India Uncut

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Monday, February 21, 2005

You scratch my book, I'll scratch yours

An excellent new literary spat is brewing, this one between Salman Rushdie and Patrick French. Amit Roy of the Telegraph reports that French, while reviewing Suketu Mehta's Maximum City, spoke about how some of "India's eminent writers" were "insider-outsider[s]" who had the "cultural confusion of the expatriate". To support his point, he quoted Rushdie saying: "Rajasthan is colourful".

Rushdie took umbrage, claiming that the line, from an essay in Step Across This Line, was quoted out of context. In his rejoinder, he wrote: "I was talking somewhat satirically about the tourist-Rajasthan that was presented to Bill Clinton on his visit to India ... It is quite improper to quote my essay selectively so that he can praise my friend Mehta by making me look foolish."

Well, to get to the heart of the matter, here are the original lines from Rushdie:
Clinton did, however, watch dancing girls twirling and cavorting for him in Amber’s [the fort] Saffron Garden. He’d have liked that. Rajasthan is colourful. People wear colourful clothes and perform colourful dances and ride on colourful elephants to colourful ancient palaces, and these are things a President should know.

The last seven words ("these are things a president should know") indicate that Rushdie was obviously being satirical, and French missed that.

It so happens that one of the books I'm reading at the moment is Shashi Tharoor's Bookless in Baghdad, and that has an excellent essay on another juicy spat, between Norman Mailer and John Simon. (I think Simon comes out better in that one.) The essay was also published in the Hindu, and you can read it here.
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