In 1863, six years before the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Twain was working as a journalist in Virginia City, Nevada. Mr. Clemens had adopted a new pen name and according to his own words was, “the most conceited ass in the Territory.”
Ron Powers’ new biography, Mark Twain: A Life, narrates what happened in October when he published a newspaper report titled,”A Bloody Massacre near Carson .” It was a the description of the murderous rampage of one Philip Hopkins of Ormsby County, who after killing nine children and his wife, killed himself as well. It shocked people due to the graphic description of the corpses and was reprinted in newspapers from Sacramento to San Francisco.
There was one problem though: the Hopkins family did not exist. In his defence, Mark Twain said that he had invented the story to expose a system of companies tricking investors into buying overpriced stock. He also explained that the only way to get such a story into San Francisco newspapers was through some tragedy.
In the May 6th, 2002 edition of Outlook, novelist Arundhathi Roy, wrote about the murder of Congress MP Iqbal Ehsan Jaffri in Gujarat. According to Roy, the mob stripped Jaffri’s daughter’s and burned them alive as well.
Wait a minute. Jaffri was burned alive in the house, true — is it not awful enough? Along with some other 41 people. Not enough? But his daughters were neither “stripped” nor burnt alive.Nobody knew my father’s house was the target (Asian Age, May 2nd, Delhi ed.), felt obliged to rectify:
There we are, reassured as regards Ehsan Jaffri’s children. He had only one daughter, who was living abroad. No one was raped in the course of this tragedy, and no evidence was given to the police to that effect. [GODHRA: THE TRUE STORY]
The Gujarat Government sued Outlook magazine. In its May 27th issue, Outlook published an apology to save its face. But in the course of its apology, the magazine’s editors quoted a “clarification“ from Roy, who withdrew her lie by planting an even bigger one: the MP’s daughters “were not among the 10 women who were raped and killed in Chamanpura that day“! From Smita Narula to Arundhati Roy, “four or five girls“ had swollen to “ten women,“ equally anonymous and elusive.[GODHRA: THE TRUE STORY]
The police investigations revealed that no such case, involving someone called Sayeeda, had been reported either in urban or rural Baroda. Subsequently, the police sought Roy’s help to identify the victim and seek access to witnesses who could lead them to those guilty of this crime. But the police got no cooperation. Instead, Roy, through her lawyer, replied that the police had no power to issue summons.[GODHRA: THE TRUE STORY]
When he found that people were outraged over his fictional news reports, Mark Twain published a brief byline, “I take it all back.”
- Indian History Carnival – 15
- Interview with Romila Thapar