Salman Rushdie turns up at the Hindustan Times office minus Deepa Mehta, the director of the Midnight’s Children film, which he is in town to promote. While Mehta has been held back by an asthma attack, the author has made time for the Unplugged at HT session in between interviews at television studios.
“It feels like I’m closing a big circle begun when I was very young; like I’m bringing the film of the novel back home,” he starts off. He is content talking only about the project, with an occasional crack about actor Soha Ali Khan’s nose making her the perfect person to play Jamila, but the conversation soon turns to whether he would attend this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival.
“Nobody invites me to literature festivals anymore,” he says with mock sadness. Does he think, given the ominous demands both Hindu and Muslim groups have been making, that this year’s event would also be embroiled in trouble? “I hope not; how many groups of people can demand that other groups be excluded,” he says half jokingly. “I hope this time around, people will hold their nerve.”
It seems like the winner of the Booker of Bookers who has battled fatwas, been the target of death threats, and whose hard partying and choices in women have filled numerous tabloid pages, has decided to play safe. “I’m bored of being called controversial,” he says, alluding to the drama around the making of the Midnight’s Children film, but he could just as well be referring to his own life.
That said, his resolve to sidestep controversy seems to weaken when asked to comment on Rahul Gandhi, whose grandmother sued him for a line in Midnight’s Children in 1984. “I don’t have much of an opinion because there is not much to have an opinion of. I don’t know what Rahul Gandhi does,” he says.
Prodded about the ‘death of the novel’, he says, “You should ask Sir Vidia (Naipaul) that. Vidia is the one who says the novel is dead… and then writes novels.”