While browsing through Masters Syllabus I was curious about a controversial name on the list. To a certain extent for literary achievements, largely for his writing style Salman Rushdie appealed me. At that juncture, awareness about the controversies and fatwa followed him regarding The Satanic Verses (1988). That was a phase I didn’t read him at all. He received a death threat for crude and upsetting depiction of Muhammad in The Satanic Verses. They call it ‘Blasphemy’. The death threat was issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a religious leader of Iran on 14th February 1989. It is human temperament to get hands on what is banned. I tried looking for The Satanic Verses with no luck. No offence reading it anywhere except 18 countries including India where the book is banned. There are plenty of reviews of people who actually read and found nothing sacrilegious. The curiosity shared irritation kept questioning me, what it is so offending to lead killing of more than 60 people. I read Shame (1983) by Salman Rushdie, borrowed from a professor during Masters.
I tend to forget characters of novels most of the times; it takes extra efforts to commit to memory. With novels of Rushdie, you just cannot forget characters. They stay with you. The plot is mesmeric, rich with insinuations, the bewitching range of imagination and clever captivating dialogues. The allegory in Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) makes you wish to write something of his calibre. I can read his works, again and again, each time you discover it in a new light.
Next text is Imaginary Homeland: essays and criticism, 1981-1991 (1991) which I read while commuting for coursework, a single trip of three hours. He would go interviewing people born in 1947 for Midnight Children, a section of essays in the book. The topics are ranging from politics of India and Pakistan, novels, novelists, world politics and experience of migrants.
Rushdie’s writing stayed with me during a long pause from formal education after Masters. When it came time to pick research topic for M.phil the wide spectrum of subjects was tempting, I ended up taking bulky Joseph Anton: A Memoir (2012). Again read this book during commutes, to make sure I am not going overboard with my enthusiasm, re-read. A mutual choice of I and Prof. G. R. Taneja to discover about more than 9 agitated years of his life under death threat of fundamentalists and protection of the Special Branch of Scotland Yard. ‘Joseph Anton’ was his alias during hiding, combining the first names of his two favourite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.
Joseph Anton recounts his life under an ongoing fatwa, the stress of hiding years, a brief period of stagnation and how he used to see his friends in secrecy surrounded by security guards all the time. A visit from Christopher Hitchens is comparable to two authors donning soldiers fighting for a purpose. His battle for creative freedom, ups and downs of his personal life, his relations with his partners, break-ups with his former wives, Marianne Wiggings and Elizabeth West. The glamorously wrapped disclosures on his supermodel ex-wife Padma Laxmi are fairly repulsive. You learn the novelist you adore is an ordinary man with human self-doubts and longing to be loved. But then you see a worn-out man behind his brutal words, someone not ready to give up artistic freedom and all geared up to overpower extremists with his substantial writing.