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A Nobles' Dilemma



I was sitting in a Nobles day ward having a test done and reading a book. Just a novel, a book whose author I have followed for over twenty years. An author who’s inspired me with his plots and paragraphs and phrases, and given me insights into different points of view. A writer who has created stories fantastically linking the everyday with a magical reality which always lies just under the surface of the mundane.


The nurse bustled in talking fifty to the dozen, reminiscing about Isle of Man childhoods and such like. “Oh that looks an interesting book,” she clucks hardly stopping to hear my reply. “Yes, I’ve enjoyed him a lot, though I know he’s a little controversial.” But then she was gone again, leaving me seated by the bed listening to the nurses chatting in the background.


I had arrived early, a little nervous for the test, and had been seated down as they paged the doctor to come and do the bit with needles, medicines, and blood. And now I could hear the nurse greeting a doctor arriving in the orderly room at the entrance to the ward. An accent from the Sub-continent returned the pleasantries and I was suddenly struck with a thought.


You see the book was by Salman Rushdie and as far as I am aware a reasonable proportion of the doctors from the Sub-continent are Bangladeshi or have names showing a heritage in Islam.


Would my reading matter be taken as offensive, a snub to culture and religion? Luckily I was reading his latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, and not the Satanic Verses, but still, Rushdie is a polarizing figure and known for his opinions.


I sat and wondered. I was about to have a needle pushed into a vein. Now I am sure that the doctor treating me is a consummate professional, but - ignoring any paranoid worries about the needle going in just slightly deeper than usual, a slip as I finch on that “slight scratch” they warn you about - is reading this book rude?


A part of my brain raised British rights, freedom of speech and all that; and us all muddling along with live-and-let-live give-and-take – it’s a book for Heaven’s sake. Another raised a need to be polite and accept cultural sensitivities - you don’t go pushing things in people’s faces.


But it’s just a book, a story, an exploration of the possible and the improbably to entertain and provoke thought.


I pondered for a moment casting my eye over the Hello magazines or what-not piled on the table close to the bed. Just put it away and read some dross. There is no need to push tolerances early in the morning while undergoing needles and the like.


So I did put it away; secreting Mr Rushdie out of sight in a coat pocket. I sat listening as another voice joined the conversation outside.


In bustled a petite East Asian lady, with the status displaying stethoscope draped about her neck. She briskly washed hands, swabbed my arm, opened various plastic packages and once prepared stabbed down with the needle – and missed.


“Ouch that hurt” I mutter as she pulls it out and stabs in again, this time in-and-through as the catheter slides into the vein.


Job done, she sneezes, apologises for her cold, and is gone.


Well – my arm is slightly throbbing and my pre-conceptions about seeing a Sub-continental doctor proved wrong, but what of my initial dilemma. Should I have hidden my reading away? I’m not ashamed to read Rhusdie, and I’m not really worried about there being any consequences from reading him in public – I definitely think the chances of getting shoddy care too remote to contemplate – but I also just didn’t see the need to risk giving offence.


It’s a complicated world we’ve created - doing the politically correct thing, being sensitive to diverse opinions and all that. Reading a book – what a world we live in where you’ve got to debate the dilemmas of doing that. Oh well.

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I often have a worry about reading in public. and it is not unfounded either. I have been called a pseudo intellectual when caught reading Dawkins 'the God delusion' on the Boat to heysham by a friend of a friend. I was laughed at for enjoying the Harry potter books by many.


Studying technical martial arts manuals was no safer from derision and ridcule even when considering that teaching the martial arts is how i make my living.


I have often wondered if it is less about what im reading and more about the fact that i have time to read in the first place.


And as for Salman Rushdie, im really looking forward to his latest controversial title-Buddha.....the big fat git! (i couldn't resist!)

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