True Independence: Being Fatwahed by the Churches of Salman, Roy, Pope Francis, and assorted Rightists

I never sought notoriety or tried to be banned. What kind of writer desires not to be read--except, perhaps, by his relatives, employers, wife/ex-wives/ex-mistresses, and children, who might be hurt or disturbed by intimate revelations or by seeing themselves portrayed in some character? Part of me desires to be loved by everyone--I know this is a silly desire, but as a child, especially when my parents were not with me for many years, I had known the perils of unpopularity: being lonely, being bullied and beaten, being teased or insulted, being left out of the happy, joyous moments (spending a feast day alone, or a birthday alone, with no one to wish me or celebrate it, for exampl). Almost at no point during my growing up was I physically strong enough to defend myself, though I tried to compensate with intellectual achievement and notoriety (or fame) of a sort.

Still, there was something in me, possibly as a result of my childhood or my innate nature, that yearned to tell the naked truth, to be bold enough as to say exactly what was on my mind. And, as I could not do it in conversation, being shy and not wishing to invite violence upon myself (though I read a book about karate and self-defense and practiced a few karate moves for a while in my late teens and early twenties, learning that a well-aimed blow to the windpipe or the solar plexus could be fatal, it just improved my self-confidence in case I was attacked), I decided to tell the truth as a writer: protected by the modern conventions and laws regarding freedom of expression: which writers before me had earned, sometimes at a great price. That is why I have stubbornly continued to write, despite years of resistance from established publishers, and trying financial difficulties.

And now, it turns out, I am banned, not openly, but in effect, by the Right as well as the Left. Salman Rushdie has blocked me from his Twitter account (I don't know precisely when it happened, but I discovered it recently). Arundhati Roy has never responded publicly to Impressing the Whites, or even made a statement acknowledging my existence, even though she said to me, in Bangalore in 1997, "I know who you are," before walking away in a huff.  And what's worse: and this is an Indian convention I speak of in my blogs and books: their chelas, and all those who fear the powerful and the celebrated, have interpreted their silence (or discreet nods/winks/coughs?) to mean permission to ignore me, to suppress me, and to starve me and prevent me from reaching a fraction of my potential as a writer.

That's suppression from the liberals and the Left. The conservatives have always disliked me anyway: I have extremely liberal opinions, and refuse to be a follower, whether of a guru (secular or otherwise), a cult, or a church (the Indian Catholic church's official newspaper, The New Leader, condemned by first novel in a prominent front-page, semi-editorial essay).

At one point, I was known to most of the players in the Indian literary world, and at least a few in the Western literary world (including Ladislav Senkyrik, Czech translator of Martin Amis and VladimirNabokov, who said he would have loved to translate my novel; Harriet Wasserman, Saul Bellow's agent; and many others, some mentioned in The Killing of an Author) knew me and respected me.

But at this point in 2015, I have all but vanished. Though, technically, I am still in print with HarperCollins India, they are cavalier enough and confident enough in their power (and my powerlessness) as to refuse to reply to my letters or to inform me the numbers of books they have sold, or send me royalties: which are contractual duties, in addition to elementary courtesies that every publisher should accord to every author.

The less celebrated writers and editors, who once openly praised me (and it felt like honest praise), are now silent about me. Some of this may simply be the result of my lack of fame.

Salman Rushdie: I know it is almost too late--as I have lost many precious years, and think I have very few years left--but I want to put you on notice, now, that many people the world over, some of whom have never read my books, are suppressing me in your name, and your silence constitutes consent. That you, who were once banned and persecuted, and have solicited the world's sympathy for it--and received it from most, including, from me, an essay of unqualified support published in a major Indian newspaper--that you should be silent as powerful institutions and people ban me in your name: it is an irony that is worthy of your most fantastic magic realist fictional constructions.

(To my grandmotherly Brooklyn friend: this is just part of the record. This is what a writer does: tells his stories, expresses his feelings. He does it mainly for himself. Your cynicism does not put food on my table, or earn me a single book sale. You are a player; you've been coopted. This is how freedom dies.)


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