To many people, the importance of the highly inventive writings of Salman Rushdie are dwarfed by the controversy that followed when the Mumbai-born and Cambridge educated novelist was condemned to death by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 for alleged blasphemy. As he became the focus of controversy, Rushdie went underground, protected by the British government for many years.
Not many people would today remember The Satanic Verses as a novel as much as his second book, the benchmark 1981 novel Midnight's Children set in India in 1947, the year of his birth.
'It exploded out of nowhere', wrote eminent essayist and travelogue-writer Pico Iyer in Time, 'to upset the placid applecart of English literature, play merry havoc with the English language and create something more full of invention and clairvoyance than anything Empire could imagine.'
||in his words
'As a writer, what you look for is humanity, for the stories to tell about human beings; those things, I think, are more powerful than the things that divide us.'
|Photo: Paresh Gandhi|
Rushdie -- pictured here with writer Bharti Mukherjee -- was chosen by Time, along with Amartya Sen, Akira Kurosawa and some other highly distinguished achievers, for the special edition celebrating 60 Years of Asian Heroes. The novel, which became an international hit and got Rushdie a Booker Prize (and also the Booker of Bookers), Iyer continued 'was a call to free spirits everywhere to remake the world with imagination.'
Rushdie, who now lives in New York, and recently served as the president of PEN America, an organization espousing the rights of writers worldwide, has written many novels of varying success, but Midnight’s Children remains a favorite of many. He has also become a mentor to young writers from Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss) to Pulitzer Prize finalist Suketu Mehta (Maximum City).
Honoured with the India Abroad Lifetime Achievement Award 2006, Rushdie told the audience: 'One of the things that has been amazing about the good fortune I have had as a writer is to have work that was well received in India. I always thought, when Midnight's Children came out, that if it hadn't been well liked by the Indian readers it was written about, all those prizes and things really wouldn't have mattered very much.'
That his work still matters a lot -- and not just to India and Indians -- has long been obvious.