Salman Rushdie continues to be a controversial figure, but in today’s world, I feel that voices like his (British, Indian, and atheist) need to be heard MORE than ever! Depending on your age, you may know Rushdie from the fatwa (which was placed on him by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran), his cameo on Bridget Jones’ Diary, or his short-lived marriage to Padma Lakhshmi (of Top Chef fame). Or maybe you have a FEW of his books (BUT are intimidated to read)? A few years ago, a book club I organized both read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which is Rushdie’s YA book.
*NOTE: Special thanks to my friend Lana for above photo and taking notes.
The Beginning of Rushdie’s Life as a Writer:
He realized that he would never write a good book until he knew who he was (not English, but Indian).
He was part of first generation of free Indian Children.
His father told bedtime stories (oral tradition strong in his family)- animal stories; tales of heroes. His mother told local tales: gossip, scandal, secrets (when he included in stories, she said he “got in trouble”). One of his academic grandfathers took him to university library, where he discovered Agatha Christie. His other grandfather was a very religious man (prayed 5X/day, fasted, etc.) He was also open to any/all ideas; Rushdie admitted that he didn’t believe in God (age 10).
Read comics from early age. He was lucky to have a lending library/bookstore nearby where he got into Perry Mason mysteries, Alice in Wonderland.
The Wizard of Oz (film) inspired him to write his first story at age 10.
His family had a tradition of kissing books and bread to apologize to it and place someplace where wouldn’t happen again (food for mind; food for the body).
Left Bombay 1961 for English boarding school at age 13 (his idea, not his parents’). Maybe he had an”unnoticed love of adventure” b/c was quiet as a child?
Got into Cambridge, but didn’t want to go b/ c of racism faced at boarding school earlier. He went and enjoyed it a lot; studied history; wrote for student newspaper. He also got into Borges and Joyce at this time, and learned about incident of satanic verses (in his last semester).
His parents moved to Karachi, Pakistan; this was not an appealing place for him. His father initially disapproved, but then supported his return to England after he graduated from Cambridge.
Wrote TV commercials and scripts in London for an ad agency (where he worked part-time). In the early 1970s, he wrote and published, but these works were not successful because he hadn’t known himself enough. He decided to understand what he was doing wrong and traveled to India, which entered state of emergency (1977).
Midnight’s Children: Started in 3rd person, but then told from Salim’s voice and it was better (voice not my own, but gave me voice). Kept working in advertising again to pay bills. This book took 5 years to write it because was learning how to write. He also needed to blend news with fiction.
Geography is key [to a person’s writing]. Writers (like Faulkner): Have roots/history and can mine the earth for a lifetime of stories.
Work we do about the past, changes the future.
As we discover, we remember, as we remember, we discover.
Stories are not true- but can make you know truths that truths cannot tell.
Can’t write until you hear people speak, because can’t tell their story if you don’t hear their voice.
I think the greatest gift my family gave me was freethinking.
[On his trip to India when writing Midnight’s Children]: From childhood, dig out memories from attics of mind. Healing of rift within myself that separated me from my past… drank deeply from well of India.
Write what you know, but only if what you know is interesting.