In India, it has become easy to attack cultural artefacts: Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie
''Yes, I would write the Satanic Verses again,'' said author Salman Rushdie at the Express' Idea Exchange programme on Thursday evening, accompanying filmmaker Deepa Mehta whose adaptation of Midnight's Children will release in India soon.

"It is time we stop listening to people who didn't like the book, but to those who liked it. Books survive if enough people care about them,'' Rushdie said.

His relationship with India ''damaged'' because he wasn't allowed to visit the country for nine years, Rushdie is not surprised the movie will release in India. ''It is normal for films to release,'' he said. ''It will be a great moment when India will not feel the need for a censor board. What is wrong with the emergency? The Indian Express reported it,'' Rushdie said. Deepa Mehta added: ''There is nothing controversial about history.''

How did the collaboration go between the friends who worked together on the film Rushdie wrote the screenplay, Mehta directed it ''it is not always easy to work with friends, but we liked each other's work,'' was the common refrain.

Drawing on his bitter experiences at the Jaipur Literary Festival last year, which he was not allowed to attend because of protests from Muslims groups, Rushdie said: ''In India, it has become easy to attack cultural artifacts. People believe their identity is not defined by what you love, but by what you hate or are offended by.'' ''It is a spreading problem,'' he said.

And why does it happen? ''Because the people are apathetic and the state does not protect; the state should tell people some things are valuable. When it doesn't do this, smaller groups are allowed to get away with protests.''

''I was upset when India banned the Satanic Verses the first in the world to do so. Thankfully in this age you cannot ban books, because you can download them!''

''It is bad the fear of religious reprisal effecting freedom of speech,'' Rusdie said, while Mehta added: ''To me, the word 'controversy' is demeaning. My work is judged not on merit, but by what people think!'' ''People define their identity not by what the love, but by what they hate or are offended by,'' said Rushdie. ''In fact, I always thought that Satanic Verses was the least political of my books. Shame was directly confrontational.''

As both Rushdie and Mehta have looked down the barrel of public anger for their choice of topics, they have distinct views about how their work is received. Mehta I have never felt like a victim. Yes, there was anger and a touch of self pity at times.'' Rushdie was more forthright: ''People who want to limit free speech always speak about the dangers of speaking freely.'' He added: ''We live in an age of victim culture.''

Rushdie criticised the then Indian government for banning Satanic Verses: ''The ban was a moment of spinelessness, but it wasn't the only such moment. At the time of the ban, there wre no copies available in India!''

And India continues to influence their work. ''My stories have always come from India. India has broken my heart. The film Midnight's Children is my love letter to India,'' says Deepa Mehta.

Rushdie said: ''I was once worried that I was losing my grip over India. Midnight's Children was born from that need to reclaim. People loved this book and reclaimed me.''

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