Rushdie rage at fellow writer - Anger at being made to look ?foolish? in review of Suketu Mehta?s book
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- Published 20.02.05
London, Feb. 20: As literary spats go, this is still a relatively minor one but could develop.
Salman Rushdie today expressed hurt at being allegedly misrepresented by Patrick French, author of books on India?s independence and Tibet, in a review in the Sunday Times of the Indian book everyone is talking about ? Suketu Mehta?s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.
Rushdie was irritated by a passage French wrote in the review. It said: ?Most of India?s eminent writers live outside India, for economic and social reasons, so this is familiar stuff. The visiting insider-outsider can observe the old country with a would-be innocent eye. (?Rajasthan is colourful,? wrote Salman Rushdie in 2000, after a long enforced absence.) The cultural confusion of the expatriate ? a common enough condition across the world today ? has been mined to exhaustion. Mehta, though, soon puts this approach to one side in a book that is part-memoir, part-reportage.?
In a rejoinder, Rushdie?s letter (?Dreams of India?) said: ?I should be used to being misrepresented by now, but Patrick French?s attempt, in his review of Suketu Mehta?s excellent Maximum City, to portray me as an out-of-touch ?insider-outsider? reduced to describing Rajasthan as ?colourful?, prompts me to defend myself.?
Rushdie went on: ?As a look at my essay A Dream of Glorious Return, published in Step Across This Line, will quickly show, I was talking somewhat satirically about the tourist-Rajasthan that was presented to Bill Clinton on his visit to India (?People wear colourful clothes and perform colourful dances and ride on colourful elephants and these are things a President should know?) while the non-colourful realities of the drought and so on were not drawn to his attention.?
Rushdie added: ?It is quite improper to quote my essay selectively so that he can praise my friend Mehta by making me look foolish.?
French, who is currently writing V.S. Naipaul?s biography, told The Telegraph: ?It was never my intention to make Mr Rushdie look foolish.?
But he denied he had quoted Rushdie out of context and drew attention to what the latter had written in the first of a three-part series on his return to India. ?Clinton did, however, watch dancing girls twirling and cavorting for him in Amber?s (the fort) Saffron Garden. He?d have liked that. Rajasthan is colourful. People wear colourful clothes and perform colourful dances and ride on colourful elephants to colourful ancient palaces, and these are things a President should know.?
Rushdie said today: ?Whatever Patrick French says, the evidence is there for all to see.?
As for Mehta?s book, it carries Rushdie?s endorsement on the cover: ?Extra-ordinary?amazing.?
This minor altercation between Rushdie and French does draw attention to what is happening in the world of Indian writers ? who is reviewing whom, why does Author A hate or love Author B, and should Author C be reviewing Author D when they are living together?
Some feel the time has come for reviews to carry ?health warnings? and for all concerned in the promotion of books to declare their interest (rather as MPs do when they speak in the House of Commons on an issue in which they have a personal involvement).
The back cover of Mehta?s book carries other expressions of support, including one from the travel writer William Dalrymple, who hails ?the remarkable debut of a major new Indian writer?. It will become the classic study of Bombay?.
When it comes to giving a helping hand to Indian writers, there is no one more generous than Dalrymple, author of The White Moghuls.
In the past, he showed perspicacity about Arundhati Roy?s The God of Small Things: ?A masterpiece, utterly exceptional.?
In return, other Indian writers have been kind to Dalrymple.
About The White Mughals, Pankaj Mishra said: ?There is a scholarly seriousness here; also, a moral passion.?
According to French, ?you get over-enthusiastic reviews of an Indian writer, and when you meet the reviewer at a party, he tells you, ?The book was really crap?. Ideally, there should be no link between author and reviewer. The Americans are trying to do that but it happens in the UK and India. If people have been in the same field for 20 years, they are bound to know one other and so you have friends reviewing each other. Readers do not know this sub-text.?
The solution, many feel, is to draw up new rules of engagement.
Rushdie commented: ?I don?t quite know about stricter rules of engagement. I myself don?t write reviews any more and give relatively few blurbs. When I read Maximum City and endorsed it I had never met Suketu Mehta. I have got to know him subsequently.?
Rachel Dwyer, a British academic who writes on Indian cinema and is now a familiar figure on the Bollywood scene, said she would never review a book brought out by Hurst & Co, which belongs to her husband, Michael.
Michael and Rachel spoke of a couple, whom they did not name, where the man had reviewed a book written by the woman. The sympathetic review of the book may have been influenced by the fact that the reviewer was sleeping with the author.
Rachel suggests a solution for reviewers who may experience a conflict of interest when asked to write about a work whose author they either love or hate: ?You should be able to say no.?