Tuesday, 28 February 2012

More Comments "Of censorship and the books that nobody reads"

Dear Nibir

I was interested in your piece.  I’m afraid I never read Satanic Verses but heard Salman Rushdie quote a passage at The South Bank a number of years ago when a variety of writers whose work had been banned or suppressed appeared on stage.  I felt, at the time, that there was a touch of intellectual arrogance and though I was really interested in The Moor’s Last Sigh and have been urged to read Midnight’s Children by several people, I have had a few reservations about Rushdie.  I remember Attia Hosain whom I knew (do you know her work?) did not approve and also what is interesting is that had he not called it Satanic Verses, the publication history might have been different.  Freedom of speech is one thing but why not some diplomacy as well.

With best wishes,

Anita Money, London.

Dear Nibir,
Thanks for passing this on to me.  I enjoyed what you had to say and agree with you totally.  By the way, your article made me reflect on all the nonsense that’s been taking place at Delhi University with regard to A.K. Ramanujan’s old article on the various versions of the Ramayana.  There seems to be no end of craziness.

With warmest regards,
Mike (Prof Michael Shapiro, Seattle,USA.)

Comments from Charles Johnson


I DID enjoy reading this. Your quotations from Milton and D.H. Lawrence are worth a reader memorizing. And I had the same experience with The Satanic Verses that you did. I just couldn't read it. But "Of Censorship and the books that nobody reads" was a pleasure from start to finish.
Sadar Pranam,

Charles Johnson is American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and cartoonist.  Johnson gained international prominence when his novel Middle Passage (1990) won the National Book Award in 1990, the first African American Writer to.get the award after Ralph Ellison.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Of Censorship and the books that nobody reads

Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.
- George Bernard Shaw

Apprehending arrest for reading passages from Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, four eminent Indian English writers had to abruptly disappear from the 2012 Jaipur Literature Festival. Engrossed in the bliss of ignorance, they possibly forgot that “You can discuss a book, read from other writings by the author, have conversations with him, invite him, but you cannot either possess a copy or publicly read from a book that is banned.” So explained William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Festival, and went on to add how “the consequences could be serious for the four delegates since the readings constituted a premeditated act.” After such knowledge what forgiveness!
Since time immemorial controversies around bans and censorships have always evoked and generated tremendous amount of interest both in the educated elite and the illiterate. The graph of public curiosity naturally rises when it pertains to anything that is denied for reasons extending from the sublime to the ridiculous. It reaches a feverish pitch especially when the issue in question is either pornographic or pertains to what Karl Marx referred to as the “opium of the masses.” Battle lines are instantly drawn between the self-appointed guardians of public morality and over-enthusiastic defenders of free speech and action, be it the case of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Though it would be an exercise in futility to ruminate time and again on whether a book ought to be banned for offending the sensibility or the fundamentalist sensitivity of a certain class of people, I do feel the urge to recall a particular passage from John Milton’s immortal treatise against censorship entitled “Areopagitica”: Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”
What I find seminal in Milton’s classic statement, an adage that most of us have grown up with, is his emphasis on the phrase, “a good book,” which many of us may tend to miss while discussing censorship or ban. I distinctly recall that what had impressed me most about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, when I lay hands on it for the first time, was not the picture of alluring nudity displayed on the frontispiece of the book or the charge of obscenity that was brought against it; I saw the magnetic appeal of Lawrence’s magnum opus in his very opening statement: “Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”
I discovered on reading the novel how the inherent complexity of life after the apocalypse was as significant as the intimate scenes involving the union of Connie and Mellors and how the blending of these twin concerns went on to create an exquisite work of art. In this context it may not be out of place to quote Oscar Wilde: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame."
Contrary to my admiration for Lawrence’s novel, I wish to cite an instance related to my initial date with The Satanic Verses. When Rushdie’s novel hit the stands in 1988, fetching the author $2 million within a few months of its publication, it immediately stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest and initiated a controversy that has not dimmed in any way with the passage of time. I was obviously intrigued by Rushdie’s open letter to Rajiv Gandhi, then prime minister of India, which I happened to see on the front page of The Indian Express. Protesting against the ban imposed on the book on the testimony of a few parliamentarians who had not cared to read the book, Rushdie had stated: “The right to freedom of expression is at the foundation of any democratic society….I ask you this question: What sort of India do you wish to govern? Is it to be an open or a repressive society?”
At that point of time, I was working on my book Calculus of Power at the American Studies Research Centre, Hyderabad. When a friend made The Satanic Verses available, I tried reading a couple of pages and found the experience excruciatingly unenjoyable and gave up the effort in despair. Over the years, I have come across many honest readers whose opinions about the book have not been much different. Though I confess being an avid reader of many of Rushdie’s other works and greatly admire him as an icon of IWE, I’d reiterate the absurdity of banning books that are considered unreadable. This approach, I guess, would be wiser and safer than suppressing the suppressors of freedom of expression.

