Twitter

Follow palashbiswaskl on Twitter

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Full transcript: NDTV's exclusive interview with Salman Rushdie

Full transcript: NDTV's exclusive interview with Salman Rushdie

NDTV.com | Updated: September 18, 2012 00:34 IST


New Delhi: India a more intolerant country today, than when it first

gained independence? Author Salman Rushdie says yes it is. Speaking to
NDTV, just ahead of the launch of his memoirs on the Fatwa years, Mr
Rushdie says the ban on 'Satanic Verses' that India was the first
country in the world to ban the book and that set the tone. Since
then, the State has failed to protect artistes or free speech. From
attacks on art galleries to recent sedition cases against cartoonists,
Mr Rushdie says India is no longer Nehur's country. Nehru was a
liberal, he says, who always argued against government censorship.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:


NDTV: Salman, It has been more two decades since the Satanic Verses

was first published and then you found yourself literally living on
the run after a 'fatwa' was declared against you. Why did it take you
so long to write about what happened in those years?

Most Recent


Panel recommends deallocation of 12 coal blocks allotted to

private sector, government accepts recommendations
California judge denies bid to remove anti-Islam film from YouTube

Also See


Video: Salman Rushdie's story: The fatwa years

48:46
Salman Rushdie's story: The fatwa years
Video: Midnight's Children orphaned in India?
3:48
Midnight's Children orphaned in India?

Salman Rushdie: Because I did not want to for a long time. First of

all the whole saga lasted almost 12 years really, and by the time I
finally came out of the tunnel, and had a sort of ordinary life back,
frankly the last thing I wanted to do was to go back into the tunnel
and to write about it. I mean a lot of people suggested that I should
write about it but I just said that I don't want to do it. I'm a
novelist, I would write novels and I want to get back to my real life
and so for long time that's what I did, I wrote novels and stories and
so on but I always knew that I would write about it. That's the only
reason I kept journals through those years, because I'm normally not
somebody who will keep journals, I'm not one of those writers who keep
a diary everyday about their lives. But in this period I thought so
much is happening with such intensity that there is no way to bring
it, so write it down!

NDTV: The memoir is called Joseph Anton, named after Joseph Conrad and

Anton Chekhov, but before you were going to be Joseph Anton, you
wanted to be 'Ajeeb mamuli'. Now because I'm an Indian, you don't have
to translate that into English for me, you know I get what it means,
Ajeeb Admi who is also an ordinary Admi. Now, people might call you
'Ajeeb', but you are not 'mamuli'!

Salman Rushdie: I don't know, I felt pretty 'Mamuli' at that time.

That was really just a joke; I did never think it was going to
seriously catch on. I actually thought it might be a name for a
character in the story really more than me but I never used him. So
maybe he is still lurking somewhere to be used. I mean the reason I
made this title of the book is to just give a sense to people how
weird those days were. You know first of all to be asked to give up
your name is very strange, especially if you are the author of the
books which have your name on them, and also to be asked to give up
the ethnicity of your name, don't choose an Indian name that is too
obvious, people can put two and two together etc. Then I thought well
if I can't have Indian names I can retreat it into literature which is
sort of my other country I guess. That's why I finally picked up these
first names of Conrad and Chekhov in order to make this name.

NDTV: Except much to your annoyance, not just that you have these

false names which are not your ethnicity or your cultural background
but Joseph becomes Joe...

Salman Rushdie: Yes, it really annoyed me


NDTV: Did you ever tell your protectors that?


Salman Rushdie: Yes, I told them all the time. I said it's really

irritating. They had to train themselves to use this name all the
time, use my name by accident when they go for a walk round the clock
or something, but I must say the day I could get rid of this pseudonym
was a good day. It always annoyed me. I just thought it would be a way
of dramatizing for people, the strangeness of the time

NDTV: Interestingly, you are writing not in the first person. You are

actually writing about Joseph Anton as Salman Rushdie Rushdie

Salman Rushdie: Yes sort of


NDTV: Because that was life, wasn't it? It was two people in one


Salman Rushdie: Well I did think partly what I wanted to say is there

was a kind of strange dislocation of identity in those years, there
were so many versions of me that were created by people for their own
agendas, there were so many Salman Rushdie Rushdie walking around,
none of which were really me. I also wanted to write about that, what
it feels like to have your identity taken away from you and remade by
other people for their own purposes. And how hard it was to try and
say, excuse me I'm not like those people over there with my name on
them, I'm like this and that was a very difficult thing. That's part
of it but also I very much had this idea when I started writing this
book that I wanted to write it novelistically, I wanted to write it to
have the kind of shape, language, the attention to character that you
have in a novel, because I thought if the people, including the person
with my name, if the people are not alive on the page then you don't
care about them, so you don't care what happens to them. So, to make
the reader care about them, you have to use a kind of novelistic
techniques. I thought about these famous non-fiction novels as they
are called, you know 'The Right Stuff', 'In Cold Blood' or
'Schindler's List', you know books like these, and I thought that's
sort of a way to go, that these are the stories that are completely
true, but the writer has used a kind of novelist skill to tell that
story. But the difference of course is that those writers were not
telling their own stories, they were telling someone else's story. So
for me, the third person was a way, just getting that detachment from
myself, it was a way like stepping to the left of myself, you know, so
I could look at myself, like the other characters in the story, and be
as objective as possible.

NDTV: And do you think you have achieved that because you do include

in the book criticism of you in the print, by women you were in
relationships with, by friends, by people who disappointed you, so
it's not that you shied away from reproducing that fierce criticism of
you?

Salman Rushdie: I think, I think you can't. I think if you are writing

a book like this, an autobiography, in a way you have to be toughest
on yourself, you know because otherwise it looks, it just all looks
like self-justification. And you have to; the reader has to understand
that the writer really knows himself.

NDTV: And there is self-awareness.


Salman Rushdie: Yes and he is not perfect and is aware of that and

willing to let that be present. Because we all are human beings,
nobody is perfect. So, and if you are trying to tell the story of a
human being, even if that's yourself, you have to, you have to be
undefended you know and that's one, really one of the things I
thought, let your guard down. Many of the things that had happened you
know which people criticised or whatever, which I could defend, you
know actually if I wanted to offer a defense, I probably could. And I
just thought, don't do that, don't do that. Just let it stand.

