My Satanic Verses: Three Episodes
1988. I rush to the bookshop the moment I hear the news. Smirking, the bookseller tells me that the few copies they received have been sold and, because of the ban, no more are forthcoming. I take this personally, spending many hours in the following days pestering the road-side booksellers in Mumbai’s Fort area and elsewhere, meeting the same shake of the head every time. A week later, a creative group head at the advertising agency I work in saunters over with a grin and bangs down on my table a mess of sloppily-bound grey pages. “I need it back tomorrow,” he says, as he walks away. Opening the photocopied edition and realizing what it contains makes me want to leave the office at once so I can begin reading; instead, I have to wait till the more decorous hour of 6 p.m. I board a local train for the suburb I live in and, squeezed between other commuters, start to read, looking around every now and then with a mixture of glee and trepidation. Once home and in bed, I stay up reading nearly all night, unable to absorb much of it because of the rush to reach the end but delighting in the familiar chutnification of language and theme.
1997. A friend studying in a university abroad is returning home for a vacation and, with some hesitation, I e-mail her to ask if she could bring back a copy for me. The moment I click ‘send’, visions arise of self-important Indian airport officials pulling the book out of her luggage and threatening to incarcerate her in Room 101. (“You Yankee imperialists can’t corrupt innocent Indian youth so easily!”) In the event, she passes through Customs unmolested and when I meet her some days later, airily holds the book out to me. It’s the paperback edition with an ugly cover – strident black, gold and red — published by the then-anonymous group known as “the Consortium”. I read it again and place it not on the shelves with my other books but in the cupboard. This one is too precious to lend.
2012. On a recent trip out of the country on work, I perform a usual task. Visiting a nearby bookshop, I look under “R” in the fiction section. Soon, I locate the buff Vintage paperback, ominously enough next to a novel called The Doomsday Key by one James Rollins. I hold it in my hand and flip through the pages. Then, I position it on the edge of the shelf so that it leans back against the other books with the cover facing outward to make it more prominent. Another victory for freedom of expression.
(Sanjay Sipahimalani’s columns and book reviews can be found at Antiblurbs.)
More posts from Banned Books Week, here.