Rushdie furor risks clouding India's literary gala

Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:02am EST
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By Henry Foy

MUMBAI (Reuters) - An outcry over Salman Rushdie's participation in Asia's largest literary festival has threatened to overshadow an event to showcase the best of Indian, South Asian and international writing that is rapidly growing in global cultural clout.

Oprah Winfrey, Michael Ondaatje and Tom Stoppard will share the stage with local-dialect authors and ancient-language poets at the 7th Jaipur Literature Festival, as organizers broaden the annual event's focus to economics, religion and geopolitics.

Rushdie, famed for his Booker Prize-winning Midnight's Children, has sparked protests from some Muslim leaders who have demanded he be prevented from entering the country, where his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is banned.

The vice-chancellor of India's Darul Uloom Deoband seminary has called on the government to block Rushdie's visit, accusing the 65-year-old of hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.

In response to a protest march planned on Friday January 20, the festival's opening day, organizers have rescheduled Rushdie's sessions, but event sources told Reuters that his invitation to take part still stood.

Over 70,000 visitors are expected to rub shoulders with more than 260 authors at the five-day festival, which takes place in the grounds of a 150-year-old palace in the heart of the pink-tinted city in the desert state of Rajasthan.

"We've got a raft of major first-division players this year, some giants of world literature," said William Dalrymple, best-selling author and co-director of the festival.

The event's meteoric rise, from a handful of guests in 2006, is testament to an explosion of interest in literature in India, driven by a rapidly growing middle class, steadily rising incomes and hundreds of millions of English speakers.   Continued...