City Moment – The Satanic Verses, Shahjahanabad
The beautiful Delhi instant.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is late morning. The Delhi Walla is browsing for second-hand books in the weekly book bazaar of Daryaganj.
Each Sunday the mile-long footpath between Delite cinema and the Daryaganj footbridge (which no longer exists) disappears under the maal. The maal being the seller-speak for novels, memoirs, whodunits, quiz books, classics, encyclopedias, coffee-table books, pulp fiction, foreign magazines and, sometimes, rare first editions.
Nearing the end of the market, I stop by Muhammed Khaled’s stall. I see the following titles:
Gorbachev: A Biography
The End of Saddam Hussein
Hit to Kill
Surrender Is Not An Option
Decent Work: Objectives & Strategies
The Satanic Verses
By Salman Rusdhie!
According to a news report on BBC: “Many Muslims regard The Satanic Verses as blasphemous. The book is still banned in India.”
And I’m a short walk away from Jama Masjid, Old Delhi’s grandest Friday mosque.
On 14 February 1989, Iran’s supreme leader Ayotollah Kohomeni announced:
I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the “Satanic Verses” book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. I ask all the Muslims to execute them wherever they find them.
India was the first of the many countries with substantial Muslim population to ban the novel.
In his 2012 book Jospeh Anton: A Memoir that deals with his post-fatwa years, Mr Rushdie, writing in the third person, recounted the early events concerning the controversial novel in the following manner:
“The Satanic Verses” was short-listed for the Booker Prize, along with novels by Peter Carey, Bruce Chatwin, Marina Warner, David Lodge, and Penelope Fitzgerald. Then, on Thursday, October 6th, his friend Salman Haidar, who was Deputy High Commissioner of India in London, called to tell him formally, on behalf of his government, that “The Satanic Verses” had been banned in India. The book had not been examined by any properly authorized body, nor had there been any semblance of judicial process. The ban came, improbably, from the Finance Ministry, under Section 11 of the Customs Act, which prevented the book from being imported. Weirdly, the Finance Ministry stated that the ban “did not detract from the literary and artistic merit” of his work.”
The book is still banned in India. But here I am in the heart of Muslim Delhi, standing in front of the first US edition of The Satanic Verses — in hardbound with the cover intact. The stall owner is a Muslim.
He tells me, “Only Rs 100.”
“No, Rs 50.”
“No, it is banned, you will have to pay Rs 100.”
Pretending to shrug in frustration, I take out the money.
The book seller says, “This novel is difficult to find in India. It has too much sex.”
It is a beautiful moment.
Freedom at all costs