Salman Rushdie, praise of freedom and humor

Salman Rushdie walks through the streets of Bilbao during a visit to the city in 2007. / FERNANDO GOMEZ

The writer never lost his smile during the ten years he lived hidden and in his literature there is no resentment but a passion for living

Salman Rushdie did an important symbolic exercise of freedom in adolescence. He was in London, where his family had sent him to study after spending his childhood in India. One afternoon he was walking down Oxford Street and saw a stall selling ham sandwiches. He then thought that the religion in which he had been educated even in a relaxed way forbade him to try one of those snacks that his classmates ate naturally. But he decided to take the risk: it could happen that as soon as he touched the ham with his lips he would be struck down by lightning or nothing would happen. Since then, as he told in ‘Joseph Anton’, he looked at religions, their prohibitions and taboos, in a different way. He learned to exercise freedom.

‘Joseph Anton’ is a memoir that I had no intention of writing. But, as he explained in an interview with this newspaper, his life had “some interesting episodes” and he thought it convenient to tell them. Joseph Anton is the name he used during the ten years he lived in hiding to avoid Khomeini’s fatwa. Joseph by Conrad and Anton by Chekhov. In that volume he narrates a thousand anecdotes of those years in which he changed houses an average of twice a month to avoid being located by the radicals. He talks about the incredible botches of the security service that the British Government assigned him, and above all how he forced himself not to lose hope or humor, to continue living and loving. And to write, because “if you can’t tell your story, it’s as if you didn’t exist.”

The fatwa’s followers came close to reaching him several times, but failed. Instead, they attacked publishers, translators and booksellers who had the audacity to bring to light ‘The Satanic Verses’ that cost him his sentence. That’s why he spread fear. He even came to Stockholm, to the headquarters of the Swedish Academy.

They remove the respirator from Salman Rushdie, who has already been able to speak

A Rushdie still under threat was invited to a meeting with academics, who each year choose who will win the Nobel. The room where the meeting took place was equipped with bulletproof glass (the windows overlook a very narrow street and there are houses opposite) and the act had an air of secrecy that some academics did not like. Several of these have recounted that, later, when the Nobel Prize was studied to reinforce the Swedish Academy’s commitment to freedom – not to mention that the great quality of his work already justified it – several fearful voices were raised. That award could unleash the wrath of radical Islam against academics, they said. An award was ruled out and some members of the jury left muttering something about cowardice and did not return to any more meetings.

‘Indian magical realism’

Meanwhile, the threatened wrote. ‘Children of Midnight’, which was a double Booker, was a paragon of fantasy with one of the funniest and most ingenious scenes in the history of 20th century literature: the one in which the protagonist’s grandfather, a doctor, goes discovering the body of who would later be his wife through the holes in a sheet through which the painful part of the girl peeks out at each visit. ‘Los versos satanicos’, far from being a thesis book, is a novel with the finest irony.

In ‘Joseph Anton’ he narrates that he changed houses twice a month and the bungling of his security service

‘The Enchantress of Florence’, already after the fatwa, is a vindication of love, ingenuity, diversity and, above all, freedom. ‘Shalimar the clown’ combines intense lyricism and violence. And ‘Two years, eight months and twenty-eight nights’ is a surreal story, full of nods to contemporary culture, that unleashes laughter.

His literature has been described as ‘Indian magical realism’. It is not a misguided approach. Hispanic culture has always been a source of inspiration for him -he felt an enormous admiration for García Márquez- and the narrative philosophy that impregnates his works is the same from which the ‘boom’ started: telling real stories that in another context culture look fantastic. Thus, he recounted that a scene from one of his novels in which there is a chain traffic accident in a city because the drivers are distracted by admiring the beauty of a girl who walks down the street was not the invention of a writer febrile. He himself had seen it happen, and the young woman was the model Ladma Pakshmi, his wife at the time.

The writer’s family, “very relieved” by his improvement


“We are very relieved that he has been taken off his respirator,” Salman Rushdie’s son Zafar said on Sunday. “He keeps his quarrelsome and insolent humor intact,” he added shortly after the writer’s family, stabbed on Friday by an Islamic fundamentalist at the beginning of a literary act in the State of New York, was with him, already extubated, and verified that he had regained his speech.

Rushdie has begun the “road of recovery”, influenced his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, one of the most powerful in the publishing business. “The injuries are severe and the recovery could be long, but his condition is heading in the right direction,” he added.

The defendant for the attack, Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty (‘not guilty’, according to US law) and has entered pressure. The support for the writer and the signs of condemnation of the attack have not stopped since the news broke. One of the first to express her rejection was JK Rowling, the author of the ‘Harry Potter’ series, who has received a threat from a Twitter user identified in her profile as a student and political activist from Karachi, Pakistan. . “Don’t worry, you’re next,” she wrote on that social network. Scotland Yard has announced that it is investigating the case.

Although the Government of Iran, which issued the death sentence or fatwa on Rushdie, remains silent on the attack, the country’s media continue to speak out. According to the ultraconservative newspaper ‘Javan’, the attack could be due to a US strategy to spread Islamophobia in the world». On the other hand, for the ‘Kayhan’ government, the attack shows that “it is not difficult to take revenge on criminals on US soil.”

The French philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy asked this Sunday in the pages of the ‘Journal du Dimanche’ the Nobel Prize for Rushdie: “I cannot imagine a writer who today has the presumption of deserving it more than him.” The list with the five finalists, which is kept secret, has already been written since May. One of them could be Rushdie, eternal candidate.

We would love to give thanks to the writer of this post for this incredible material

Salman Rushdie, praise of freedom and humor