The scorching truth of Rushdie’s ordeal

the scorching truth of rushdie’s ordeal

That the author of Midnight’s Childrenshould be battling for his life as the 75th anniversary of that defining hour draws near makes Salman Rushdie a figure in history. He has moved from the columns of literature to the casements of history (Hindustan Times)

I was brought up on Tulsidas’ Sri Ramacharitamanas. My father read the whole text out to me chaupai by chaupai, doha by doha, not leaving out the sorathas and the chhands, some of which he sang aloud, as instructed in his childhood by his father.

On the grounds of The Theosophical Society in Chennai, where my wife and I walk regularly, there is a small stone image of Hanuman, surrounded by foliage. He has the most gentle and benign visage, and with his palms brought together in a namaskar, he looks like he may have once been part of a set that included Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. But now he stands by himself there, blessing anyone who may choose to seek his benediction. I stop for a moment before this stone image each time I pass it and repeat the lines from the Hanuman Chalisa that I have heard sung in the golden voice of MS Subbulakshmi:

Nasey rog harey sab pida

Japat nirantar Hanumat bira

(Demolishes disease, annihilates suffering, He, In those who chant his name unceasingly.)

On Saturday, August 13 — when I crossed the statue, I prayed intensely and spontaneously for Hanuman to come flying with the magical herbs of healing to someone who I know only through his stature as a writer and as a man of exceptional courage under stress. As I did so, the life and work of Salman Rushdie passed through my mind’s eye as in the footage of some deep tragedy.

That the author of Midnight’s Children should be battling for his life as the 75th anniversary of that defining hour is upon us makes Rushdie a figure in history. He has moved from the columns of literature to the casements of history. From being a gripping chronicler of the freedom and Partition of India, he has become a direct player in the subcontinent’s life after the night of August 14/15, 1947.

At the time of writing, all I know with the rest of the world is that Rushdie has been taken off a ventilator and is recovering, a day after he was stabbed as he prepared to give a lecture in New York.

He is undergoing, for no reason other than for being who he is, what an estimated one to two million who were attacked and who died, did, during the Partition riots of 1946-1947. They were attacked and they died just for being Hindu, or Sikh or Muslim. Among them were those that were old, those that were young and those that were mere infants. And women. At the hands of men who were not Hindu, Sikh or Muslim so much as they were brutes, they suffered what was worse than assault. I need not elaborate.

“Rushdie must not die” is the thought that has seized millions across the world. Millions, among whom I find my place. He must survive and see that his visualising all that he did in Midnight’s Children was not just the work of a creative writer, but the visualising by one who was living in his veins and in his brain what he was describing. One who, having been born just a few days before the Independence and Partition of India, was part of that great “tryst with destiny” as Jawaharlal Nehru so memorably called the dawn of freedom and also the great trauma that enveloped it.

That hundreds upon hundreds of thousands suffered indescribable pain at that time is a fact of history that the children of that midnight or children of those children can come to terms with, howsoever difficult that may be. But that what caused that pain has not gone away, that it lurks in the minds of the vengeful and the violent in all the three countries that were once undivided India, is the scorching truth that Rushdie’s ordeal demands we do not forget.

Ramchandra Gandhi, the philosopher-grandson of the Mahatma once said unforgettably: “Gandhi was not felled by three bullets. He stopped three bullets in their track”. Truer words have not been spoken, in philosophy’s response to history.

Gandhi’s assassination was the result of judgment blinded by intolerance.

The attack of Rushdie comes from the same source.

We don’t have a Bernard Shaw or an Einstein to put in words the fearful truth of our traumatic witnessing. But we do not need eloquence to respond to them. We need honesty — and the courage for that honesty — to see that the greats of history apart, it is innocents who will suffer, who will pay a price they do not deserve to, if intolerance is not checked and stopped from becoming violent.

Our innate dislike of hate and violence must prevail over the attempts of those, no longer few, who wish to spread them on our subcontinent. As Rushdie wages his battle against his wounds, we hold our breaths in faith in the freedom we won 75 years ago.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor The views expressed are personal

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