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

Salman Rushdie

''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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