There was an interesting note about Aryan Khan being in a Mumbai prison. Arthur Road Prison only allows inmates to read religious books. This is what Aryan, gutted from his skull, must have done. Poetry, fiction, pulp bestsellers, all are, for some reason, off limits. These are hard drugs covered by the NDPS Act. They are only available on floating libraries during cruises. For the nerds who landed at the wrong party. Aryan could have better spent his time catching up with Sally Rooney, the Irish novelist who has become the voice of millennials.
Growing up, I experienced this casual hostility to books. In the school library, books – breathing living creatures – were kept locked away in glass shelves, like art in a museum. Look, but don’t touch. A classmate’s mother stopped buying him books because he was a voracious reader and flipped through the books too quickly. It sort of amounted to a âproblemâ.
Years later, a roommate and I got into a fight. It ended with him burning a copy of my book in the park opposite, with my owner overseeing the operation. I was not present. But my landlord reported that burning a book was one of the hardest things to do. Books stubbornly refuse to burn, especially hardback books.
At the official level, books are banned by politicians of all kinds: Left, Right and Turning. VS Naipaul’s An Area of ââDarkness was briefly banned in 1964, for portraying Indian society in a bad light. The Red Sari (El Sari Rojo), a fictionalized biography of Sonia Gandhi by Javier Moro, was not available in India until seven years after its publication. Aaditya Thackeray’s first political move, while still in college, was to have such a trip by Rohinton Mistry withdrawn from the program. Penguin India has released a controversial chapter of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger.
In all of these cases, the battle is between the author and the reader – the reader’s right to read – on the one hand, and the state on the other. Sally Rooney, in a recent decision, went further. She effectively banned her own book by not allowing an Israeli publisher to translate her new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, into Hebrew. This is in line with the convictions of the pro-Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) movement. Many, like the poet-singer Patti Smith, supported this decision as “very courageous”. Critics say it’s the worst of cancellation culture.
It seems morally wrong for a writer to prevent his fans from reading his work. What wrong have they done? A people cannot be held responsible for the sins of their government. Every government has blood on its hands. The book has too many enemies anyway. The world can do without an author who attacks his own book and his readers. Then there are the contradictions.
Rooney, an avowed leftist, authorized a Mandarin translation of another of her novels, Normal People. The publishing house is state-owned and four of its executives are members of the Chinese Communist Party. The oppression of Uyghur Muslims, who were interned in camps, was not a problem. Of course, it’s her book and she can do whatever she wants with it.
Most writers spend their lives looking for readers, anywhere and everywhere. To them, Rooney’s actions have an element of high bravery. What if she now banned a Hindi translation because of the situation in Kashmir? For better or for worse, the Hindi reader is simply not interested.
A writer is better off using the power of words to harness and alter consciousness, rather than erect a barbed wire fence around his work, the sordid work of nation states. To arm your own book is to fall into a trap.