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April 18, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Salman Rushdie

'After Midnight's Children, a lot of writers felt liberated'

PART I: 'If somebody is trying to shut you up, then you should try and talk louder'

Salman Rushdie Is baar kya aap politicians se mil rahe hai apni kitab Satanic Verses par lage ban ko hatwane ke liye? (Are you likely to meet politicians during this visit and request them to lift the ban that has been imposed on Satanic Verses?)

I am not doing anything this time. This is not a political trip. I came here dekhne sunane ke liye aur bas (to see, talk and) to go to this prize thing which I did not get. (Laughs.)

The Ground Beneath Her Feet ke baad aapne kaha ki ab aap ki kitabon mein Bharat nahin hoga. Ab kya position hai? (After The Ground Beneath Her Feet you had said that India will no longer be a part of your books. Do you still feel the same way?)

Nahin. This is a mistake. In the book a character says this, maine nahin kaha. In my books mere characters hamesha chodte hain Hindustan ko magar maine kabhi nahin choda hai. Main aata hoon vapas. (No. A character in my book says this, not me. In my books, my characters often leave India, but I will never do that. I will return.)

To aage bhi apki kitabon mein Bharat rahega? (So India will find a mention in your future books too?)

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I find it interesting to have many roots. Yahan se aata hoon, vahan se bhi aata hoon. Main dono jagah se likhta hoon. (I come from both India and the West and write from both the places.) That will go on happening. Sometimes the books will be here, sometimes there.

Khabar hai ki aap New York mein jaakar basna chah rahe hain? (Rumour has it that you wish to settle down in New York?)

That is not true. I have always liked New York. Bahut salon se main nahin ja pa raha tha, ab mein ja sakta hoon to main jata hoon. Magar mera ghar London mein hai aur main London mein ghar rakhoonga. Shayad New York mein bhi rakhoonga, par abhi tak nahin hai. But I am not emigrating. I have emigrated once in my life from here to England and that's enough. (For many years I had wanted to visit New York but I couldn't. Now I go because I can go. But my home is London and I will continue to live in London. Perhaps I will buy a home in New york too though I don't have one as yet.)

Aapne U2 ke liye gaana likha hai aur Bono ke saath ek concert mein bhi aap the. Kya aap is tarah ka aur kuchh kaam kar rahe hain? (You have written a song for the group U2 and you have been in a concert with Bono. Are you going to do something more like this?)

It was very good. U2 ka song abhi nikla hai. Mere labzon par (laughs) woh gana hai -- 'The ground beneath her feet' -- aur kitab mein woh page 475 par hai. (That song for U2 has just been released. In fact the song is featured on page 175 of my book, The Ground Beneath her feet.) It's been great. I hope I make a lot of money. I think this is easier than writing books.

Is the character of Vina Apsara inspired by someone?

The Ground Beneath Her Feet finished in August 1998. A long time before I met what you describe as "someone."

Salman Rushdie Aapne Indian writing par jo kitab likhi, usme bahut se lekhkon ko shamil nahin kiya, jinko shamil karna chahiye tha. Uski badi alochana hui. Us par aapko kya kahna hai? (In your book on Indian writing you did not include a number of writers who ideally should have been included. There was a lot of discussion on this matter. What do you have to say?)

Well, if you look at the 50 years before Partition, un salon mein bahut kam writers hain angrezi mein (in those years there were very few writers in English) but in the 50 years after the British left, strangely enough, English becomes an interesting language in literature. So I wanted to highlight this fact. That's all. It is a big shift in Indian writing that now there are so many good writers in English.

In the last 20 years bahut, bahut writers aaye hain angrezi mein. Khushi ki baat hai. (In the last 20 years a lot of English writers have come up. This is something to be happy about.) You have Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rohinton Mistry, Amitav Ghosh etc and this is a great wealth that India possesses. It doesn't matter that they write in English as much as it does that they are good writers. If they had happened to write in Hindi it would have been just as exciting. In ten years time may be it won't be as exciting but now it is. Yeh khushi ki baat hai. (This is something to be happy about.)

I am sorry that people felt that I excluded other writers. But the problem was I was not allowed to make new transltaions and in many cases translations jo the woh bahut bure translations the. (The translations that were there were bad.) You can't represent people by bad translations, it is not fair. So because I had to choose what was in translation I chose the best from that. I hope other people will do other anthologies too.

