Tharoor fires at Arundhati Roy on Hay’s literary war ground

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

Thiruvananthapuram : Member of Parliament and writer Shashi Tharoor Sunday hit out at Arundhati Roy at the Hay Festival here, saying the Booker prize winner-activist has “gone too far to the left” and “unfortunately chooses to write about those who carry guns”.

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“Arundhati Roy has gone far too to the left like (writer-thinker) Christopher Hitchens, who has gone far too right. Arundhati Roy unfortunately chooses to write about those who carry with guns – it is sad for those at the receiving end of the guns. By writing about Gandhians with guns, she loses a large number of people. A large number of innocent Indians have been killed by the Gandians with guns,” Tharoor said in a candid one-on-one session with Peter Florence, founder-director of Hay Festival, Sunday.

“As a writer, it is her writing that gives her an audience – but the views that she expresses can be dealt with on the platform they are expressed,” Tharoor said.

He hinted that her views could be treated as “sedition”.

Roy had been targetted by many for her articles in a leading magazine about Maoists, who she described as “Gandhians”, and also for speaking favorably of the Kashmiri separatists’ demand of ‘azadi’.

Tharoor held forth on a gamut of subjects that ranged from the influence wielded by children’s writer Enid Blyton in early childhood, which his mother read out to him, Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” to the role of women in the transmission of a society’s culture, importance of computers in carrying literature to a wider cross section of an audience and on his tweeting.

As an early bird, who chanced upon one of the first copies of “Satanic Verses” before the ‘fatwa’ rocked the world, Tharoor walked listeners down the labyrinth of time to comment on Rushdie’s evocative interpretation of Islam in the book.

“I was at the Penguin office when the first box of ‘Satanic Verses’ had arrived and I was given one of the first copies. I read the whole of ‘Satanic Verses’ and I was completely astonished by the moving advocation of the father-son relationship. I read it as an admiring depiction of a fictional Islam – an amazing evocation of faith. The fact that the book had to be condemned was sad. He had done a fantastic PR job for his faith,” he said.

The removal of Rohinton Mistry’s book, “Such a Long Journey” from the Mumbai University syllabus haunts Tharoor.

“I was just horrified that it happened in Mumbai – (the metropolis where he spent several growing up years). Rohinton Mistry wrote such fine books; and because the book had taken potshots – it (the Maharashtra government) had the power to intimidate. Rohinton Mistry ought to come back,” Tharoor said.

“Mumbai is a sad place”, the writer-diplomat-politician said.

“A bizarre politics has been allowed to flourish against north Indians in Mumbai and the spin-offs have been a parochial xenophobia,” Tharoor said.

He drew parallels with fellow non-resident Malayali writer Jaisree Misra’s book, “Rani” – a rather romantic account of the Rani (queen) of Jhansi that was banned for “alluding to the warrior queen’s romantic liaison with a British officer”.

He believes that the internet could open up “tremendous possibilities for Indian students and would keep literature alive in a different form”.

“India still produces more English honours (graduates) than any other country in the world,” he said.

Tharoor is not bitter about his experience on twitter – 140-character social networking site that has caught the former minister of state for external affairs on the wrong foot several times.

He still tweets with zeal – and is even back to writing his journalistic columns. “I began to tweet when counting for polls – my votes in Thiruvananthapuram – in the last election was in progress. It was excitement that made me tweet. The twitter has an instant reach to a large audience which otherwise would not be possible. One of the good things about twitter is the instant feedback,” he said.

What book would he recommend to readers as a writer. Naturally; “The Argumentative Indian” by Amartya Sen because it “presents delightful ideas”, “The Mahabharata” and Jawaharlal Nehru’s works.

“Nehru wrote wonderful stuff,” he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])