Led by Mumbai-based Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, 35 leading authors including Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Suketu Mehta, Pico Iyer, Amit Chaudhuri and Hari Kunzru have lent their names to a letter to Mumbai University vice-chancellor Rajan Welukar, demanding the reinstatement of Rohinton Mistry's novel Such a Long Journey in the second–year English Literature syllabus.
The letter, a copy of which is with HT, will be sent to Welukar on Monday.
The move comes days after 20-year-old Shiv Sena scion Aditya Thackeray, grandson of Bal Thackeray, convinced the V-C to ban the Booker-nominated novel from the curriculum, on grounds that it offended Marathi–speaking people.
Reminiscent of Susan Sontag's campaign to get the fatwa revoked against Rushdie, says Shanghvi, the authors have invited the V-C for a conversation. "It remains a mystery …why you dropped this fine novel …when its elegant writing, its profound engagement with loss, its astute insight into politics and the impact of politics on ordinary people could have substantially broadened the minds of your student…?" asks the letter.
Apart from a character, who charges the Sena founder of worshipping Hitler and Mussolini, the novel also has alleged derogatory statements against former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, say its critics.
Canada-based Mistry, who did not respond to e-mail queries from HT, in a recent statement said he was dismayed by Welukar's decision. He urged Aditya and the V-C to consider the words of Nobel Prize winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore: "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free…."
Says Saikat Majumdar, assistant professor of English, Stanford University, and one of the signatories: "The raw nerves touched by Such a Long Journey only signal the novel's narrative and ethical triumph. It should make us treasure it more, not flee in fear ..."