Thursday, January 26, 2012

Shameful Times

What does the largest selling English Daily in India print on its front pages on the Republic Day? A statement by the chairman of Press Council of India. Is it mandatory for the print media to publish Press Council chief's statement on the 1st page? The least Times of India could have done was assess the merit of statement; it is unfortunate that the publishers did not give a second look at what was being sent to print, coming as it did from the one who regulates them. Bad performance, Times of India... 

In his statement, Mr. Markandey Katju opines that the winner of Booker of Booker award is a "poor" & sub-standard writer"! He also opines that but for Satanic Verses, Rushdie would have remained "largely unknown". He claims to have read "some of Rushdie's works" & believes Midnight's Children is "hardly great literature". The former judge of the Supreme Court then pronounces his judgment - "the whole problem with so-called educated Indians of today is they still suffer from the colonial inferiority complex".

Opinion of a writer's output is a product of one's comprehension of the written word, the expanse of one's exposure to literature & one's ability to grasp the depth of the tome in question. Mr. Katju's proclamation of Rushdie's writing skills can also be derived from this equation.

However, his view that Rushdie would have remained unknown if not for Satanic Verses can be easily contested. Mr. Katju might not be aware that Rushdie had already won the Booker for his  book - Midnight's Children, & thus was widely known by the time Satanic Verses was published. I doubt whether Khushwant Singh would have gone through a minor or unknown writer's book before it was released in India! But then, I also doubt whether Khushwant Singh would call Rushdie "poor & sub-standard" writer.

Rushdie's first book - Grimus, gave enough indication of his style & writing skills. With his next - Midnight's Children, he broke through the ranks. It won the Booker as well as Booker of Bookers. His 3rd novel - Shame, was also in the Booker shortlist. All this before Satanic Verses was published! It is not only literature for adults that Rushdie excels at... Someone who has read Haroun and the Sea of Stories & Luka and the Fire of Life would vouch for his being one of the better writers of children's stories. I would put him in the same class as Lewis Caroll.

About Midnight's Children being hardly great literature, I would not like to be in conflict with the Booker judges. On literary matters, I would go along with their judgement rather than that of a retired Supreme Court judge.

But I have serious ojection to Mr. Katju's views on the "so-called educated Indians of today". He is totally wrong to believe that we suffer from the colonial inferiority complex. We have never experienced colonialism, nor have most of our previous generation. Same is not true of Mr. Katju's generation. He is trying to tarnish us with the colours of his generation. Mr. Katju, in your time, the ones who left India did so on account of there not being sufficient scope to utilise their capabilities. Thus, it was natural to be envious of those (like Rushdie) who managed to get across the borders. Today, we don't need to go abroad to earn global respect. We get right here with our work & output. We manage to consistently match the best in the world & get ahead. Even the world now recognises & admits our prowess, something that was never experienced by your generation.

Of late, Mr. Katju has often been in the news:

Sometime back, he wanted Bharat Ratna to be conferred on Mirza Ghalib, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay & Subramania Bharti. Hopefully, the government has dismissed his demand, else we would see Bharat Ratna being conferred on Vivekanand, Akbar, Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Ashok, Valmiki, Tulsidas, Buddha, Mahavir, Ram, Hanuman...

He wanted the content on Facebook & Google to be regulated & asked them to face legal action for objectionable content. Next he would ask for SOPA & PIPA!

He also lamented the lack of great literary talent in the country. For people of his generation, it might be difficult to understand that tweeting can be challenging literary activity, even for established writers. The media of today is not the book, it is e-book...

Familiarity breeds contempt, Mr. Katju. Being the Press Council Chief does not mean you have to be in the headlines. You surely do not wish to be clubbed with some of the other compulsive headline-hogging celebrities.

Dear Times of India: I would prefer the picture of Rakhi Sawant or Veena Malik over that of Mr. Katju any day. They are also equally adept at hijacking the headlines. Just make sure the pictures are not "objectionable".

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