"Why assume I am a Leftist because I am writing about the poor?"

Tamil writer Joe D'Cruz wonders why Modi supporters would not be granted the same level of freedom of expression

shivani

Shivani Chaturvedi | April 21, 2014


Sahitya Akademi winner Joe D’Cruz on the beach near Puducherry.
Sahitya Akademi winner Joe D’Cruz on the beach near Puducherry.

April, wrote TS Eliot, is the cruellest month.

Joe D’Cruz should know all about it. Till just the other day Sahitya Akademi winner D’Cruz, 51, was cruising along for the launch of the English edition of his first Tamil novel, Aazhi Soozh Ulagu (Ocean Ringed World).

But that was till April 13, when he received an email from his publishers – the Delhi-based Navayana – stating that the deal was off. Reason: D’Cruz’s stamp of approval for BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

In the email, “they (Navayana and V Geetha, the feminist writer who translated his work) said…you are supporting Modi, who is a fascist,” says D’Cruz, who was “shocked” at receiving such the mail from publishers who he says were “friends”.

With the translation over, a formal agreement was signed on April 7 and the book was due for release later this year.

While Navayana has since stated that it is willing to publish the book but the translator, Geetha, is not prepared for it – and that D’Cruz is not willing to “engage” with either – the writer says he didn’t seek any explanation from the publishers. “I am just trying to come out of that feeling of being hurt,” he says.

Another allegation, he says, “levelled against me is that ‘Joe is approaching the media and is jumping [protesting] unnecessarily. But I never approached any media house; you [journalists] are approaching me!”

Stating that he does not want to be “at anyone’s mercy”, D’Cruz says: “I have come to know through media reports that the publisher has decided to reconsider their decision of not publishing the translation. But the publisher never approached me with the thought [of going back on the decision to not publish it]. They [publishers] were spontaneous to communicate to me that they are not going to [honour the] agreement we had signed and were halting the book’s release. So why can’t they directly communicate to me if they really want to reconsider the decision?”

About any decision to engage with Navayana, D’Cruz says, “Let them say not just that they are coming back [to me], let them come back first. I will decide whether to carry forward with them only after that.”

About his support to Modi through a Facebook status update on April 9, D’Cruz says: “I want Modi to be the prime minister because I feel he can prove to be an able administrator. From the son of a tea vendor to a politician, from a politician to the chief minister of Gujarat, and from the CM of Gujarat he aspires to become prime minister – there is an evolution. This is a process of growth. India needs a strong, dedicated visionary to lead the country and I believe Modi has that caliber.

“Moreover it is my personal opinion on Modi and everyone has the right to free speech and expression. So why did the publisher decide not to publish my work?

“Why should one assume that I am a Leftist because I am writing about the poor? Or if I say I am a proud son of Bharat Mata, why would I be deemed to belong to the Hindutva fold by default? I am neither a Leftist nor in the Hindutva fold – somebody writing about someone does not mean he is going in that fold.”

Hailing from a coastal village in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, D’Cruz caught the attention of the Tamil literary world through his authentic depiction of the life of fishermen in the coastal belt of Gulf of Mannar. His first Tamil novel, Aazhi Soozh Ulagu, dealt with the lives of fisher folk.

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