NDTV: You write about how your friends actually provided the phrase

you use, an iron circle and you could live within that circle
protected from everything that was happening around you. But what's
interesting to me is that because you were Joseph, borrowed from
Joseph Conrad, Joseph Conrad in the heart of darkness talks about the
essential nature of all of us being alone, we live alone as we dream
alone, that's the essence of his thought. How alone were you in these
years?

Salman Rushdie: Well it is very odd in the sense I was less alone

physically, I was less alone than the ordinary lad because of all
these people around, policemen. People had this image of me sort of
stranded somewhere in solitude. But actually it was not solitude; it
was more like claustrophobia, because there were strangers around. I
mean I have talked to other people who have had to put up with maximum
security. I talked to Tony Blair about it for example; I talked to,
there was a British Judge who was threatened by the IRA who had to
have this kind of protection, and they all said the same two things
that I thought, one is that sense of intrusion into the privacy, which
is very hard to deal with. And the other is the loss of spontaneity.
You can't do anything like that. You know, you want to go for a walk,
you can go for a walk, but they say just give us an hour and half to
set it up. An hour and a half later, you don't want to go for a walk!

NDTV: And Tony Blair wasn't living under a false name and wasn't

living under an underground life, so that makes it worse, right?

Salman Rushdie: No but yes, just the intrusion of strangers into your

world you know, it is difficult. And they are actually trained to be
sensitive to that. You know they are actually very good at that. But
yes it was so, but I did feel alone even in the middle of that
claustrophobia you know, and yes it was especially when, as you were
saying, there are all these other people making up versions of me, you
know so I felt there were lies about me circulating in the world and I
was stuck in this box unable to rebut those lies.

NDTV: Yes, your relationship with your father has often woven its way

into your books as fiction in the form of Ahmed Sinai, but as your
actual relationship in your memoir. Now interestingly, you describe
your father as a Godless man but endlessly fascinated by the world of
Gods and prophets, and later you say you know you were your father's
son because in many ways that would describe you as well, wouldn't it?

Salman Rushdie: Yes that's right. I mean one of the things I am really

pleased about in the book is to have been able to give this portrait
of my father. You know when there have been, as you said it, there are
so many difficulties between fathers and sons, in a couple of my books
and we also had that difficult relationship, although it got better
towards the end.

NDTV: As he was dying and you go back to Pakistan to meet him ...


Salman Rushdie: Yes, or even a bit before that, I mean he wrote me a

letter I remember on my 40th birthday which is five months before he
died, and which was very moving to me, because it was the first time
he really wrote about my work. You know he never used to say anything
good about my books. So, but he finally did and I understood that he
had all along really understood them and was proud of them and so and
so, I mean I carry that letter around with me wherever I go to this
day, anyways. So, but it was good to write about the fact that we were
in many ways very alike you know, that we were so alike that people
used to mistake our voices on the telephone. His friends would call up
and start talking to me, and I had to interrupt them and say no, I am
not him, you know, but even in our way of thinking, I in a way it made
even clearer to me writing this book, how much I owed to his
interests, his cast of mind you know, his way of seeing the world
which also became mine.

NDTV: How do you think he would have reacted to what happened to you

had he lived to see it, because you do mention that you were glad that
he was not around to see the 'fatwa' years?

Salman Rushdie: I mean, I think, The Satanic Verses would have been

his favorite of my books because...

NDTV: You think that?


Salman Rushdie: Yes because it corresponds to, most closely to, his

areas of interest. And you know I mean the one thing I know is that he
would have been you know 100% on my side

NDTV: Now, your parents were Indians, who migrated to Pakistan


Salman Rushdie: ... very late


NDTV: Very late


Salman Rushdie: Yes


NDTV: ... and you talk again and again, you write about how you can't

reconcile, this family that grew up in Balli Maran in Old Delhi and
then goes to Pakistan, a country that you never had an easy
relationship with. Do you think you have ever cracked the riddle of
what made them do that?

Salman Rushdie: No, no I think there is a question mark there. You

know because of these my father was completely uninterested in
religious faith. I mean for himself, as you say he was interested in
it as a subject you know, personally he had none and my mother was
also you know, the extent of practicing religion in our household was
that we didn't eat meat, pork, that's it.

NDTV: And then later you, in an act of defiance, you grab your first

ham sandwich as a student.

Salman Rushdie: Yes, but I did not in my mother's house, she never

did, because I think it was one thing that she disapproved of, but
that was the extent of it really. But they grew up in, I mean we grew
up in India because they wanted to be in India and they obviously felt
much more Indian, they didn't define themselves by religious terms, so
it's a mystery why they suddenly opted, left, I mean, I don't know,
may be there were some strange business scandal or maybe I don't know,
I have, I have...

NDTV: Did you ever ask them?


Salman Rushdie: I have asked them but I got all kinds of answers,

which felt like nonsense. And so they never told me you know, they are
not around to be asked, but I just have a little suspicion that there
is something that we don't know.

NDTV: Now because of the 'fatwa', and because you had to live in

hiding, you couldn't actually go back and meet your mother?

Salman Rushdie: No, she came to England a few times


NDTV: She was able to come to England


Salman Rushdie: She came to England, my father was dead by then, but

yes she did come to England a few times.

NDTV: Towards the end of the memoir you write, it was very tongue in

cheek, but it was sweet, you talk about speaking to your mother on the
telephone after this whole furore over Satanic Verses had died down
and she said in Urdu, agli bari koi achchi kitab likhna

Salman Rushdie: Thanks a lot to Amma


NDTV: What did you say to that after you have been through everything,

it was your mother?

Salman Rushdie: What can you do, you just laugh


NDTV: And your son saying when are you going to write a book I can read


Salman Rushdie: Yes


NDTV: All of this is also happening, right?


Salman Rushdie: Well families are, you know what families are like,

and they are disrespectful.

NDTV: But they keep you real


Salman Rushdie: Yes, I mean actually that request from my sons

resulted in two of my favourite books that I have written. I think
those two books 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories' and 'Luka and the Fire
of Life' are really two of my favourites of what I have done, and that
entirely came in response to my sons demanding books that they would
enjoy.

