Perhaps award-winning author Salman Rushdie scripted his own hours when he wrote the Satanic Verses, inviting a fatwa in 1989, a ban on the book in 13 nations, and living the subsequent decade under the leaping threats of violence, seeking anonymity as he sought cover to escape death threats. His almost immediate apology for ruffling the ire of the community evidently did nothing to alleviate the sting his writing delivered. As is evident from his bloody stabbing on stage in New York a few days ago. This brings home the realization that words come strapped with a tremendous amount of responsibility, and can land you in trouble should you shoot off the text without giving much thought to the consequences. The impact of the written word stays in the mind of the readers, and ferments.
Remember Tasleema Nasreen of Lajja infamy? The author was forced to seek political asylum abroad (as her written word invited a ban in Bangladesh amidst communal mayhem) and recently scripted the sequel Shameless when the Lajja characters from her book come alive and visit her in her fictitious-real life. Victor Hugo was compelled to go into exile for years following turgid irreverence shown to the French nobility in his novel Les Miserables. Lord Jeffrey Archer (who gave us mega chompers in Kane and Abel, and First Among Equals) was found guilty of perjury – of even concocting bogus diaries to win his case against The Daily Star. I faced a smaller, vitriolic shrug when an acrid column I wrote for a newspaper mirroring Mumbai spotlighted the raped roads of the city, fraught with deadly potholes. I was allegedly declared persona non grata on the internal list at the publishing house as it ruffled the right feathers at the BMC. No regrets.
Writing is hard work, and a lonely job. It is just you, and your thoughts, shaping themselves gradually into a cohesive whole as you mince and masticate. If you are a compulsive writer, you can’t help but write, with or without giving in to self-imposed eccentric demands while giving voice to your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, experiences, perspectives, moods… All while you marinade thoughts, temper the tone, trash what you put down and begin all over again, indulging in creative character carpentry, research, thinking, re-writing, unlearning and finally chiselling. It isn’t easy, though the current swirl of one-book wonders are busy projecting themselves as Instagrammable icons, self-publishing online, anchoring discussions at writers retreats, basking at book signings, canoodling with celebrities, and meet and greet author events, ‘doing the Jaipur Lit Fest, and Khushwant Singh Lit fest in Kasauli circuit’ wearing loom sarees and khadi kurtas and pandering to the ’thinking person’s mental appetite’.
If you leave the lust for wattage, ‘ban’ stamps, there is a certain degree of self-censorship that you must exercise while penning your own tome of creative freedom. Unless you wish to run ragged at the risk of having your voice snuffed out. Or choose, as morally obliged you must, to take self-ownership of the consequences of your written word. It is an emotionally charged world that we live in and we need to process this truth, live. The idea is to avoid inciting further violence in an already strife-ridden world
Shilpi Madan for Deccan Chronicle
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