July 12, 2020
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Lit Fest Gossip

'Foolish And Illiterate'

Sirji's spat with the American ambassador's wife and Vikram Seth speaks up on Arundhati contempt case.

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'Foolish And Illiterate'

What was that bit about the US ambassador's wife, you ask? Well, we aren't too sure, since there are wildly garbled accounts, with nobody coming on record, about the spat with Wera Hildebrand. One account has it that she was harmlessly chit-chatting away about her native Denmark, when Sirji let her know that he thought she was "stupid and illiterate". Another account has it that the lady asked for trouble by not only butting in uninvited in a conversation, but committed the unforgivable folly of contradicting St. Naipaul.

The most valiant of men would have been crushed, but the lady recovered quickly to point out that being familiar with his oeuvre, she was not surprised at his opinion of women. Sirji almost walked off in a huff, not just from the scene, but from the conference too, saying it wasn't big enough for the two of them. Only Himalayan efforts from Himachal Som, in the name of saving literature, prevented Sirji walking out.

We hear that he's threatened to boycott the Friday night dinner at the American ambassador's.


While the activist Mahasweta Devi boycotted the lit fest, another one missing was Arundhati Roy. The latest to take cudgels on her behalf is Vikram Seth. "It is the writers and the people from the press who can stand up for the rights of the people and prevent executive excess," he said in re: the impending Supreme Court verdict in the contempt case against Arundhati Roy.

"It would be a great pity if there were no balance in the use of power by either the writers or the court". Because the matter is sub-judice, Seth -- whose mother Justice Leela Seth, is a renowned jurist -- was pretty severe on the "danda or law of the land". Seth had been one of the few of the IWE who had come out openly against the Babri masjid demolition way back then, said, "it would be a terrible pity if we were to feel muzzled. Activists or not, if we were to look over our shoulder every time we wrote, it would be a thousand pities. It would be a thousand pities if people mistrusted the courts because it were perceived to be unjustly crushing the other possible champions of the people.

  At least on this, then, there seems to be unanimity among the IWE. Rushdie had been one of the first to publically speak up on Arundhati's behalf in an op-ed some months earlier.

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