NDTV: Talk a little bit about your relationship with India. Your

memoir mentions Midnight's Children as being a process by which you
were thrilled, that a country that hadn't necessarily reclaimed you
might yet do that now and you write in your book that this was more
precious to you than many awards for many jurists

Salman Rushdie: I mean yes, at that point you know I had been I had

been making a life in London and I mean I was also worried that I was
kind of losing a connection with India you know, which I regretted you
know. So in many ways, writing Midnight's Children was also for me, a
way of claiming.

NDTV: ... reclaiming, yes


Salman Rushdie: Yes and the fact that that people in India responded

so warmly to the book you know was incredibly important to me,
incredibly important.

NDTV: It's a relationship that sours later, do you see the

relationship with India souring, or do you see the relationship with
its politicians souring?

Salman Rushdie: Well I don't think it's India because you know I mean

I still feel that there are a lot of people in India who are
interested to read what I write, you know who seem, I mean, I don't
think that's changed, The public sphere you know I mean they were
never very fond of me. And I think they are still not.

NDTV: Who was the 'they' you mean?


Salman Rushdie: I don't even know their names any more you know. But

it started off with of course the fact that Midnight's Children was
critical of the emergency

NDTV: Yes and of the Indira Gandhi years


Salman Rushdie: Yes, well not the Indira, but specifically the emergency...


NDTV: Yes,


Salman Rushdie: ... which I think for many of us who cared about the

development of India was a dreadful shock in the mid-70s, and you know
and remember this is the mid-70s and the novel came out just a few
years later, so the mark of that moment is sort of on the book and
people didn't I guess, people who were, I mean, a lot of people of the
Congress I suppose didn't like it.

NDTV: Now you wrote your famous letter to Rajiv Gandhi, the famous

open letter, but in the memoirs you are looking back at the letter and
saying, well okay, maybe I was just a little bit arrogant there.

Salman Rushdie: Yes I mean, I think probably yes, but on the other

end, I think it's justified you know, because first of all the way in
which the book was treated in India, was improper. You know, it was
banned without any kind of investigation or without even anybody being
able to read it because there were no copies in the country....

NDTV: Yes


Salman Rushdie: ... and then of course, if you look at the way in

which India has become more and more censorious of works of art, you
know, I think it's, it was a moment that's kind of set a very bad
example you know, and many people have followed that example. So you
know now you have almost every day you hear about a cartoonist being
put in jail or an art gallery being attacked, or scholarly text being
banned from universities, or a library being attacked you know, or a
novel which is being studied for a long time being taken off from
university syllabus you know, or an artist driven into exile, because
of threats against his safety

NDTV: Yes


Salman Rushdie: You know, it's become so common in India now. What

began with the attack on Satanic Verses, and it's so strange, because
I mean you know, we all read these letters that you know, that Nehru
used to write to the British attacking censorship, and saying how
badly it reflected on the censoring person you know, and I mean I
guess I was saying the same thing, and it reflected very badly on the
government of India. That they took this decision against a novel,
with such pre-emptive haste, you know, without even bothering to see a
copy of it. As I say, it started something going which we, in India,
all are still seeing the consequences.

NDTV: So you think India is no longer Nehru's India in that sense?


Salman Rushdie: Of course, it's not. You know I mean one of the things

its worse is that when these attacks take place, I mean if they are
attacks by a kind of sectarian hooligans or whatever, the state does
not defend the artists. In fact there is there is kind of
understanding that it's the artists 'fault', you know, why are you
making trouble you know? So it's that kind of scenario, rocking the
boat attitude, which is making free expression very difficult in India
now.

NDTV: You write Joseph Anton in the past tense, as if implying that

this is a chapter of your life that is closed, but just staying with
India, you saw what happened when you were to come and speak at the
Jaipur Literature festival. I remember having to hide in a room and
interview you because your session was cancelled. Right?

Salman Rushdie: I know.


NDTV: Right, and you said then that you would be back in India and

you were, and nothing happened.

Salman Rushdie: And nothing happened


NDTV: And nothing happened, which points to the absolute

politicisation of what's going on. But it also points to the fact that
just may be these years that you talk about in the past tense are not
yet in the past.

Salman Rushdie: Well I mean I think yes, you are right, that there are

these little moments that bubble up, you know, I mean I am saying that
for practical purposes like in terms of how I lead my daily life you
know, it's, they are in the past, but these moments, yes they do crop
up.

NDTV: But are you able to live without a sense of fear today?


Salman Rushdie: Yes, I mean really, they only start, comes up when I

am talking to journalists

NDTV: You don't walk on the street and look over your shoulder anymore?


Salman Rushdie: No, no it's been, I mean it's been ten and half years,

it's a really long time. But I do agree it's little bit of like an
incurable disease, you know these, anytime anybody feels like
exploiting me for their own political agenda, you know it pops up
again, which is what happened in Jaipur. But I was really pleased to
see that the Congress share of Muslim vote went down after that, they
obviously did this to push it up. It didn't even work. So think again
guys. But I think really in terms of, as I say, in terms of living my
daily life, it's no longer really an issue.

NDTV: Yet when Midnight's Children was being filmed, enormous pressure

from Iran on Sri Lanka and in India an uncertainty over whether the
film will be grabbed by the distributors, again the shadow of politics

Salman Rushdie: I mean just a little bit I feel that the press has

sort of jumped the gun a little bit

NDTV: On whether the film will be seen in India?


Salman Rushdie: Yes, I think just give us a moment here. It just got

screened at the Toronto Film Festival last weekend, you know and I
know for instance the number of distributors have come in since then
in the last two days. We have sold rights in you know Italy, Japan,
Turkey you know, we have like four American distributors chasing it,
that's what happens at film festivals. You know it generates interest
and people come towards you. So I know, I mean I talked to the
producer yesterday and he said look we are talking to a lot of people,
you know and we may well, let's see.

NDTV: You still, you are still hopeful that it will be seen in India?


