Rushdie, Oprah and disappointment
By Altaf Bhat
When I set off from Delhi to cover the Jaipur Literature Festival (my first art beat assignment) I was full of enthusiasm as controversial British-Indian author Salman Rushdie was expected to participate in the event. I had planned a sequence of photographs on the growing “Lit Fest” but all my planning turned out to be the proverbial “castle in the air”.
The festival’s invitation to Rushdie, whose 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” is banned in India, sparked protests from some Muslim groups who said he had offended their religious sentiments. Rushdie made headlines in Indian media much before his arrival in the country. Muslim organizations in Jaipur threatened to hold protests if Rushdie was allowed into the country, and permitted to speak at the festival. The author and the organizers of the event maintained that Rushdie would participate.
The situation was shaping into a face-off between the literary circles and the Muslim organization and I was hoping to get a few good pictures. With shoe-throwing becoming the fad form of protest in India – Rahul Gandhi, heir-apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, being the latest victim – I readied myself to get the best shot if Rushdie faced a similar fate during his presence at the event.
Then, suddenly, came the announcement that the author would not attend the event in person after reported assassination threats against him. As a consequence, the Muslim organizations dropped their plans to hold protests.
There was a brief flutter when some authors read passages from Rushdie’s banned book but there was nothing of great significance for a photojournalist in it. Hopes of getting some good pictures were revived when the organizers of the festival said Rushdie would address the gathering through video conferencing – enough incitement for his opponents to renew their protest call.
To my utter dismay, even the video conferencing did not materialize. I will not delve into the politics of what happened at the Jaipur Literature Festival but for me, as a photojournalist, it was a damp squib….
However the presence of TV host Oprah Winfrey and playwright Sir Tom Stoppard and other renowned authors and speakers authors made up for some of the disappointment.