Salman Rushdie by Mayank Chhaya
I wonder whether Salman Rushdie occasionally looks into his bathroom mirror, or for that matter any mirror, and wonders, “Now let’s see. Am I real or fictional?”
It would be a fair question considering that his real life reads so much like the epic fairy tales that the writer is preternaturally gifted at creating.
As ‘Joseph Anton’, Rushdie’s much anticipated memoir dealing with his 13 years of seclusion forced by an Iranian fatwa on his life, is getting ready for release tomorrow it strikes me that Rushdie could just as easily have been a character that escaped from his own fictional universe.
I am not quite sure if this comes across as a supreme compliment that I mean it to be. So let me just say it. I mean it as a supreme compliment. In my book (not a real one but in a manner of speaking), there is no greater real life than one that reads like epic fiction. Having been deprived of one myself I latch on to those who have been gifted it. Mine is a perfectly mediocre existence where it is hard to tell the highs from the lows because so little distinguishes one from the other. Can it get more mediocre than making some superficial observations about the upcoming publication of another writer’s memoir? I don’t think so.
It is possible that I will buy ‘Joseph Anton’, if for nothing else, to read about a man in whose gigantic existential struggle I was ever so tangentially involved as a journalist working in Bombay in 1988 when India became the first country to ban ‘The Satanic Verses.’ One did ordinary reporting about some menacing Muslim miscreants protesting against a book they had no clue what it contained other than depending on some second or third or twenty seventh hand version of the profound religious affront it reportedly carried.
I remember taking a stroll through Bombay’s so-called Muslim enclave Bhendi Bazaar just to get a sense of the sense of profound disquiet that a book which they had not read had caused them. More often than not the rage against the book was quickly synthesized right in front of me for the benefit of an inquiring reporter. In that it was not that different from some of the flavorful street food being cooked on the ramshackle wooden tables and leaky kerosene-fired stoves which always seemed to be on the verge of exploding. They served it, both rage and food, because they were asked to.
From what one has read of Rushdie’s memoir it is written in the third person. I presume that gives the author that much needed distance from his own life in order to present a dispassionate portrayal of himself. I think it is a very interesting literary device to look at oneself in the third person. It also helps mitigate some of the self-absorption that approaching it in the first person leads to, although self-absorption is the most important ingredient of any memoir. Also, the third person makes it even more conceited which is fine.
Ideally, I would have liked to dwell on the powerful irony of Rushdie’s memoir coming out at a time when the Islamic world is in ferment all over again over yet another “blasphemous” attack on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in the form of a laughably ill-produced movie. In an interview with The Guardian Rushdie says of the film titled ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ this: "The film is clearly a malevolent piece of garbage. The civilized response would be to say of the director: ‘Fuck him. Let’s get on with our day.’” It’s funny how many Muslims said something similar about ‘The Satanic Verses’ except that they did not say ‘Fuck him (Rushdie)’ and did not get on with their day. They said something that can be distilled into ‘Kill him before we get on with our lives.’
Reflected glory dims faster than those who revel in it, in this case me, would like. So I must end here.