considered as the architect of post colonial literature and an inspiration for a whole generation of writers. Ironically he who had this to say once on the fatwa against him,

In my view, the best one can do is to show, by writing books, by continuing, that it didn't work. That even this colossal threat did not work. The Satanic Verses was not suppressed, the author of The Satanic Verses went on writing. Life goes on.

could not even share the stage with his critic.