We must mark our indignation, opposition to what has happened: Tarun Tejpal

It's the “result of a tragic game of Chinese whispers,” William Dalrymple, Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) organiser, said on Friday referring to the circumstances under which author Salman Rushdie was forced to abandon his participation in the event.

The author, who twice won the Booker Prize (including the Booker of Bookers) for his celebrated novel, Midnight's Children, before falling foul of Iran's Imam Khomeini and other Islamic extremists when he published his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, was widely expected to make a surprise appearance on Tuesday. But Mr. Rushdie, who received threats from Muslim extremists over what they describe as his “anti-Islamic writings,” decided he would not attend the JLF.

Mr. Dalrymple, who co-directs the JLF with writer Namita Gokhale and is responsible for inviting international writers, said: “Salman Rushdie is one of India's greatest writers and in a more just world, his arrival here would have been heralded by people in the streets throwing rose petals in front of him rather than this nonsense.”

He said: “The reality of Rushdie's writings is completely different from the way that they have been cartooned and caricatured. Salma is a writer of enormous breadth, depth; he writes about a huge variety of subjects. His passionate engagement with Indian Islamic history and works like The Enchantress of Florence shows that he is as far as can possibly be removed from the Islamophobe of myth.”

“I am deeply saddened by the fact that Salman Rushdie will not be joining us. I still remember how enthusiastically he was welcomed on these very lawns a few years ago and I am convinced we will have him here again,” Ms. Gokhale said.

Other writers, critics and members of the public participating in the festival felt that some sort of event ought to be organised on the day and time when Mr. Rushdie was scheduled to speak “so that his enforced absence will be acknowledged and become a sort of presence,” said Devi a “simple book lover” from Mumbai.

Tarun Tejpal, whose latest novel The Valley of Masks deals with notions of extremism and “purity,” suggested a discussion with Mr. Rushdie by a video link. “We must mark our indignation and opposition to what has happened. We cannot sit by and do nothing,” he told The Hindu.

“We find this extremely disturbing and sad and we need to debate why a person's individual ideas and notions are being blocked, why the artistic community continues to suffer at the hands of extremist forces and why we continue to succumb, as a nation, to one pressure or another. This is a huge problem for Indian democracy,” said Festival producer Sanjoy Roy.