As Salman Rushdie readies for the global publicity blitz for Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, he has some answers for questions from India Today Editor-at-Large Kaveree Bamzai.
Since Salman Rushdie burst into the world’s consciousness in 1981 with the stupendous Midnight’s Children, creating a new language for fiction, he has become one of the hallowed few the world is on first name basis with. One fatwa, four marriages, a knighthood, and 11 novels later, his appetite for fiction is undiminished. As he readies for the global publicity blitz for Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, he has some answers for questions from India Today Editor-at-Large Kaveree Bamzai. Q. So has Bombay been changed beyond recognition by Hindu extremists, so much that Mr Geronimo could never go back? A. No need to drag Hindu extremists into this. The feeling that “you can’t go home again” because the home you remember is no longer what it was is a pretty universal human feeling. Bombay has changed a great deal from “my” Bombay because people have died, moved away, grown, become different, and favourite places have disappeared, and the city has grown and shifted its focal points. It’s still fascinating to me, but Mr Geronimo feels alienated from it.
Is embracing of love and rejection of faith the only way we humans can overcome this Age of Unreason? Can we not have faith and love together? A. I’m not trying to preach! But I’m in favour of love and not a fan of faith, that’s true. In the novel, however, there is not a simple opposition between reason and unreason. Unreason, after all, includes fancy, dream, and so on, which can enrich our lives.
You seem to suggest that the only way humanity can move forward is if it rejects dreams, because they bring nightmares too. Where will Ibn Rushd and his people (such as yourself) manufacture such magic then? A. I’m not being didactic. I just wanted to portray a conflict in which no side is completely virtuous. And of course the loss of dreams would make the world a good deal more boring. More like the world of the jinn, perhaps.
The book seems to encompass every contemporary event, from climate change to even the potential rise of Donald Trump (you call Americans Trump-crazy, and worryingly, they are). A. Every book I’ve ever written arises out of long-term work joining forces, so to speak, with more contemporary matters. Some of the stories woven into this novel (the construction of the glory machine, the tale of the man who falls quiet) have been around for a while. But yes, it’s also a response to the world as it is now. Strangely it took just about two years, eight months and twenty-eight days to write!
It’s a global book, but it’s also a very American book, a New York book. How does the city you live in now influence you? A. I like in New York much of what I liked in Bombay, the crowd of stories, the sense of many different narratives intersecting, joining, conflicting, crowding in in one another. The stories of the whole world are here, becoming New York stories on New York streets, enriching American (and everyone’s) literature as they get written.
So is Dancing Shiva the new Batman? And Jimmy Kapoor the new Bruce Wayne? A. I think I’ll leave it to the reader to make up their own minds about Jimmy Kapoor and his Natraj Hero. He became one of my favourite characters. Maybe he’ll get a spin-off series of his own.
Are we, in India, in the midst of constructing the machine of the future? And does the national machine produce only glory? How do we fight the Age of Unreason? A. The idea of the machine is not specific to any country or any time. It’s a little bit of Kafka embedded in the novel. As to fighting the Age of Unreason, it would be helpful to find oneself a friendly jinn. But those bottles are hard to find.
Is Geronimo’s desire to go home also yours? A. I am home. I’ve lived in New York for the past 16 years and feel content.
As you (and we) grow older, do you see yourself being drawn more to our traditional storytellers? You club all of them together, Homer, Valmiki, Vyas, Scheherazade. How has each influenced your work? A. I think the old stories, Western as well as Eastern, have enormous power, and I like the modernity of many of them. In the Panchatantra fables, for example, the bad guys-the sneaky, wily guys-often win. Much more interesting than Aesop’s homilies to behave well and not be greedy. The influence isn’t that direct-it’s more like a background music against which I set my own accounts of human beings in the world.
So people turn to terror because they are denied sex? That should endear you to your friends! A. A sense of humour is always a useful tool when reading my books.
So is it agreed? From Rosa Fast to Princess Dunia, from Storm Baby to Teresa Saca, women will save the earth? Why do you think they are better suited? And thank you for being a feminist. A. Well, not all of those women are “good”. Teresa, for example, is certainly a bad girl. But I’m extremely fond of her. And I have always believed that women are the superior sex and nothing has happened in my life to change my mind. Men, by contrast, are simple beings.
So how exactly are you descended from Ibn Rushd? A. By elective affinity. My father liked his work and so adopted “Rushdie” as our family name. As a result I became interested in the philosopher and I, too, felt the same attraction to his mind my father had. So: good choice, Abba.