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Rushdie: from fatwa to knighthood

books Updated: Jun 21, 2007 16:09 IST
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Knighted some 18 years after a fatwa sentencing him to death, author Salman Rushdie is still best known for his controversial novel Satanic Verses.

Claiming that the book insulted Islam, Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa in 1989, triggering violent protests from radical Muslims worldwide and a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the West.

Rushdie, now 59, was granted a 24-hour police guard but still had to move house repeatedly and could not even tell his children where he lived.

In 1998, Iran's government said it would not apply the fatwa, although groups such as the Revolutionary Guards periodically say they will.

After nearly a decade hiding away, Rushdie began to appear in public more and more, eventually becoming a fixture on the international party circuit alongside stars such as Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue and his fourth wife, actress and model Padma Lakshmi, who is more than 20 years his junior.

Rushdie was knighted on Saturday in Queen Elizabeth II's birthday honours list for his services to literature, becoming Sir Salman.

"I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way," the new knight said.

Rushdie was born in Mumbai and schooled there and in Britain, before going to the prestigious University of Cambridge, where he studied history and acted in a string of student productions.

On graduating, he embarked on a successful career in advertising, coining slogans such as "naughty but nice" for cream cakes, which entered common parlance.

But he threw it in to pursue his love of writing and, though his first book Grimus was a flop, he struck gold with 1981's Midnight's Children, which won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for fiction.

Satanic Verses, published in 1988, centres on the adventures of two Indian actors, Gibreel and Saladin, who end up in Britain after their hijacked plane explodes over the English Channel. It was Rushdie's fourth book and, like many of his others, was written in a magic realist style and features characters from India grappling with questions of identity and religion.

Rushdie continued to write with the fatwa hanging over him, producing works including 1995's The Moor's Last Sigh.

In recent years, since the threat against him has apparently receded, Rushdie has been increasingly in the public eye with appearances in films such as Bridget Jones's Diary and US television sitcom Seinfeld.

His many honours include fellowship of Britain's Royal Society of Literature and an honorary professorship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.

He lives in New York City.