Nibir K. Ghosh
Chief Editor

Editorial, Re-Markings Vol. 11 No.1, March 2012

It is heartening to know that even highly acclaimed writers are not unaware of the significance of a good story that appeals to the “laws of our primary nature.” For instance, we may look at a lyrical passage from Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things:
The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably….They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

I wonder how many of us would really like to glance at the novel for the sake of reading a “Great Story.”

Friday, 17 February 2012

Celebrating Re-Markings' Journey

Dear Dr Nibir ji,

Hearty Congratulations!

We are so happy to learn that Re-Markings has stepped into the eleventh year.It looks as though only yesterday I saw the first issue.How swiftly time moves on!

But, it is not that easy to run a scholarly, literary journal for a decade and more, struggling all the while to maintain the high standards it has set for itself.This is where the secret of your success lies. A modest person that you are, always shunning publicity and pomp, slowly and steadily you have worked silently setting lofty bench marks  to surpass.

The rich contribution made and invaluable time and energy invested have born fruits fabulously.Thanks for inspiring and supporting people like me from time to time.Your love for friends and splendid service-oriented approach have eminently elevated you among quality circles so lovingly created and nurtured by you.
Thank you so much sir!

This is an occasion for us to celebrate.Then,party kahan aur kab hoga, sir ji!

Thanks once again for allowing me into the family.

Kudos to you and Re-Markings team!

best regards,
Dr. T.S. Chandramouli is a Senior Academic, Critic, translator and poet based at Hyderabad.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Truth Vs. Falsehood

Re-Markings Vol. X No. 2, September 2011 

(Ten Years, Twentieth Issue)

If the ancient Indian civilization and the Roman Empire were once known for attributes of glory and greatness, what links India and Italy in contemporary times is rampant corruption in every segment of social and political life. Indians visiting Italy may find the nation almost like a second home: life is chaotic, no one obeys the rules, policemen can be bribed to any extent even to be tacit accomplices in crime, there is massive tax evasion, the mafia controls real estate, the government counts for little, and, for the powers that be, life can indeed be a bed of roses at the expense of the national exchequer.
In this context I am unwittingly reminded of a painting that I had seen, among numerous other exhibits, at the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston, Massachussetts, during the course of my Fulbright year (2003-04) in the U.S. This canvas entitled "The Truth Unveiled by Time," painted by the Italian artist, Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), around 1743, shows a young woman, representing Truth, holding a mirror in her right hand, while her left supports the disk of the sun, symbolising the light of Reason. The naked, soft sensual body of the young woman with a bared nipple is clasped in the arms of Time represented as an old man. On the right of the painting appears Falsehood, dazzled by the blinding light of Truth.
In the corridors of Italian power and pelf, this painting created quite a flutter among all sane citizens. According to the express wishes of the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, a copy of this painting was placed as the backdrop of his media briefing room in Palazzo Chigi after he took office for the third time in 2008. It is believed that this painting was chosen because of its title. A couple of months ago, while the prime minister was becoming entangled in a succession of controversies involving women friends and associates, Berlusconi was apprehensive that the exposed breasts could “offend the sensibilities of some people,” and apparently decided to cover the woman’s naked breasts, fully exposed in the original painting, by a white veil. It is rumored that since Truth has a new top fitted by Berlusconi's image consultant, Lies should feel altogether more at ease in the office of Italy's prime minister. As reported by Hilary Clark for The Independent in Rome, “In his former life as a media entrepreneur, Mr. Berlusconi part-built a multibillion-pound media empire on revenues generated by television programmes featuring gyrating women showing-off their naked breasts.” After such knowledge, what forgiveness!
Though the present Indian prime minister may personally stand unquestionably committed to ethics and morality, the elite lineup at the Tihar jail – Ministers, MPs, bureaucrats, senior police officials, doctors, teachers, members of judiciary and the like – ought to convince anyone how deeply embedded in the national consciousness is the cancer of corruption. The abhorrence displayed by all power-brokers towards Anna Hazare’s crusade for bringing everyone in power under the scanner amply justifies the fact that Truth needs cover-ups so that it does not find illumination by the light of reason. In the corrupted currents of today’s world, it is ironical that Truth, unlike in Tiepolo’s painting, must be constrained to remain dazzled by the glaring lights of Falsehood. That makes the world a dangerous place to live not because of the people who perpetuate evil but because of the saner ones who prefer to remain ‘strictly neutral’ and do nothing about it.
The challenge before all of us – writers, academics and intellectuals –  is, therefore, to give up the comfortable stance of neutrality and engage ourselves in our own little ways to conjure and create a world where Truth remains unembarrassed by falsehood.
--Nibir K. Ghosh,
Chief Editor