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Bengal’s Bermuda Triangle

- Book Fair officials want truth about Rushdie to stay a mystery

Salman Rushdie’s cancelled visit to Calcutta is as much a “mystery” to the organisers of the Book Fair as the Bermuda Triangle, according to a senior official.

“Several things in this world remain shrouded in mystery. Have you been able to decipher the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle? Similarly, let this one remain so,” Tridib Chatterjee, the secretary of the Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild that organises the Book Fair, said on Monday.

The Bermuda Triangle is an area located off the south-eastern Atlantic coast of the US that is noted for a supposedly high incidence of unexplained disappearance of ships and aircraft.

By alluding to the fabled ocean mystery, Chatterjee on Monday sought to counter questions on why Rushdie had been unable to visit Calcutta despite having return airline tickets sent to him by the organisers of the Kolkata Literary Meet, being held simultaneously with the Book Fair at Milan Mela.

The Telegraph had reproduced on Monday copies of Rushdie’s tickets that prove he was scheduled to be in Calcutta despite the police and a senior government official denying any such plan.

According to the schedule drafted by the organisers and mailed to the Indian distributors of the film Midnight’s Children, based on Rushdie’s novel of the same name, the author was supposed to enter the lit meet venue at the Book Fair through “a side audience entrance” at 7.45pm on January 30.

In a statement issued on February 1, the author had said: “The simple fact is that chief minister Mamata Banerjee ordered the police to block my arrival.”

He said the “organisers were fully aware of this (plan to get him) and had asked me to appear as a surprise guest”.

Although Rushdie was referring to the organisers of the lit meet, not the Book Fair, the guild labelled the author “a liar”.

“If he calls us a liar, we would have to level the same charge in response…. All the authors who have been invited (to the fair) have a letter each from the guild. We want to see the invitation letter (to Rushdie). A plane ticket can’t be considered proof of invitation,” secretary Chatterjee said.

Guild president Sudhangshu Dey admitted on Monday that the “West Bengal government” does take a call on any celebrity invited to the Book Fair, Mamata being its chief patron. “We need to inform the government about all the invites that we send out. Then the government grants (or refuses) permission,” he said.

While the guild wished questions about Rushdie’s visit that wasn’t to be would disappear like aircraft in the Bermuda Triangle, remarks by two state ministers highlighted the government’s predicament. “Sultan (Ahmed) amader katha boley diyechhey (Sultan has given our point of view),” panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said at the Book Fair, referring to the MP’s statement that if the government had indeed blocked Rushdie’s visit he would like to “thank and congratulate” it for doing so.

Minutes earlier, transport minister Madan Mitra had said that Sultan’s remark about Rushdie’s aborted visit was his personal observation. “Nobody from the government has spoken about Rushdie. It was Sultan Ahmed’s observation,” he insisted.