Tickets Rushdie couldn't check in

Mumbai, Feb. 3: Salman Rushdie was supposed to attend the Kolkata Literary Meet (KLM) at 7.45pm on January 30 and his plane tickets were routed through an email account attributed to Gameplan, according to copies of electronic correspondence available with The Telegraph.

Sources in the Calcutta-based Gameplan, the organisers of the lit meet, have been saying Rushdie was never "invited" to KLM. The Telegraph is associated with the event. Rushdie was eventually shut out of the city, for which the author held chief minister Mamata Banerjee responsible by saying she ordered police to block his arrival.

The digital correspondence (excerpts of which are reproduced below) confirms that the itinerary and the visit itself were yanked off the charted route on January 29 ' a day before Rushdie's proposed trip to Calcutta ' after the police formed an "impression".

The details strike at the very root of a declaration by one of the senior-most officials of the Bengal government at Writers' Buildings on Wednesday ' the day it was confirmed that Rushdie's trip was called off. The official had said: "The state had no information about Salman Rushdie's visit. But a rumour spread last evening that the author was supposed to come to the city for a series of programmes."

The official had prefixed his statement with a curious condition: he should not be named ' an unusual request, considering no state secret or matter of strategic importance was being disclosed. Now it becomes clear why the official did not want to be identified, though the political leadership is smacking its lips at the anticipated dividends in the impending panchayat elections.

The following is the information gleaned from correspondence sent from email addresses associated with Gameplan to the Indian distributor of Midnight's Children, the film based on Rushdie's book and for the promotion of which the crew's Calcutta visit was originally planned. Contacted on Sunday, Gameplan refused comment. An official of the Indian distributor also declined comment.

On January 15, an email attributed to Malavika Banerjee of Gameplan Sports Pvt Ltd listed the "itinerary as discussed and agreed".

The emailed schedule of the January 30 programme details "requirements for the session at the literary meet here". An entry against 7.45pm reads: "Salman is taken to the venue and will enter through side audience entrance."

According to the schedule, Rushdie and the group would have spent an hour at KLM, held on the premises of the Calcutta Book Fair.

The contents of the email tally with Rushdie's statement on Friday in which he said: "Let me be clear. I was indeed planning to take part in a session at the Kolkata Lit Meet…. The organizers were fully aware of this, and had asked me to appear as a 'surprise guest'. If they now deny this, that is dishonest. They actually paid for my plane ticket."

The email revealed that three clubrooms were booked for "Deepa/David" (Deepa Mehta, the film's director, and David Hamilton, the producer) "Salman and Rahul" (Bose, the actor) in a city hotel.

Ten days later, on January 25, Rushdie's plane tickets were sent from the email account of a Gameplan employee to Malavika Banerjee's address, from where it was forwarded to the Indian distributor.

Airline sources had already said on Friday that tickets had been booked in Rushdie's name but were cancelled at the last minute.

According to the tickets, Rushdie was scheduled to leave Mumbai by a Jet Airways flight at 7.35am and reach Calcutta at 10.10am.

At the appointed hour of arrival, a group of protesters had waited outside the airport. Rushdie had said in a statement on Friday: "A police source actually issued full details of my proposed itinerary to the press, which flight I was to arrive on, where I would stay, when I would go to the Kolkata lit meet, on what flight I would leave. This was a clear invitation to troublemakers…."

The leaders of some of the protesting groups had told this newspaper as early as on Wednesday morning ' soon after the airport protest ' that the police had alerted them the day before.

The day before ' January 29 ' at 7:04:03pm, an email attributed to Malavika informed the distributor: "There seems to be some confusion about your communication with the police here, and they are under the impression that the MC (Midnight's Children) team is visiting Kolkata only for the Kolkata Literary Meet. They say they got to know about the press conferences at **** (the hotel) only from **** (the hotel) sources.

"We would like to reiterate that Kolkata Literary Meet has only announced and invited Deepa, David and Rahul for our meet and not Salman Rushdie. The latter is free to come to the city but we are not bringing him to the Literary Meet."

Neither the police nor the government has yet responded officially to the direct charges levelled by Rushdie.

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