Salman Rushdie, up close and personal

Salman Rushdie
During my teenage years in Amman in the late 80’s the name Salman Rushdie was the talk of the town. Shortly after the release of his book, Satanic Verses, Rushdie was portrayed in the local media as the devil incarnate and his book was banned in Jordan (and the rest of the Arab world if I’m not mistaken). Since then I have always been intrigued by Rushdie. What prompted him to write this very controversial book, I wondered. How can he lead a normal life after Khomeini issued a fatwa that legitimized his murder? Since then, I’ve followed his news with great interest. I read about the various awards he’s won, his knighthood by the Queen of England and his brief marriage to a supermodel.

So, when I read the news about his appearance in DC I quickly snapped up tickets to see him read from his latest book, The Enchantress of Florence, at an event organized by Politics and Prose. I expected to see a bitter, cantankerous man with nothing to offer but hate speech. I was mistaken. What I saw was a happy, highly likable man with a marvelous sense of humor. He was extremely down to earth and even made jokes that were self-deprecating. I made a quick comment when my turn came for him to sign my book. "You must be tired by now," I said pointing at the crowd of people waiting for his signature. He said no, he was not tired, then pointing to his pen he explained it was an "Olympic pen" that can sign in a very speedy manner.

I was also surprised by the lack of security guards around such a controversial figure. Somehow I thought he would be surrounded by an entourage of bodyguards. I was mistaken.I really did not notice any security personnel. Maybe they were undercover. Who knows!

Jhumpa Lahiri
I have to admit, though, I have never read any of his books. I started reading The Ground Beneath Her Feet and thought it was the best writing I had ever read. Unfortunately, I could not finish it because I had to return the book to my friend before I headed to London to pursue a post-graduate degree. Now, after attending his reading I feel I need to get this book soon.

Another reason I expected Rushdie to be aloof and stone-faced was a book reading (Unaccustomed Earth) by Jhumpa Lahiri that I attended last month. I was surprised by how distant and detached Lahiri seemed during her reading. It must be a writer thing, I thought to myself. Rushdie proved me wrong.

I have to admit that I’m a bit uncomfortable about writing about Rushdie on this blog because I know some readers will be very quick to attack me and accuse me of endorsing his controversial views. However, attending this reading left such an impression on me that I believe it deserves a whole post regardless of the consequences.

9 Comments

  1. BJ July 4, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    I like Rushdie too… he has a lot to say about “hybridity” — a subject I am very interested in since so many of us are hybrids culturally these days…

    Rushdie’s semi-autobiographical story, “The Courter” has a good quote you might relate to as much as I do:

    I, too, have ropes around my neck. I have them to this day, pulling me this way and that, East and West, the nooses tightening, commanding, choose, choose. I buck, I snort, I whinny, I rear, I kick. Ropes, I do not choose between you. Lassoes, lariats, I choose neither of you, and both. Do you hear? I refuse to choose…

    (East, West Stories, New York: Vintage International,1996,p211)

    B-J

    Reply
  2. natasha July 5, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Thank you BJ for sharing this great quote with me. I definitely can relate to it.

    Reply
  3. Shruti July 6, 2008 at 7:39 am

    I am so intrigued by Salman Rushdie. Once when I was much younger I saw him with his then wife at a play in London. He was sitting right behind me. Now that I have read so much about him I wish I could’ve turned around and asked him what inspired him to write the Satanic Verses and how does it feel to be hated by an entire community. But then again he would probably just roll his eyes, having those questions a million times before. I’ve just started reading his book, Shalimar and I look forward to another chance encounter where I wouldn’t run away from him like a headless chicken. xxx

    Reply
  4. Ali July 8, 2008 at 10:41 am

    The only book I read for Rushdie was “The Satanic Verses” and it amde me sick to my stomach as it’s mostly false and discusting and very disrespectuful. I havent read his other books so I cant judge them. I recommend you read The Satanic Verses

    Reply
  5. S N July 12, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    I cant’s question the radical genius behind Rushdie’s renowned literature, I only read Midnight’s Children, and thought that it was a significant accomplishment for Indian literature proved by the fact that many Indian writers have tried to copy his style afterwards; like Arundhati Roy for example
    BUT, and it’s a big but- if he’s such an accomplished writer, why our only memory of him resides in the shadows of the Fatwa that shot him to fame?!

    The knighthood title he was given by the British queen, is just as discrediting for him as the Fatwa itself! The British lavish the idea of asylums who seek the British lifestyle of freedom and usually escape the “tyrant viciousness” of their homeland regimes. It’s just to enforce the idea of the British greatness that they seem to utterly convince themselves it still exists! Salman Rushdie is just one example of an Indian who fled to Britain, and did his best to convince the British of how bad his previous culture is. Ayyan Hirsi Ali, Borat, are other names that belong to the same category, or at least that’s the way I see them classified.

    Reply
  6. deepdowne July 17, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    i have never met him, but if there is any writer whom i like to run into, it’s none other than salman rushdie. i love him so much! i have read many of his books including the satanic verses ( can you guess where i read it….in saudi arabia!!!) hehe..

    Reply
  7. Godot basha July 23, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Those who are ‘sickened to their stomachs’ by Rushdie’s writing need to reflect upon thier own mental inhibitions and insecurities towards their own faiths. When the opening paragraph of a novel is a protagonist falling from the sky, landing on Earth and not dying, it is obviously a work of fiction. I have heard Rushdie speak myself, and he does not claim to be a relgious writer, but a man of vast imagination with unique abilities of expression on paper. Nat, he doesnt need bodyguards anymore because he has outlived the man who issued the fatwa on him, he joked about it during his seminar…for those who jump the gun into ‘shunning the non-believer’, read the damn book, your beliefs won’t be shaken by a work of fiction, if anything it’ll get you thinking, perhaps strengthening them?

    Reply
  8. B-J February 8, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Here’s a very interesting interview between Salman and Irshad Manji: Salman and Irshad.

    First time I have heard him speak. I thought it was excellent..
    BJ

    Reply
  9. Radi Radi February 25, 2013 at 8:46 am

    I always maintained that in order to judge something you should at least know what it is.

    Rushdie, in your description of him, is completely at ease with the western culture, so I wouldn’t expect him to be full of hate.

    I, however, would venture to ask you: Did you read Satanic Verses? Would you judge it before you read it?
    Should anyone really be allowed to censor anything (maybe kiddie porn or stuff like that)? A novel of all things? Is it not like world theory that was suggested by Galileo?

    Looking forward to hear from you

    Reply

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