Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It must be hard to be Salman Rushdie

How must it feel to be disowned by your own land?  To live a powerless spectator of its colorful spectacles and die a refugee in a place that can never be yours?

To live in fear of your own men, to live estranged from your own roots and know that you will never be welcome in your own home?

I am not going to dissect the political and ethical vagaries of the Salman Rushdie fiasco. No, I am not eligible for that. Yet. I only seek to wonder how it must feel to know that the government of your own country tried to keep you away because you are an enemy; because you are bad news; because you are the strange element who will bring all the turmoil and chaos and because you are the man who thought evil and now spreads it wherever you go.

Now, I don't know how much of a home India really is to Rushdie. Maybe he considers himself a citizen of the world. Perhaps the 'most perfect being' in the world will know of no boundaries, no territories and see the whole world as one border-less entity enveloped by one vast free blue sky. Yet, I know it is very difficult. I have tried to be that person - wondered what the huge roar about the world cup victory was about and what the big deal  about national identity was, considering that the whole concept of a nation called India was as recent as less than 150 years ago.

Yet at the end of the day, I realized that I was indeed an Indian at heart, more than which I was a Tamilian at heart, more than which I was a Chennaiite at heart more than which I belonged to an area in the centre of the city. Our territories have grown up all along with us - territories defined more by area of birth than nativity. 

Every time I return to Chennai, there is this sensation - not so much like "Wow! Aww! Chennai - yeay! The best city in the world!"; There are many things I do not like in the city and I can even be rational enough to accede to the fact that Coimbatore fares way better in a lot of ways. Perhaps I would even like settling here rather than in Chennai. All these involve rational heuristics. It goes on well.

Yet, the sensation when you are back - you can't deny it.  It is something more of "Ah, this place - I am home!". A spontaneous milli-second acclimatization to the realization of the most familiar place in the world. This is home - you were born here, brought up here, you traveled around, shared memories with friends, partook in wayside conversations with its hawkers, got rebuked for traveling without change by its bus conductors, fought with its auto drivers, played in its playgrounds and walked under its trees' shades. So, the hawkers, buses, auto drivers, play grounds, trees and roads somehow belong to you - not so much a belonging by means of possessing them but one by means of mutuality, just like in love. You belong to them too. 

Of course, one can do all this in other places too. Yet it is never the same. Birth and the first few years of life somehow confer a bond of intimacy that can never be matched by any other place, irrespective of however long you live there. Perhaps it is biological - just as how new born animals instinctively stick to the womb that was their cradle. Perhaps it is psychological - we are in gratitude and owe one to the land that gave us a place to live during our most vulnerable, dependent age of childhood. I really think it is the latter.

And how would it feel to be denied to go back there - to partake in that wonderful sensation of home? To know that everyone you belong to and who belong to you do not want you because you are trouble; you are the enemy; you are the end of harmony? To actually know that elaborate plots are planned just to keep you away?

Indeed, it must be hard to be Salman Rushdie. Or M F Hussain.

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