Salman Rushdie: I mean at least I am not hopeless, I mean you know

what it's true, there is no question is that Indian distributors have
not rushed towards it, you know, there is been a kind of nervousness.
But I don't think in this case the nervousness has to anything to do
with the 'fatwa', you know, I think it has to do with what you were
saying earlier.

NDTV: You mean the critique of the emergency years?


Salman Rushdie: Yes, I think it's the nervousness


NDTV: But the emergency is criticised openly in India.


Salman Rushdie: I know. But when it's criticised by me, apparently

that's a problem.

NDTV: So you believe there could be actual governmental pressure

that's stopping your Indian distributors. Do you have reason to
believe that?

Salman Rushdie: Yes, I have some reason to believe it, but as I say I

don't feel I don't believe the stories of those years, so let's just
give it a moment.

NDTV: And you don't believe this is connected to the 'fatwa' years or

Satanic Verses?

Salman Rushdie: No no


NDTV: This is connected to your critique of the emergency in

Midnight's Children?

Salman Rushdie: Yes, that's what I think


NDTV: What does India mean to you today?


Salman Rushdie: You know it's where I am from, that's it. I mean I am

a boy from Bombay who has travelled a long way. You know you can take
the boy out of Bombay; you can't take Bombay out of the boy you know,

NDTV: And that's still the case?


Salman Rushdie: That is still the case; I mean that's what I think. I

mean every time people ask me about these questions, that's what,
that's what I speak to myself.

NDTV: But you had to spend a long part of your life when you were

living in hiding, in exile literally from India?

Salman Rushdie: That was may be one of the most painful things and I

mean I have tried to say that in the book

NDTV: Yes, you do


Salman Rushdie: That kind of separation from India for whatever it

was, nine years almost, was hideously painful. And then when I was
finally allowed to have a visa, it was a very happy moment for me. And
I always knew that the first visit back would be kind of very noisy
and so I thought, make it short.

NDTV: Yes


Salman Rushdie: And then I was invited for the Commonwealth Writers'

Forum, I just thought, come in, do it and go out. And then it's okay,
because one of the things I have learnt about normalising a situation
is that you have to bore people, you know.

NDTV: Let it be uneventful!


Salman Rushdie: Yes. Like the first time you show up, everybody goes,

oh my God, it's him, you know the second time you show up, they say
look he is here again and the third time you show up they say, oh he
came.

NDTV: But that hasn't happened to you yet


Salman Rushdie: No but....


NDTV: You haven't been able to even now visit India without media attention?


Salman Rushdie: No, no, I have actually.


NDTV: Really?


Salman Rushdie: It is just because you don't know


NDTV: Really?


Salman Rushdie: Yes


NDTV: You are then smarter than I am for sure.


Salman Rushdie: Yes, I have been several times.


NDTV: But honestly, are you able to do it in a regular routine?


Salman Rushdie: I have been to India many times; there has been no

persecution. You know, I mean I have taken my sons on holiday, I, you
know in the days when I was, Padma and I were together, I would go and
visit her family in Chennai and you know I mean I came quiet often and
there was, I had no interest in being in the media because that wasn't
the reason I was there. And so it was fine.

NDTV: Now you also write very honestly about the years when or about

the phase in these 'fatwa' years, when you mistakenly, against your
own better sense, decided to embrace a Muslim identity. You wanted to
say I am a secular Muslim, there was a problem with that word; you
made some sort of apology for what you had written, but you didn't
believe in and you talk about, there is a kind of self-loathing about
that phase that comes through. Why did you do it?

Salman Rushdie: Well I think first of all you know you have to, when I

re-read my diaries, you know about this phase, it's very obvious
reading them that the person writing those dairies is not in good
mental shape. You know if I look back at it now, I can see there is an
enormous depression and self-disillusion, and you know weakness that I
was very beaten down at that point.

NDTV: You said that the need to be loved had made you weak and foolish


Salman Rushdie: Yes, it's a terrible thing. I have so stupid an idea

but if I could just explain things to people properly that they would
say oh my God we made a mistake. There is way of speaking to people
reasonably. To say look you are just wrong, you have just
misunderstood, and if I could just explain it to you properly, then
you will see it's all been a terrible misunderstanding and we can all
be friends and proceed. You know

NDTV: Did you really think that?


Salman Rushdie: You know I am saying it's stupid. I am saying it's a

delusion you know and also I was under enormous amount of external
pressure, media and politicians, people saying, look you know you made
this problem, you fix it

NDTV: And that people are dying because of you; your translator was killed


Salman Rushdie: This was before all that


NDTV: Oh this was before all that?


Salman Rushdie: But it was just saying you created this problem, and

it's up to you to do something, to fix it and when, and I felt you
know very affected by that. But so I allowed myself to be suckered
into this situation. I mean I have always thought it was the stupidest
thing I did and I tried to say so very plainly in the book

NDTV: You have


Salman Rushdie: Because it was a very bad mistake, but truth is I do

think it was a pivotal moment of my life. You know and I think it is a
pivotal moment in the story in the book, because it was a moment of
kind of hitting bottom you know, and I think the thing that's
beneficial about hitting the bottom is that then you know where the
bottom is, you know

NDTV: Can't get anything worse than that


Salman Rushdie: And I also think I am never going there again, and I

think what it did when I kind of recovered myself, and sort of
repudiated that, and regained my honest position if you like, you
know, I thought I am not doing this anymore. I am not trying to
compromise on issues where there can be no compromise. I am not trying
to appease people who have no interest in being appeased you know. I
am just going to fight my corner, I am just going to say, here is what
I believe in and I am going to try and win the argument. You know at
least make the argument as strongly as I can

NDTV: How did you deal with the kind of criticism that came your way,

not so much from commentators whose business is it's to opine, but
from let's say your former wife? When Mariannne writes an editorial
basically, or gives an interview rather, and she says that Salman
Rushdie Rushdie is not interested in freedom of speech debate, this is
about him. It is not about the cause

Salman Rushdie: Well I hope she is ashamed


NDTV: And you write about that?


Salman Rushdie: Well I hope she is ashamed of herself. Because I mean

actually I have spent much of my life fighting on behalf of freedom of
speech for other people, and I had done so before anything happened to
me you know. I have been involved with writers' organisations fighting
for, on behalf of censored writers; you know most of my career is as a
published writer you know, so I mean I think she had her own motives.
Well I think you'd have to ask her, but for me ...

