Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back

The Hindus draped in a Red Sari: Why it's time to talk about freedom of expression

Author: Advaita Kala
Publication: Dailymail.co.uk
Date: February 21, 2014
URL: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2562323/The-Hindus-draped-Red-Sari-Why-time-talk-freedom-expression.html#ixzz2trATRyLl

Javier Moro is not new to ruffling the feathers of the Indian elite with his extensively researched and dramatised narrations of real-life people.

His book Passion India based on the love affair between the Maharaja of Kapurthala Jagajit Singh and Anita Delgado drew consternation from descendants.

But Javier dismisses that quibble with a straightforward comment on the dissenter: "He is such a snob he would not acknowledge his grandad had a long love affair with a Spanish dancer. Had she been an aristocrat, he would probably have reacted in a totally different way."

It is this disarming candour that Javier brings to his writing, which makes his books eminently readable and engaging.

His last book on the Emperor of Brazil won him the Premio Planeta, the highest literary award in the Spanish world, and the aforementioned book on the Maharaja's love affair sold 1.3 million copies worldwide.

His interest in India began with the book, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal which he co-wrote with his uncle Dominique Lapierre.

And Javier isn't quite done with India, despite the experience he's had with publishing his last book - The Red Sari: a dramatised biography supposedly on the life of Sonia Gandhi, which was stalled by threats of lawsuits.

 It's really why we are speaking, after the withdrawal of Wendy Doniger's book by Penguin and the ensuing outrage.

I felt that the time had come to explore this issue in greater depth, which would mean identifying more books as well as tasking this enquiry with the responsibility of identifying the multiple aggressors that pose a threat to the freedom of expression in this country.

The environment that a writer works in is more often than not greatly compromised, not only by religious hardliners but by politicians and big business.

But then why do we shy away from discussing it? Why are our sensitivities only hotwired to religious intolerance, when the problem is far more pervasive and deep rooted?

 Javier lives in Madrid, so our interaction was conducted over email, through which he explained to me what exactly went wrong with publishing The Red Sari in India and what is meant by the contentious term "dramatised biography".

But first the important question, why Sonia Gandhi?

Javier tells me it started with a simple curiosity: how come no one had written about Sonia Gandhi except for political pamphlets?

He found it strange, "because the story of an Italian woman from humble origins who ends up being one of the most powerful women in the world, ruler of a country of more than a billion people is certainly interesting, is it not?"

As this curiosity crystallised, it wasn't about liking Sonia Gandhi for Javier, or even agreeing or disagreeing with her politically; her dramatic life and the cast of characters it included was a writer's dream, and he was hooked.

Then began the process of piecing together a "dramatised biography" of her life.

He explains to me that a lot has already been written about the Gandhis and it forms the basis of his book; he uses these facts and approaches them with a focus on the dramatic, much like a TV scriptwriter would while telling the story of a character.

He admits that it is always his point of view, but nonetheless asserts it is based on facts and extensive research on already published material.

The Red Sari, he tells me, is too close to the facts - and that's what went against it.

"That's what bothered the Congress hardliners who did not have any interest in publicising Sonia's Italian origins".

But what of the accusation that the book was mischievous in its intent?

Javier has a ready answer for that one: "Before banning a book, you trash it. But the real fact is that nobody in India could have read the book, as it was not available in English. It's still not. It was all a political move.

"The strategy of Abhishek Manu Singhvi worked quite well. He knew there was no ground for a lawsuit because the book is mainly based on material already published plus some stuff I found during my research in Italy and India.

"But he publicly threatened to sue me, he created a lot of noise, he trashed the book in the media with the purpose of scaring off all English language publishers.

"And he succeeded, except for Roli Books, who will publish it after its release in the US."

Which brings me to the current trend of lambasting Penguin books. Whilst their actions have been in breach of the relationship between writer and publisher, are other publishers any different in an environment which is so biased against a writer's right to express?

The entire ecosystem facilitates a quelling of creative freedom. But what about Javier? Has this made him swear off India?

Unlike the rest of us who live and work here, he has an option. But he is steadfast. "Of course I will set another book in India. India is fascinating, in spite of its rotten political elite."

And I suppose that attitude will have to remain the silver lining for now.

As a female writer who tells stories about women, I personally find Mrs Gandhi's journey compelling and the complexity of her choices at the time of her husband's assassination and its aftermath a test in fortitude and a final homecoming of sorts.

So why the censor? Is it the arrogance of the dynasty and its many gatekeepers, or is it the harshness of our politics that leaves no room for the human story?

The writer scripted the story of the much acclaimed film Kahaani. This is the first in a series about freedom of expression
«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements