ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Substance of Style

In the context of the Ashis Nandy affair, this brief essay speculates on the literal-mindedness and supposed inability of India's lower classes to appreciate the nuanced defence of their corruption as well as what it says about the public sphere in contemporary India. This affair holds up a mirror to who we are, and the picture may not be to our liking.

Somewhere, Salman Rushdie must be smiling wryly. Back in 1990, when the controversy over The Satanic Verses raged and the Ayatollah’s “fatwa” hung over his head, Ashis Nandy was one of the few who dared counter the knee-jerk defence of free speech and creative licence that formed the mainstay of most of Rushdie’s supporters and that of the man himself. Nandy’s analysis at the time was bracing. He pointed out that Muslims were a beleaguered minority in countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, and India where the protests found greatest resonance. Moreover, globally Muslims were subject to the most vicious caricatures by an omnipresent western media.

In such a context the utterances of one of their own, a fellow Muslim, seemed to them an act of betrayal. Rushdie ought to have taken this into account while exercising his fictive imagination. In addition to placing the right to free speech in a wider sociopolitical and diasporic context, Nandy further averred that he suspected Rushdie knew what he was doing, and in some ways, was complicit in the enormous controversy that ensued.1

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