Salman Rushdie came into my life briefly as I was adviser to Penguin-Viking (India). I was one of the millions of his fans who had been bowled over by his classic novel Midnight’s Children. He did me the honour of dropping in at my home one evening and having a drink with me. Penguin-Viking (England) which had published The Satanic Verses wanted its Indian branch to bring out an Indian edition of the novel. By then Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran had pronounced a fatwa condemning Rushdie to death and all Muslim countries had banned the book. So had the Indian Government. I was nauseated as I believed, and still believe, that banning books is undemocratic and gives a bad name to the country which does so. At the same time I advised the Indian branch of Penguin-Viking not to publish an Indian edition. There may appear to be a contradiction in my stand but that was not so. I knew my countrymen better than Salman Rushdie. Their margin of tolerance is very narrow and if they disapprove of a book, they take the law in their own hands to vandalise bookstores which sold it as well as wreck the offices of Penguin India.
Among the books banned are Aubrey Menon’s Rama Retold and Agehanand Bharati’s The Ochre Robes, both to appease Hindu bigots. Bharati who was an Australian Jew had converted to Hinduism, was fluent in German, English, Hindi and Punjabi. He was expelled from India. I was ashamed of the Indian government’s action. If Rushdie wants to attend the annual Jaipur Writers Meet no one has the right to forbid him from doing so. If the Darul-Uloom Deoband tries to prevent him from entering the country and politicos hope and gain electoral mileage among Muslim voters, their views should be ignored. India is Rushdie’s motherland. We should be proud of his achievements in the world of English literature and welcome him with open arms.
What I have not been able to understand are Rushdie’s multiple marriages. If he desired to make love to women he liked, he could have done so without marrying them. He would not have to divorce them and pay alimony.
I have often expressed my view that David Davidar knows more about book publishing than anyone else in the world. I know this from personal experience when he was appointed by Penguin-Viking International to open the branch in Delhi. Aveek Sarkar, who had bought 42 % of the shares, appointed me as his nominee. For many months I met David every morning and discussed the merits of manuscripts sent to us. If there was anything objectionable, David made it a point to discuss it with the author and suggest changes. He did this with my Delhi: A Novel. I accepted his advice and added an introductory chapter. It made the top of the India’s bestsellers list for a few weeks. He spent more time with Vikram Seth in his A Suitable Boy. It made it to the top of the world’s bestseller lists.
David’s merit was recognised and he was elevated to the top post. He and his wife Rachna moved to Toronto and set up their home. They had no intention of returning to India. But after a couple of years David fell victim to envy and racial prejudice. Both man and wife returned to Delhi and have made their home in Gurgaon.
He has set up his own publishing house Aleph. It is different from his earlier one Ventures. He has to find talent and nurture it to creativity. I asked him what progress he had made in locating talent, he replied: “I have already got over 30 would-be writers on my list. Undoubtedly more would be coming.” Though not sanguine, I wish him good luck.
New Year Resolution
In the new year, I'll so much increase my worth
That I’ll be the richest man on earth
If you want to ask me how I will achieve this goal,
I’ll kill my conscience and sell my soul,
I’ll engineer bank fraud, commit robbery and
Break Bill Gate’s skull
And thus become world’s number one criminal;
Hopefully I’ll head a flourishing political outfit
Which shares my noble mission
And then use it
To mislead the masses and fleece the nation;
I’ll use my political clout to head the Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Leave it free to hoard, evade taxes, get subsidy;
And thus siphon off the country's treasury;
Finally, lest somebody should steal
My ultimate device I will not reveal;
And still if my plan is not perfectly laid; I'll call upon the criminals of the world for help and aid —
In short, I will do my best
And leave it to God to complete the rest
(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)
A would-be actress used to boast that her motto was “Bollywood or bust”.
One of her friends asked her what it meant.
She replied, “It means that if I can’t break into Hindi films as I am, I will go and get implants done to improve my profile.”
(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)
The views expressed by the author are personal