Wednesday, October 10, 2012

To Salman Rushdie & Joseph Anton, with respect

Meeting Salman Rushdie was like the half-a-minute "darshan" we have in the famous Indian temples. He was in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 9th October, 2012, on his book tour, following the publication of his latest book: Joseph Anton. There I was standing in a really long line first to get into the venue, and everyone around me was busy recounting when the author's work had entered their lives, how it had transformed their writing and thinking lives. Then like true devotees we sat and admired the personal and personalized idol of so many of us present there, every sentence Salman said made the audience crack-up or giggle. Maybe the effect was accentuated by the choice of a Church as the venue, with Salman on the podium acting as the prosecuted, hence highly revered, holy priest of free speech. Finally, there was another long line to redemption, as Salman signed the books and the beady-eyed readers got to exchange a sentence or two with him. 

Joseph Anton is another solid book by Salman Rushdie, it is a memoir where we get to hear his version of story and of twelve years spend in hiding after the fatwa. Among other things, Salman describes his own awe and respect for many writers, and how and where he met them first, and what that meant to him. A detailed review of book will follow in due time, and here I will just recount my two minutes of conversation with him. Over the years, I have read nearly every book and essay written by Salman Rushdie. After a lifetime of waiting and wanting, to stand next to him and speak a sentence or two while getting the book signed was very special, as I stood close to the great man who has transformed and influenced imagination and words of everyone who thinks about India, including the Indians. 

Salman Rushdie, and his other self, Joseph Anton both have earned our respect primarily based on the quality of his writing, how it captures the complexity and vibrancy of India, how it challenges Western as well as Eastern notions of imaginary homelands, of how newness enters the world, of the ocean of the stream of the stories of the all mankind, of limits and meanings of freedom and creative expression, of revealed and hidden words and verses that determine the course of our lives. In his memoir, Salman reminds us that good writing has always outlived regimes and people who prosecuted the writers. Indeed, the Booker of the Bookers Midnight's Children and a dozen other books have insured the writing will outlive our contemporaries and times. In the memoir, Salman captures the fears and joys of a dozen years in near-captivity, and the struggles he underwent emotionally, personally and as a writer, before he could reemerge as a writer and a person. The imperfect human who manage to exist as Joseph Anton for a twelve years and continue to write as Salman Rushdie has given me much to read and a lot to think about over the years. Salman Rushdie's writing does not strike a chord in me, rather it strikes a sitar melody, a santoor harmony and a full orchestra of thought.

In my half-a-minute darshan I told Salman, that in that room I was probably the only other Indian who also has a house in Solan, Himachal Pradesh. I told him my father was posted in Solan when Salman fought the court case to get his ancestral house back (recounted in Joseph Anton), and my father's immediate boss was the government official who had to evacuate the house before Salman got it back. A friend I made while standing in the line clicked a picture moments before Salman said, "Oh really! Where in Solan do you live?" There was a long line of people who wanted his autograph and our conversation remained incomplete. One day, we will sit face to face and talk for hours...