Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Verses that haunt a lifetime

The big news these days in Indian newspapers is Salman Rushdie and his participation or not in a literary fest in Jaipur. The debate is around freedom of expression. Quoting Rushdie on the cancellation of his address at the literary fest, "In a true democracy, all get to speak, not just the ones making threats". Well said, Mr. Rushdie, but you certainly got your chance to speak through tonnes of books and other literature. The debate is also about sense and sensibilities. And I think in a democracy or otherwise, you don't go about making comments that hurt sensibilities of a large section of people. Not taking sides in an endless debate, but my mind turned away to completely different topic. What would it be to utter a verse that haunts you a lifetime?

Salman Rushdie wrote a book in 1989, the book with verses that hurt sensibilities of a large group of people. Verses that caused angst and anguish to many. Verses that might have been insensitive. I have not read those lines, but have seen the reactions it caused and the anger that followed. Salman Rushdie had to live for years in hiding, his life turned topsy turvy. Did he regret writing those verses? Did he regret the anguish caused? Maybe he did....but when the battle-lines are drawn it is difficult to be sane, it is difficult to remain self-critical. And now 22 years later, time has flown by and when you hope some of the wounds have healed, you see reactions as extreme as before to the verses and the man who uttered them.

The spoken word, the printed word ....can never be taken back. In the middle of an argument, in the heat of the moment, it is so easy to lose control and provoke with your scathing verses and your sharp tongue. And when the moment passes, when you contemplate in silence, you realize that you can't take back what is said. You have to live with it a lifetime. Sometimes in shame. Sometimes in pain. But mostly in denial and in self defense of your point of view. You have to live with verses that haunt a lifetime. Thich Nhat Hanh says " When you say something really unkind, when you do something in retaliation your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and he will try hard to say or to do something back to get relief from his suffering. That is how conflict escalates. " Well, if we are mindful of what we speak, peace will reign in our hearts. If only we could be more mindful of what we say, and banish the satanic verses that form in our minds. Banish the verses that haunt a lifetime....

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