Rushdie in Mumbai on Tuesday. (AP)
Calcutta, Jan. 29: Salman Rushdie’s visit to Calcutta tomorrow has been called off at the last minute because of objections raised by the state government and an ultimatum issued by police, sources said.
The author was scheduled to be in the city with Midnight’s Children director Deepa Mehta and cast member Rahul Bose.
Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses has been at the centre of controversies in the country and elsewhere, is in India for the promotion of the film, scheduled to release on February 1.
For the last seven days, the main cast of Midnight’s Children and the author have toured Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. Calcutta was supposed to be their last stop.
From this afternoon, phone calls from police officers and “a senior minister” were made to the organisers of the Calcutta Book Fair, sources said.
The book fair itself was not hosting Rushdie. “We were asked if Rushdie was holding a programme at the fair. We said ‘no’ since we are not hosting such a programme,” said a member of the Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild that organises the fair.
The member declined to say who made the call and to which guild official. Other sources confined themselves to saying a “senior minister who called up twice”.
PVR, the Indian distributors of the movie, were planning to hold a media conference at a five-star hotel where Rushdie’s name was included later.
The organisers of Kolkata Literary Meet (KLM), which is being held on the book fair premises, were holding a session with the Midnight’s Children team, minus Rushdie, on Wednesday. Initially, the fair premises were considered for the venue. After there was talk of Rushdie joining in, another hotel was approached to host the event but that fell through.
The Midnight’s Children crew was supposed to come to Calcutta on January 30. Initially, the team included Mehta, Bose and producer David Hamilton. “They agreed to come if we allowed them to hold a press conference before the KLM session,” an organiser said.
When the film team realised Rushdie was doing a tour of other cities, they wanted him to come for the film’s media meet in Calcutta, too.
However, the intelligence branch told the lit meet organisers, Gameplan, to give a written assurance that Rushdie would not attend the event, sources said. Asked, an organiser said they hadn’t invited Rushdie in the first place.
The intelligence branch and the city police told PVR, the Indian distributors of Midnight’s Children, that if Rushdie came to Calcutta, he would be sent back on the next flight, according to the sources.
Asked if any specific group had called to protest Rushdie’s purported visit, the organiser clarified they had only received calls from the police, not any organisation.
“I think the stopping of Salman Rushdie coming to Calcutta is a sad and tragic moment in the history of Bengal and in the history of Bengali intellectual courage. We are now a truly shameful, uncultured city, where we cannot welcome one of our greatest writers who has travelled to Bombay, Bangalore, Delhi without any trouble,” said writer-filmmaker Ruchir Joshi.
Joshi had to leave Jaipur during the literature festival in 2012 after he read portions of The Satanic Verses when Rushdie was stopped from attending the lit fest.