A lot of Rushdie in the Indian newspapers these days, thanks to his visit. Here's a well-written Telegraph piece. I've heard him once, in March last week this year, and his speech was very impressive. I was reading what I wrote before and after his talk (in a blog that I used to keep then). Rereading that was fun. Here it goes:
Monday, March 29, 2004
Salman Rushdie is going to be here tonight.
I don't exactly remember when I heard his name for the first time. But I do distinctly remember the controversy that his book "The Satanic Verses" created, the fatwa that followed, discussions and debates on the freedom of expression that follwed that ... In Kerala (where I was born and brought up), these sort of topics do not restrict to small "intellectual groups". A controversy over Rushdie, Mandela's release from the prison, Marquez' friendship with Castro, all are often potential election issues!
I was in the 9th grade then. My friend U and I had a poster protesting the fatwa against Rushdie. I think we posted it on the wall of the Ladies Hostel of the University Campus where I was living. (I had the 'privilege' to live in one Univesity Campus or other throughout my life.) U's father was a great admirer of "Midnights' Children". As far as I remember, majority of those who participated in the debates on that particular controversy thought "The Satanic Verses" was not a great work of art (unlike "Midnights' Children"), controversial references in the book could have been avoided, nevertheless the writer had the right to express what he wanted to express, and everybody condemned the fatwa.
I never read "The Satanic Verses" though. The only Rushdie books that I have read are "Midnights' Children", and "The Ground Beneath Her Feet". I liked the first one a lot, but did not like the second one much. In fact I had a tough time finishing it. I read (rather started reading) "Midnights' Children" in a train journey from Cochin to Hyderabad in 1999. I wanted a book to read in the train, and thought would buy one at the railway station in Cochin. The bookshops at the station were not opened for some reason. When the train stopped at Shoranur for quite some time, I noticed that a few shops were open. Among all the Sidney Sheldons and John Grishams, there was this Rushdie book. (I do read Sheldons and Grishams, but - I don't know why - I do not spend money on them!) I must have finished it two or three weeks later. (I'm a slow reader. Typically do not read more than 50 pages a day.) I enjoyed reading it.
I bought a copy of "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" in the Sunday market at Abids, Hyderabad, in 2001. Abids Sunday market typically has used books or cheap (pirated!) editions. Mine was a pirated one on bad quality paper. Those were the days when work wasn't going very well(?!). I had finished working on a problem successfully a couple of months before, and hadn't really started thinking about a new one. Plus marriage, followed by a short break from work, was on the cards within the next couple of months. The break that I was going to take must have put me in a semi-break-from-work mood! I thought 700 pages of printed material would keep me busy for some time. Indeed it did! I didn't like the book very much. I think I finished reading it only because I started reading it!
I don't know what Rushdie is going to talk about tonight. Two days back R told me about Irshad Manji's "The Trouble with Islam". I hadn't heard about her before that. Later I read one or two interviews with Irshad Manji on the web. Reading those, I tend to support a critic of Manji who said there's even more trouble with Manji! I see that Manji uses Rushdie's name a lot. I havn't seen Rushdie saying much about Manji. It'll be interesting if he comments on Manji or her book tonight. Not improbable as Manji's book is getting a lot of attention these days (more wrongly and less rightly, shall I say?)
I asked two friends of mine whether they are planning to go to Rushdie's programme. (One of them was reading Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", which in fact prompted me asking this question.) Both had an emphatic "No" in return. Sometimes I too think I'm wasting time attending this sort of stuff. But then I was always like that. I think I'm crazy about literary figures, social scientists, activists and politicians. (Film stars, musicians, and scientists do not charm me to this extent.)
Okay it's time to go for Rushdie's talk.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Rushdie's talk went very well yesterday. I had a nice evening out there.
While walking back, after the talk, I met F. According to him, Rushdie could be the most well-known writer living today. Everybody knows him for the fatwa and the controversies, if not for his writing.
I'm not so sure about that. I guess those who noticed his name just due to the controversies might have forgotten him after some time. Right to say that the controversies (and the associated public memory) have a short life span? I'm not so sure about that too.
In any case the teenager who sat next to me had no idea who Rushdie was. She asked me why I was there for the talk. I said I had heard a lot of about him, had read a couple of his books, would like to listen to him. She said: "I wish that was my reason too." What then was her reason to attend the talk? She's a freshman who'll be majoring in Nursing, and she has a course in literature. Taking down notes of Rushdie's talk was part of her assignment. She asked me a few questions about Rushdie (spell the name, what is he famous for, etc). I helped her as I could. I hope my comments were helpful. And I wish she gets the maximum points in her assignment.
Now that's how liberal education should be. A student of Nursing or Engineering listens to a famous writer at least once. A student of English literature gets a feeling of an advancement in science in a public lecture. Unfortunately that's not the case in many places.
Rushdie's words, frequently punctuated by humour, projected clarity and conviction. You might disagree with him, but you would not be confused about his point. The arrogance that he often radiates in his interviews and coulmns was either not there or it appeared to be more positive and gentle than blunt.
Anjali Khosla, the chairwoman of the event, made a faux pas addressing the President of the University as the President of the United States. And the President thanked her for "the wonderful demotion"!
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Rushdie mentioned the verb dixiechick in his talk. One questioner wondered whether Rushdie has heard about lewinskied. He had not. Anyway the intern's name prompted Rushdie to recall his favourite Bill-Lewinsky joke. Here it is.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab DNA Test Results for Bill Clinton: Dear Mr. Starr: The test on the dress came back inconclusive. Everyone in Arkansas has the same DNA. Sorry, The FBI.