NDTV: How did you deal with it? Because this is somebody you had been

married to, this is somebody you loved

Salman Rushdie: Well I was not married to her by that time


NDTV: I know


Salman Rushdie: That was a great relief I have to say. There were

moments where friends of mine who said to me that Marianne was much
more dangerous than the Ayatollah Ali Khomenei. I don't know that may
be a little over-statement, but it is not that much of an
overstatement

NDTV: Really? That bad? But did you ever crumble under the gaze of

public scrutiny?

Salman Rushdie: No I mean, we talked about it, that's the moment of

crumbling you know. I mean actually after that, as I say the recovery
from that mistake made me feel stronger you know, and then I began to
fight this international campaign to try and rally political support
from various countries you know, to mobilise pressure to get these
threats lifted and actually the moment I was doing that, then actually
I felt like a protagonist you know and not just a package in the
corner. I felt much better; it felt more dignified somehow.

NDTV: You do write that. But do you believe that the freedom of speech

debate has actually been resolved anywhere in the world? Look what's
happened in Libya, there's a video that's perceived to be anti-Islam,
by all accounts it's distasteful, it's not even about art, it's just
about hatred and the American Ambassador gets killed in Benghazi

Salman Rushdie: You know it would be obvious that I am against acts of

violence in the name of religion...

NDTV: No, no of course but I am just saying how do you resolve the debate?


Salman Rushdie: ... but I don't want to, well I just don't want to

comment too much on this case because it's a little unclear what had
actually happened you know. No we see, hear reports from America that
this attack may not....

NDTV: They have been planned


Salman Rushdie: ... They may have been planned, may not have been

connected with the stupid film that may actually have to do with the
anniversary of 9/11and be a kind of Jihadists attack on America, so
let's wait and see. I am not going to do the current Mitt Romney thing
of shooting my mouth off and I don't know what I am talking about

NDTV: No, the question is beyond this incident, the question is simply

this, is there something called hate speech which has to be treated
differently from the right of an artist to express herself or himself?

Salman Rushdie: You know different countries have argued this

differently. I mean in England for example there is a Racial Act,
which makes it illegal to indulge in racial hate speech

NDTV: Would you agree with those restrictions?


Salman Rushdie: Well I used to agree with them


NDTV: Because you were an anti-racism sort of advocate?


Salman Rushdie: I was, I was, but I think the American position, the

First Amendment position is different from that. The First Amendment
defends all forms of speech including hate speech, which is why groups
like Ku Klux Klan are allowed to utter their poisonous remarks.

NDTV: .... or the Koran can be burnt


Salman Rushdie: ... or the Koran can be burnt. What I've come to feel

is that's a better position than these restrictions, because hate
doesn't cease to exist when you sweep it under the carpet. In a way
it's better to see where it is, because then you can take it on.
Sometimes when you ban it, you glamorise it. You give it the power of
taboo and it can actually strengthen that agenda. So I think now and
one of the things you learn if you spend any time at all in defending
freedom of speech is that you're often defending work that you
dislike, because it's easy to defend people that you agree with. It's
easy to defend people you're indifferent to or who don't particularly
upset you. It's when somebody says something that you really dislike
that you discover if you believe in free speech or not.

NDTV: For instance, an American person who may otherwise exist in the

lunatic fringe wants to burn religious text and the counter argument
that is made, look this could have a ripple effect in what's happening
to American troops on the ground in Afghanistan. This is actually
making a war much more difficult, it's costing lives. What do you say
then?

Salman Rushdie: I'm not in favour of burning books of any kind.

Actually, the famous line of Heinrich Heine that is often quoted,
where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people, actually
that comes from a play called Al Mansoor in which the book that is
being burnt is the Koran. So what he is talking about in that play is
the wrongness of burning the Koran because afterwards you will burn
the followers of the Koran. Obviously, burning books is a terrible
thing. When I saw my book being set on fire, it's just a kind of
terrible rage came out of me because it's such an ugly act. The
problem of liberty is that sometimes people do ugly things. People
don't behave always well in a free society, but if you want a free
society it includes the right of people to behave badly and also I
think to respond to that with mayhem and murder, that's also a problem
you know. I have to say yes, this stupid thing on YouTube that looks
like the worst little clip ever made, it also now seems to be doubtful
whether the full film actually even exists, it may be just a stupid
clip on YouTube, the actors are saying they didn't know what they've
been asked to participate in, I mean it's clearly a very highly
manipulative incident, we don't even know who the filmmaker is because
he is hiding behind a secret identity, so it's a disgusting little
thing, but it's more disgusting to attack and murder people who have
nothing to do with it. This idea that somehow America you know is
responsible for the deeds of every American is a stupid mistake. In
this case, it's a fatal mistake.

NDTV: You write about making the transition from this terrible mistake

that you've made in a moment of weakness, trying to say things about
being religious that you didn't clearly mean, to reaching that
internal point where you have to ask yourself actually an existential
question, is the freedom of speech, is the right for you as an author
to write worth dying for? What was your answer?

Salman Rushdie: My answer was I was willing to fight even if it meant

my life was in danger, because the freedom of speech is not just the
right of writers to write, It's also the writer's readers to read, it
is the freedom without which all the other freedoms disappear, you
don't have freedom of assembly without freedom of speech, because if
you assemble but you're not allowed to say what you want, what's the
point? So freedom of speech is the bedrock, it's just about the
absolute foundation of a free society, and I think actually it's
something that we are, have, a danger of forgetting even in India
because of the way in which people get assaulted for doing perfectly
innocent things. I mean to do a cartoon which makes clay on the four
lions and turns them into wolves, well I mean yes it's disrespectful,
but when did you ever hear of a respectful political cartoon? You know
the form itself requires disrespect and so, in India there's a long
tradition...

NDTV: ....and for the Parliament to be depicted as a loo?