Aap flattered feel karte hain jab log kahte hain ki yeh to Rushdie ki tarah likh rahe hain? Ab to ek Rushdie school jaisa ban gaya hai? (Do you feel flattered when people say that so-and-so writes like Rushdie? Now there is even a Rushdie school that has come up.)

Well, so I hear. (Laughs.) Main sochta hoon ki ab jo ho raha hai is more interesting. Yeh jo naye writers hain woh meri tarike se nahin likh rahe hain. Jhumpa Lahiri for instance, is completely unlike me. Woh bilkul kuchh aur cheez hai. Amit Chaudhui bilkul kuchh aur cheez hai. Vikram Seth bilkul different hai, so is Arundhati Roy. They are all their own people.

I think yeh baat sach hai ki Midnight's Children ke baad a lot of writers felt liberated by it. Kuch yeh kitab inko permission de di ki apne tarike mein likh sakte hain. (What is happening now is very interesting. The new writers do not write like me. Jhumpa lahiri is completely different. So are Amit Chaudhuri, Arundhati Roy. What I feel is that after Midnight's Children, a lot of writers felt liberated. It is almost as if this book gave them permission to write in their own style.) For that I am very proud. I am very proud that my book allowed that to happen but they don't all write like me. They have their own style.

Indians ke saath hi Japanese hain Kazuo Ishiguro, Hongkong mein paida huye Timothy Mo, Australia ke Thomas Keneally, South Africa se Coetzee likh rahe hain angrezi mein, England se bahar ke log itna badiya likh rahe rahe hain, iski kya vahaj hai? (There are writers from Australia, South Africa and Japan who write so well in English. People outside England are writing so well in English. Why is this so?)

I think that the sign of our times is that life has become very international. People who have complicated life experiences. Yahan se, vahan se mila ke jo log likhte hain, (People take their experience from here, there and everywhere) those people, it seems to me, are doing the most interesting writing. Because I think that is more and more what our contemporary life is like. Zindagi aise ban gayi hai. Hum sab aise aadmi hain jo kuchh yahan se, vahan se mila ke apne aap ko bana lete hain. (Life has become like that. We pick up various experiences from all over which in turn mould us into what we are.)

The Internet revolution is sweeping the whole world. How do you forsee the future?

I like e-mail. (Laughs.) Other than that I am relatively ignorant. I have never been in a chat room. I have done one on-line interview in my life and for writers it is a problem because of the question of copyrights and so on. So I don't really know. I like it. I like technology. I like gadgets but I am relatively ignorant about it.

Par kya isse kitab bachegi? (Do you think books will survive this revolution?)

Salman Rushdie Yes. Certain kind of books will go like reference books, encyclopaedias, dictionaries. Those things are actually better studied in the electronic medium because it is faster, you can search quickly too. But not novels. People like novels. You can't read a computer on the beach, you can't read a computer in the bath, you can't read a computer in bed, you can't read a computer in the bus and in all these places people like to read books. So people will always want to read novels and story books and they will want them in a book form.

Are you planning to go to Mumbai?

No, not this time. I will have to come back.

Akhiri sawal. Jab koi writer apne writing se bada ho jata hai to kya problems aati hain? (Last question. What are the kind of problems that are faced when a writer becomes bigger than his writings?)

It is a strange thing, a curious, distorting factor. If you are talking about fame, it is mostly a bad thing. It gets you tables in restaurants but apart from that buri baat hai. (It's a bad thing.) It gets in the way. Bahut mushkil cheez hai likhna. (Writing does not come easy.) And when you are doing it you stop being a famous person. Itni koshish karni padti hai achchhi kitab likhne ke liye. (You have to work so hard to write a good book.) You have no time to be famous. It is not relevant. So writing a book can be a very humbling experience.

Itna media attention jo aapko yahan mil raha hai, us par kya kahna hai? (What do you have to say about all the media attention you are getting here?)

It has happened before too and I am flattered. I am glad that people are interested in what is a very moving and important moment for me. Let us turn the page now. Let the past be past. And let us start a new chapter.

Salman Rushdie, aapne itna time diya aur itni baten ki. Aapka dhanyavaad. (You have given us so much of your time and have spoken so much. Thank you.)

Shukriya.(Thank you.)

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