June 19 marks the birthday of Salman
Rushdie, born in Bombay, India, in 1947, two months before India's first day
of independence. He comes from a wealthy Muslim family.
His paternal grandfather was an Urdu poet, and his father was a
Cambridge-educated businessman. At the age of 14, Rushdie was
sent to Rugby School in England. In 1964, his parents moved to
Karachi, Pakistan, joining the Muslim exodus at a time when the war between
India and Pakistan forced them to choose sides and divided the loyalties
Rushdie felt toward his native land.
Rushdie didn't like life in England,
and he didn't like Pakistan. He couldn't return to his former home in
Bombay, so he took a job working as a journalist in Pakistan. But he
found too much censorship there, so he went back to England and tried to
support himself as a writer.
He worked at first writing advertising copy. His first assignment was
to write a jingle about the merits of car seat belts to the tune of a Chuck
Berry song. While he was working there, he wrote a science fiction
novel called Grimus (1975) that didn't do well. Then he
decided to write a book about India, the country that he hadn't seen in
second novel was called Midnight's Children (1981) about a man
who was born the same day India gained independence. The book was a
huge success with Westerners and Indians, alike. It won the Booker
Prize, and Rushdie became the leader of so-called "post-colonial
literature." But his family hated the book. He had
revealed a lot of family secrets in the novel, and they didn't appreciate
it. The book was later translated into a stageplay.
Rushdie published Satanic Verses in 1987, and the following year,
it won the Whitebread award. Most Western critics failed to notice
that its contents could be offensive to Muslims. In the book, Rushdie makes
several obscure jokes about Islam. He names the whores in a Mecca
brothel after the Prophet Muhammed's wives, and he suggests that the Koran
is not the direct word of God. The book was banned in some places and
burned in others. His publisher received bomb threats and a riot
broke out in Kashmir. When Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini
watched television scenes of the riot, in which police shot several demonstrators,
he issued a fatwa, proclaiming that "all zealous Muslims of the world" should try to find
Rushdie wherever he was and kill him.
Rushdie went into hiding for nine years, but he has since emerged to write several more novels, including The Ground Beneath Her Feet
"Insults are mysteries. What seems
to the bystander to be the cruelest, most destructive sledgehammer of an
assault, whore! slut! tart!, can leave its target undamaged, while an
apparently lesser gibe, thank god you're not my child, can fatally penetrate
the finest suits of armour, you're nothing to me, you're less than the dirt
on the soles of my shoes, and strike directly at the heart." - from The Ground Beneath Her Feet
fatwa, Rushdie has shunned publicity, hiding from
assassins, although he continues to write and publish books. In
Fury (2001), Malik Solanka, a former Cambridge professor, tries to find a
new life in New York City. He has left his wife and son and created an
animated philosophizing doll, Little Brain, which has its own successful TV
series. The man has blackouts and violent rages and becomes
involved with two women, Mila, who looks like Little Brain, and a beautiful
freedom fighter named Neela Mahendra. The book received mixed reviews.
Step Across This Line (2003) is a collection of non-fiction from
1992-2002, most in the form of articles written while the fatwa was
in place. In early 2000, Rushdie fell in love with an actress, left his third wife, and moved from London to New York where he
presently lives and works.
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