Salman Rushdie: .... yes so what? You know, deal with it


NDTV: But the laws of our country don't coincide with that

interpretation that you are making

Salman Rushdie: Well there is the problem with the laws. Also India

has a long tradition of very distinguished political cartooning, it's
not like we just make this up, you know this has been happening ever
since Independence and there were cartoons about Nehru and so on,
which were very savage at the time and he never objected you know.

NDTV: Why do think India has become less tolerant? What do you make of it?


Salman Rushdie: I don't know, I just think power corrupts. I think

there are people in power who have egos the size of the Ritz, who
don't like to see, who are very thin-skinned and easily react wrongly
to this stuff. Self-love is a terrible thing.

NDTV: You speak about you know just the ordinary going away from your

life, not being able to play football in the park with Zafar, was
there ever a moment when you regretted having written the book?

Salman Rushdie: You know Barkha, I've been asked that question may be

every week for 23 years

NDTV: And has your answer always been the same?


Salman Rushdie: Yes, it's always been the same and you can guess what

it is. I mean I am very proud of the Satanic Verses. I think it might
be one of my very best books. And what I think is that for a long time
only the people who are making a noise about it, only the people who
are hostile to it, got to speak and they got to, kind of set the
agenda on the book for a long time, but now it's very nice to see that
it's getting studied, it used to earlier get studied in political
courses and comparative religion courses, now it's being studied as
work of literature and you know people respond to it very well.

NDTV: And that's what you see, it was denied the ordinary life of a

book, and Martin Amis says you vanished onto the front page instead of
being on the literature pages

Salman Rushdie: Yes, well I think it's managed to find its way back

into the books section you know and I think you know, people by large
seem to have been liking it, to read it just as a book and I think if
books survive, they don't survive because of scandal. You know we
don't remember the scandal about 100 years ago, you know we don't care
about it, every book that survives any length of time survives because
people love it, not because people hate it, you know it's love that
makes art survive and not hatred. I am very proud of the fact that
Midnight's Children is now, whatever it is, thirty-one years old and
it's still of interest to a generation that was hardly born you know,
when ...

NDTV: ... when two countries were created


Salman Rushdie: ... when it first came out, so now at least it's moved

into a next generation. If it manages to move into one or two more
then it has a chance of sticking around, which I won't be around to
see, but it's at least made a first step. That's what you do, I mean
if you are a writer like me you're writing books to endure you know,
you are not writing books to make a quick killing then disappear you
know. The best seller of 20 years ago is out of print now, I mean when
did you last see a copy of Peyton Place you know, in its moment it's
sold a zillion copies and it disappeared. Those of us who write this
kind of book are hoping for it to endure. You know you want to leave
behind a shelf of books, you want to say like from here to here it's
me and that's what I hope for, for that book as as well as the other
book.

NDTV: You quote Conrad and repeatedly say that this is the sentence

that comes up again and again in the book, you have to live till you
die

Salman Rushdie: That's live until I die and I remember I talked about

this a lot with my old friend Edward Said

NDTV: Who also died, Christopher Hitchens died and you brought it up

in that context too

Salman Rushdie: You know but Edward was a great Conrad scholar and

then when he developed his cancer and fought it so courageously for so
many years, you know I think that was the sentence that was in his
thoughts. You know he went on lecturing, he went on travelling, he
went on you know, he didn't just keel over, nor did Christopher you
know, and that idea that you must live until you die you know, it's
one of the most profound ideas in Conrad and I mean I had discussed it
with Edward, you know he had talked to me about the importance of that
line for him, and then when this happened to me I remembered that you
know, and I thought okay, I mean that sounds like and took it as a
motto. And I am very, I mean one of the things I, I mean I've said a
lot of things in the book about things I was disappointed in myself
and I wished I hadn't done this, and I could have done that better and
so on and so on, but amongst the things I did well was I managed to
continue as an artist

NDTV: And you kept writing, Haroun and the Sea of Stories was born from it


Salman Rushdie: Haroun and the Sea of Stories; East, West; The Moor's

Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Fury and all of those books
are written during these years and that you know it wasn't easy

NDTV: What happens to, what home means to somebody who's had to move

all the time for 12 years, you live in 20 different places, you're
living out of friends' homes, you write very interestingly about
having to spend the night at the house of somebody you go to, you go
to their house for dinner, you end up spending the night because the
cops say you can't go home, what happens after you come out of that,
what does home become to you?

Salman Rushdie: Well it becomes even more important. You know if

something is taken away from you or at least the stability of home,
which is one of the important factors of home is that it's a stable
place, if that gets taken away from you for a period of time it
becomes ever more important. You know your sense of needing that you
know increases, I mean, I think fortunate I would say, but also not so
unusual in that I can think of more than one place as home, I think
many of us who are migrants have that feeling. You know if I go to
Bombay, I still know hundred million people in Bombay and I get there
and I very quickly feel the kind of home coming because I think the
place that you are born and raised always has a sort of idea of home
for you, in the way that your parents' home is also feels like home
long after you stop living there. So then you know I've lived in
London more than I've lived anywhere else and my family is here, and
so I have very deep roots here and now I am in New York, I've been
living there for, getting on for 13 years, and I feel very at home
there, so I just have a multiple sets of home, but at least I have it
again, you know it's no longer this kind of disrupted life you know,
where I had to kind of get up and move and I couldn't take my books
with me, I mean you know all that was very difficult.

NDTV: And yet you also chronicle your personal life you know, one you

talk about the disconnect between the public persona, the tabloid
description of you and what's actually going on in your life, and then
the women that you have loved, hasn't worked, worked sometimes, ends
with your chapter on Padma Lakshmi, which I think is your first actual
account of what happened

Salman Rushdie: Yes, I have never written about that


NDTV: You call her the phantom of liberty


Salman Rushdie: Well I think what I am trying to say about myself is

that I, in a way, loaded too much onto her, you know, because, yes I
mean I literally met her under the statue of liberty, I mean literally
'Padma Statue', it seems so kind of such an over determined symbol.
You know if I was to put that in a fiction I would think it was corny,
but that's what actually happened, and you know I was trying to make a
new life and America had been a place in which I was able to live a
kind of free life long before it was possible in England. And so
America represented to me that kind of liberty, and there she was,
standing there, both Indian and American and you know beautiful and
sort of easy to fall for

NDTV: And you write part of your Indian past and your American future


Salman Rushdie: Yes, so it seemed you know, all of that was part of it

and I think it was may be just a lot to ask of her, you know, because
she had her own future to think about etc. and I think it put a burden
on the relationship, which may be one of the things that went wrong
with it

NDTV: You write that she broke your heart as you had broken

Elizabeth's and then therefore she was Elizabeth's ultimate revenge on
you

Salman Rushdie: Well that's you know, well I mean I think this is, you

know human life is like this. Sometimes our heart is broken and
sometimes we do the breaking, you know this is not unusual, but you
know my going in position into this book was very simple, it was just
as tell the truth you know and sometimes the truth is happy and
sometimes it's unhappy, sometimes it reflects well on you and
sometimes it reflects badly on you, but just tell the truth.

