India’s Canutes are seeking to stifle expression they deem inconvenient,
King Canute sought to roll the waves of the sea back, and expectedly failed. In similar fashion, through court verdicts and through other means, India’s Canutes are seeking to stifle verbal, cinematic and written expression that they deem inconvenient, unaware that technology is leaping ahead in such a fashion that transparency will soon become inevitable. Unless it be decreed someday that India and its citizens be barred from the internet, a disruptive mode of communication and information dissemination that is constantly fighting back against efforts at control. Should some individual download Siddiqui’s efforts at literature online, it would become accessible to millions within an instant. And if this person is (according to the internet protocol used) operating from Belarus or Panama, rather than from the hyper-regulated territory that comprises the Union of India, getting judicial recourse against him or her would be close to impossible. Both Random House as well as Siddiqui would lose out on the royalties they would have earned, had their nerve held and both the actor and his publisher been ready to face up to the hectoring of television anchors eager for their “villain of the day” in the nightly gladiatorial contests that talk shows are in India. And, of course, face up also to the possibility of jail time, perhaps courtesy a Delhi lawyer, who has made it his mission to go after the actor. But by consigning the book to “raddi”, the lens of public attention has been focused much more strongly on the two ladies aggrieved by Siddiqui’s absence of discretion. Their experiences with him have become public knowledge in a way far more potent than would have been the case had the book come out and within weeks, faded from sight. Coming from a family which includes Aubrey Menen (the author of what was the first book banned in free India), this columnist has refused to take recourse to the law even when the most toxic of calumnies were said and written about him and other loved ones, including his mother. Those credulous enough to believe rubbish are welcome to do so. With technology’s advance, no Canute can any more abolish the swelling tsunami of information, misinformation and disinformation that is being let loose as a consequence of the march of technology.
In a society less Victorian than our own, the two ladies who figure prominently in An Ordinary Life, would have written their own versions of what took place between themselves and the actor, who has now garnered so much attention as a consequence of his book being scrapped. Will it now go online? Will a publisher outside India print perhaps a racier version, now that his pursuers have ruffled actor Siddiqui by their moves? If sold outside India, copies in plenty will find their way back to our country. The response seen to the Siddiqui book illustrates the Victorian attitude, which is “Do what you like, but don’t get found out”. Unfortunately for the bashful, in these days of mobile phones doubling as cameras and recorders, keeping such secrets secret is becoming an impossible errand.