They read out every so-called “contentious” passage from Rohinton Mistry’s Booker-nominated novel Such a Long Journey to an audience that listened in rapt attention, the novel’s characters Gustad Noble and his friend Mr Dinshawji coming alive on the terrace of Press Club on Monday.
Actor Dolly Thakore and novelist Meher Pestonji read out passages from the book. The audience of about 50 people, ranging from students, activists, teachers and people who just wanted to learn about the book, laughed, clapped and cheered at Mistry’s wit and the underlying social and political issues that his book addresses.
“We were all shocked at the manner in which the book was dropped, with absolutely no discussion,” said Rohini Hensman, researcher and human rights activist, who chaired the discussion. “The V-C caved in to the demands of a right-wing group. We decided to hold a reading to allow wider discussion and introduce the book to people who do not know about it.”
Three citizen groups in the city came together and organised the reading — Citizen Initiative for Peace, Committee for Release of Dr Binayak Sen and Mumbai Initiative of Human Rights Education.
“The V-C dropped the book without any discussion and then when it came to the question of the exams, he said students would only be tested on the social background of the book and not the content. How is that possible? You either study a book or drop it,” said Pushpa Bhave, a well-known academician. “It is not only about the book. We need to stand by the freedom of expression. I hope the V-C sees some sense after this.”
As the reading proceeded, it came through that book spares no community. “Why did the Gujarati go to the Vatican?” read Pestonji. “To listen to Pope music.” “As one reads the book, you realise that there is irreverence to every community,” added Pestonji.
People agreed that the cause should not be given up.
“At the gathering, it was decided that we demand that the VC give an explanation of what he did and that the withdrawal of the book be revoked and the issue be open for discussion, said Usha Subramanian, a literature teacher who has taught the book for the past four years.
As Rohinton Mistry rightly said in his statement on the issue: “This sordid story has a bright spot. Civil society has responded, in Mumbai and elsewhere, with outrage, questions, petitions; it is inspiring to see.”