NDTV: One of the struggles that comes out in many of your

relationships, other than your observation that many of them came from
homes where a parent had killed themselves or had died early, one of
the other things that comes out is the conflict of whether someone's
ready to live in the shadow of this famous man

Salman Rushdie: Yes, very hard, I mean I think it's very difficult,

and difficult to live with a writer any way, you know

NDTV: Any writer?


Salman Rushdie: Yes, any writer, I mean unsuccessful writers are

harder to live with. It's hard to live because they are broke.

NDTV: Yes absolutely, but were you difficult to live with you think?


Salman Rushdie: No I think I am really easy to live with


NDTV: You are being funny right? No seriously, could you understand

this conflict of not wanting to be?

Salman Rushdie: Well I think the only, I think the person who really

found it difficult was Padma you know, because I think she had a
desire to be in the spotlight herself you know, and I think it sort of
began to bother her that she was always the sidekick

NDTV: And you understand that?


Salman Rushdie: Well I understand it....


NDTV: ... like could you do the reverse? Could you live under a woman's shadow?


Salman Rushdie: I actually don't care. I do, yes I mean really I think

maybe I just have enough sense of my work being where I put myself
self-hood you know, I don't care if somebody I was with was super
famous and made a billion dollars, and so I would just applaud, I'd be
very happy to be a kept man. So if I can retire and put my feet up ...

NDTV: ... should be careful what you wish for


Salman Rushdie: No exactly let me tell you, I have never been with

anybody who could look after me, so you know I would be very happy.

NDTV: But you do understand the conflict?


Salman Rushdie: That's what I am trying to say. I am trying to say in

this book, even in a relationship which ended in a way that was
painful for me you know, it's very important to understand the other
person's subjectivity you know, because if you are a novelist that's
what you automatically do you know. If a marriage ends in a novel you
want to understand from both sides why that happened you know, you
don't just sit on one side and blame the other character, and so I
felt, since I had this idea that I was going to write this with all
the skill of a novelist you know, of course I wanted to enter into the
point of view of the other person you know and I hope I've tried to do
that

NDTV: As the 'fatwa' was lifted finally and Joseph Anton's personality

or life or persona was buried, did you find that you have shed a part
of yourself?

Salman Rushdie: No well, I didn't. If I did...


NDTV: You don't know?


Salman Rushdie: ... if I did, I am glad I did you know what I mean,

that I was happy to leave behind, and in a way the last problem, which
I think I say in the book, is that even after that self had been, that
skin had been shed you know, the problem is that the problem was other
people's perception, other people's fear you know and that was the
last hurdle that I had to overcome, even when I thought you know, okay
I don't feel in danger now, I feel that it's sensible, I am quite a
sensible person, I have no martyr instinct, I have no desire to put
myself or other people in a position of danger. But when I finally
reached the point where I thought okay, this is, it's not a problem
now, I could see that for some other people, it still was a problem.
So I had to sort of solve that, and one of the ways in which I tried
to solve that was deliberately, in a very chosen way, to lead a very
public life so you know, I thought the more people can see that I am
not scared that it'll may be, be a little embarrassing for them to be
scared, so that did actually help, it gradually calmed everything
down.

NDTV: Your write about meeting John Major and saying I am very

grateful for all the protection that's been given to you, on him
almost being surprised that you were expressing gratitude, and you're
constantly being befuddled by public descriptions of you as a sort of
ingrate, who was not thankful enough. How do you reconcile what you
used to read about yourself, and constantly being made to feel guilty
in a sense, about the protection that was being given to you?

Salman Rushdie: Well it was one of the great, I don't know it really

shocked me that there should be that discourse you know, as far as I
know it really only happened in this country. I am not aware of that
happening in other countries to anything like the same degree. I mean
so little that I don't even remember it you know, Here certainly in
the conservative tabloids and out of the mouths of some conservative
politicians and actually also some labour politicians who were trying
to placate a Muslim constituency, there was this very concerted
attempt to paint me as the villain of the piece, you know, to paint me
as a horrible person you know, kind of arrogant, egotistical or even
ego-maniacal person, who didn't care about anything except himself and
who didn't deserve sympathy and didn't deserve always very expensive,
that was always mentioned, care that was being given to keep him
alive. So that it still bewilders me that people reacted like that,
and these were all people who never met me in their lives and yet they
had a very clear view about my personality, and of course that you
know, mud sticks, that's one of things, if its thrown often enough and
hard enough over long enough period, some of it sticks and that
became, for a number of people, certainly in this country, it became
people's sense of who I was.

NDTV: But does that realisation that mud sticks make you more cautious

today? You are aware that you can be a polarising figure, you are
aware that even people who haven't read your works have very strong
opinions on you, you are on twitter and you've seen the mix of
comments that come; we all see that right? People just say random
things all the time, does that make you a little more in your 60's,
more cautious then you would have been at 40, about opening your mouth
and expressing an opinion? No, not quite, right?

Salman Rushdie: I am not the cautious type, I am too long in the tooth

to start censoring myself now, you know. I mean you've asked me a
question and I answered, I am not somebody who shies away from stuff.
I mean what is true is that about getting a little bit on in years, it
makes you very aware of the fact that the time that remains is finite,
and makes you very aware that you don't want to waste that time, you
know that you want to really focus on what is most important to you.

