Rishi Sunak finds himself in an unfamiliar rank of being second, while Liz Truss is slowly moving up
The brutal attack on Salman Rushdie on Friday was unexpected but perhaps not surprising. Terrorists have long memories and new recruits are available to be incited in taking revenge for things which happened ages before they were born. But for all of us Londoners it was particularly shocking — because he was a Londoner too. And despite all the accolades he gained here — from his Booker — to his knighthood — this was also the city where he had to hide for almost a decade after he wrote The Satanic Verses.
Prior to that he had lived in North London and worked in an advertising agency. A Cambridge graduate. all he did was write. The Satanic Verses, written 33 years ago, was based on his studies during his university days. But, by the time the book was published, the world had changed very drastically. After years in hiding in the UK, even escaping to US did not help. The 24-year-old Hadi Matar who attacked him is reportedly a Shia Muslim.
And so the deed is done. Reports talk about the grievous wounds inflicted on Rushdie, and that he might lose sight in one eye.
In this uncertain world, security is a big concern. I know in India we are tired of having our bags checked every time we walk into a building — or go for a function. But this proves how important it is when at a literary function, instead of some inspiring conversation, you get a fatal attack.
For many writers it is an attack on free speech as well.
The stories of violence were reflected in other older narratives, being published in the newspapers in the UK — this time regarding the Partition of India. The BBC and other channels are also remembering the bloodshed, as it is now 75 years since the Partition. Even I participated in some BBC discussions. However, as we have discovered while setting up the second museum on the Partition of India in Delhi — and the exhibition which started over the weekend at the National Gallery of Modern Art (Delhi) the Partition of India had many dimensions and it is a mistake to limit it to only the stories of violence. It was a division of a whole country — its resources, its society and its economy. The impact has lasted till today. To present it as the outcome of animosity between two communities is incorrect. One of the tasks we have undertaken this year at the two museums on the Partition in India — and the exhibitions — is to take the narrative beyond the bloodshed into the impact on other areas.
Not much happens normally during these weeks in London. But the leadership contest between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak over who leads the Conservative Party has made life more entertaining, as they joust for the top job. It is the first time such a contest has gone beyond the portals of Westminster Palace. The media are delighted.
There are TV debates and then there are hustings where members of the local Conservative Party in each region are invited to gather and question the candidates. These events are also on TV and spread across newspapers. There is not much change thus far but then in politics you never can tell. Rishi Sunak finds himself in an unfamiliar rank of being second, while Liz Truss is slowly moving up… The Rishi and Liz contest makes for riveting TV, and I can tell you I am addicted to the show!
The only other perennial topic for the media, especially the print media, is the Royal Family. And the scandals do not stop! Recently, Prince Charles has featured in the papers for having accepted millions (in cash) for his charity from some Arab rich men of dubious reputation — Osama Bin Laden’s stepbrothers. As if that were not bad enough, this year and this month is the 25th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana and all those memories flood back which were not happy for the Royal Family. Add to that Prince Harry and Meghan, to say nothing about the disgraced Prince Andrew! So Prince William and his wife Kate who are emerging as the ideal couple approved of by all. Their news can always fill the pages of tabloids with joy. Long may that continue.
But, though we do not give the same importance to them as the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games did happen in Birmingham. It is interesting how chauvinistic everyone gets about gold medals. Why are the Australians so good and the hosts (the English) not on the top in every League table? Of course, it could be that Scotland competes as a separate country with its own medals! Though I don’t think anyone was excited enough to head for Birmingham — we do hope that the Indian haul of medals will satisfy everyone at home, especially as many of the Indian winners come such challenging backgrounds. A good Independence Day gift!