NDTV: You write in the beginning of the book about this lunch with

Angus Wilson and you speak about that inevitability that yesterday's
hot shot becomes tomorrow's, I think you said, melancholic old man. Do
you worry about becoming a melancholic old man?

Salman Rushdie: I think I've had my melancholic period, I went through

this experience, which was in many ways, I was very depressed and I
was very unhappy a lot of the time, but I mean I think I feel better
now. The thing about literature is that yes, there are kind of tides
of fashion you know, people come in and out of fashion; writers who
are very celebrated fall into, you know, people you know stop reading
them and then it comes back again. You know that happens eventually,
may be quite long time after the writer's life that reputation settles
down somewhere. Even Shakespeare went through periods where people
thought so little of his plays that they would re-write the ending, so
you know, the bowdlerisation, Bowdler was the man hired to improve
Shakespeare, so even Shakespeare went through a slump in his
reputation before he became the kind of revered figure that he now is.
So you know you just accept that literary fashion is inescapable.

NDTV: But you know when you say you are not the cautious type, we live

in extremely volatile times, perhaps even more so than the years that
you spent, you know on the run, you open your mouth tomorrow, how do
you know this won't happen again God forbid, but you know, how do you
know it won't happen again?

Salman Rushdie: This is, see you what you are suggesting, is to lead

your life based on a kind of ....

NDTV: No I am not suggesting that, I am just saying that you have to

be aware that ...

Salman Rushdie: It's too late now. What they are going to do? Threaten

me with death? They did that. So my view is, I am just expressing
myself in one of the societies in a world where we are privileged to
able to do that. Much of that world people don't have that option. If
you live in China, if you live in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, if you live in
Pakistan, these are not options you have every day. So it would seem
like a waste to live in one of the few places in the world where you
are able to do that, and not to use that freedom.

NDTV: Talking about Pakistan, Imran Khan


Salman Rushdie: Not again, please


NDTV: My question was not about what you said about him. More as an

illustration, that when you described him as a better-looking version
of Muammar Gaddafi, and then he retaliated and that went on. That's an
example of some would say, Salman Rushdie constantly getting into some
hot spot or the other. When you were a young boy and one of your
teachers, I think you said that in your book, comes on television and
said whoever would have thought that this quite little boy could get
into so much trouble. Now Imran is an example of, small humblest
example perhaps, and there are many others that you are constantly
getting into some of the trouble....

Salman Rushdie: I am allowed to be a political commentator if I want

to, if you would have to write about politics, you would.

NDTV: Of course


Salman Rushdie: If I want to be satirical, I am allowed to be

satirical too. It's my nature. As far as Imran is concerned, I really
don't give a damn about Imran. So please can we leave him alone?

NDTV: Yes, but do you worry about getting into trouble or do you enjoy

it? There are some who suggest, and you write about this in the book,
that if people say something that could invite retaliation then
somehow they are responsible for it. You write about that

Salman Rushdie: But then you know we should ban all forms of

commentary in that case, because any good form of social or political
commentary is going to get under somebody's skin, unless it completely
has your graphics. This is what democracy is, it's an argument and the
argument is never settled. Different interest groups, different points
of view in an open society, those are constantly at odds and in
dispute with each other. What I have come to feel is that the argument
is itself is what I would call liberty. It's not the resolution of the
argument. Any time there is a tyrant the first thing he does is to
shut down the argument. So that ability to have an open argument,
which can be funny, can be harsh, can be unfunny or it can be stupid,
it doesn't matter, what matters is that we are able to have the
argument. And India is a country, which has always done that. I worry
a lot to see people trying to shut down bits of that argument.

NDTV: Are you worried that your book won't be sold in India?


Salman Rushdie: No, I am not. Why?


NDTV: Because God knows anything can happen?


Salman Rushdie: I would be very surprised. All my books except one and

even that one ...

NDTV: Is easily available


Salman Rushdie: Exactly, we live in an age in which you cannot ban things.


NDTV: You know, as we end, I want to ask you something about

technology, because one of the very interesting things is that we
forget that 20 years ago, 24 years ago, there were no computers. Even
your voice mail, as you keep saying, was such an event. Your first
mobile phone, you know was this big. It's just so fascinating that you
can't even remember that time when there were no mobile phones. Today
do you think technology has made freedom of expression easier?

Salman Rushdie: I think to some extent yes, because as I was saying

that it's very hard to ban something now. Internet is colossal and you
can find anything. You can put anything there that you want to. So in
that sense, yes and I am a sort of interested in this new world, there
are reasons for this

NDTV: You are on Twitter


Salman Rushdie: In fact it's actually one year today that I joined

Twitter. And there I'm 400 thousand people. But I am not sure. The
thing that I like about Twitter much more than we saying anything is
the speed with which information reaches you. Faster than anything
else, that I think is the real value. Then we show off in the class to
make a point, give people information about, a book is coming out

NDTV: Or to make a joke about Kim Kardashian?


Salman Rushdie: Or to make a joke. I think you have to treat it pretty

lightly. I am interested in all of that. The one thing I am worried
about a little is this culture of anonymity.

NDTV: Random people hiding behind fake names?


Salman Rushdie: Yes, it allows people to be discourteous in a way that

they would not be if they knew the name. I am worried it may be
training generation to be rude and malicious in some way. There is lot
of that out there. It's because of this ease of anonymity. If you were
identified, I remember at another level, I remember the Times Literary
Supplement used to have critics who were never named and writers used
to object a lot, to say that there are these people who could be rude
as much as they like to us and we don't even know who they are. I
actually do think that since the TLS has started naming critics, the
discourse has become more polite. I think so, yes.

NDTV: Salman, did you discover something about yourself in those years

when you were living hiding that you did not know? What was that?

Salman Rushdie: I think if you would have asked me in advance, if you

would say that look, this is what going to happen to you, how do you
think you are going to handle this, how do you think you are going to
be at the end of it, I would not have bet on myself to handle it that
well, and I would not have bet myself to come out at the other end, I
can reasonably say. I think I discovered that I was tougher than I
thought I was.

NDTV: Well, it's a riveting read. Thank you so much Salman Rushdie for talking


Salman Rushdie: Thank You.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Welcome

Website counter

Followers

Blog Archive