What happens when the 2020 Revolutionist runs into the original Midnight’s Child at an airport one night?
Chetan Bhagat: OK, let me see – what’s my first question to you?
Salman Rushdie: The trend is to ask me about the Jaipur Litfest.
CB: Right, of course – so, what’s your take on that?SR: Obviously, it affected me considerably. I had been rehearsing my oration for weeks. I’d even found the perfect sentence that incorporated, ‘camel’, ‘reverberations’, and, ‘this government sucks’, in haiku. (CB laughs). Seriously. The incident bespoke tremendously about the government’s inadequacies. More than that – my travel agent was agitated beyond belief. She’s exhausted with my constant cancellations.
CB (Laughs. Pauses as SR is silent): Oh, you’re serious?
SR: No, I’m joking. (Laughs).
CB: OK. Now, there’s an important question a friend of mine, Bhaskar, has been wanting to ask you – you and Padma Lakshmi. How?
SR: (Laughs) Obviously, she was attracted to my physical prowess. Long story, but it’s over. I’ve moved on. I do carry a photograph around.
SR: No, the real Goddess. I’ve got them all in my wallet – it’s a good reminder of human persuasion and I find their lore exceedingly attractive.
CB: We can’t seem to avoid religion around you. Now, there’s obviously that fatwa on you. How hard is it to deal with?
SR: How hard is it to deal with the constant threat of death? It’s not easy. It makes me disconsolate that my kinsmen find my words so ruffling they want to bathe in my blood.
CB: I’ve faced that too, to a lesser extent. The critics... You should read their reviews!
Flight Announcement: “… Air France flight to Qatar is now boarding…”
CB: Is that yours?
SR: No, I’m not allowed there.
CB: OK. (Pause) Let’s go through this list of flights and you tell me if you’re allowed there or not. Istanbul?
SR: Maybe. Depends on who’s watching.
SR: They’ll allow anyone with money.
CB: Oh, Jaipur?
SR: Let’s not ride that camel again.
SR: I think we know the answer to that before you even asked it! Let me ask Imran Khan. It’s a bit unnerving to note how many places are barred for me.
CB: You should apply for visas just for fun.
SR: I will. Look, Chetan, getting back on track… I think you’ve faced a lot of flak for your literary ambles. I’m actually a fan of your work.
CB: (Pause) Really?
SR: Absolutely. You’re the King of the Masses. Have you seen a show called Game of Thrones?
CB: Yes, I love it!
SR: I think it’s absolute drivel. But, people love it. It swept the consciousness of the American people. You’ve achieved a similar thing in India.
CB: OK. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.
SR: It is. You take some very interesting premises and ensure that they will appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s a great skill.
CB: Again, I’m not sure whether to say thanks. I love what I do and who I write for. But I have a complaint against writers of your type.
SR: My genre, you mean?
CB: Whatever. You always tend to write like you’ve got a thesaurus open. Why use a big word when you can use a simpler one?
SR: I am at privation to understand your implication, Chetan.
SR: Sorry, that’s an old writers’ joke. What’s your complaint?
CB: I write books for entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.
SR: That quote resonates with me. (Pause) Isn’t it from The Dirty Picture?
CB: Let’s not get into another one of these me-versus-a-movie things. My complaint is that don’t you want to appeal to a broader audience?
SR: “Marcus, Fortwith each sheep has its own flock for yon to Shepherd”, that’s a quote from an unpublished Shakesperean tragedy. Personally, a lot of his work was lionised for little reason, but, that quote fits here.
CB: See! Unknown Shakespeare plays? Guys in call centres don’t even care about known Shakespeare plays! It’s reverse snobbery, I guess. I’ve faced much trouble for writing popular material and I find it odd that you writers don’t do the same.
SR: Never shall the twain meet.
CB: What does twain mean? See, again! Nobody uses such words and it seems like you guys just try and alienate readers with your choice of words.
SR: It’s probably the quantum of reading I have done. But, Chetan, tell me your favourite book.
CB: It would probably be The Catcher in The Rye. I based a lot of Five Point Someone on that. That lead guy, what’s his name…?
SR: It’s Holden.
CB: Right. Holden was the basis of Hari.
SR: So, you could say a lot of the credit goes to JD Salinger?
CB: Let’s not do that ‘credit’ thing again. One of your books is actually a favourite.
SR: Oh, which one?
CB: Haroun And The Sea Of Stories.
SR: Oh yes, the children’s novel.
CB: (Pause) Yes, the children’s novel. Don’t be like that.
SR: Like what?
CB: Patronising. I’m tired of all this condescension against the popular novel and the popular novelist. I never aimed to snare a Booker. In my stream of consciousness, all I perceive is the reader as a receptacle of a story that is easily digestible. Why would you pirouette in the false belief that the popular novel is in some ludicrous way beneath your personage? Does acceptance by a mass of psychos that read my words purely as a release and not for some higher calling make you so grotesquely uncomfortable that you can’t see my end aim? I’m Chetan Bhagat – I’m a popular novelist. THE most popular novelist and I’m tired of being called to judgment in this self-anointed court of Literary Masturbation.
SR: That was extremely erudite!
CB: Yeah, I’m capable of it. I just choose not to exercise it.
SR: I… I didn’t know. You… you have a literary genius hiding inside you. How do you live with it.
CB: Well, Salman. Since, the cat is out of the bag – I have a pseudonym.
CB: Yes. Much like George Eliot was Mary Ann Evans as established by her treatise, Silly Novels By Lady Novelists.
SR: You know of that?
CB: I know much more than people give me credit for, Salman. You may have read a little book called The God Of Small Things.
SR: I love that book. Arundhati is such a good writer.
CB: Thank you.
SR: I don’t understand, Chetan.
CB: I am Arundhati. It’s the modern literary world – earlier women had to hide behind a man’s pseudonym to be taken seriously. Now, men have to hide behind Bengali/ Malayali/ North East Indian women. Give me a wig, righteous anger and I’m Arundhati.
SR: But… but…
CB: Hold on, I have the wig in my handbag. (Ruffle) Now?
SR: Holy Jesus and all the other Gods in all their different heavens! The resemblance is astonishing! This changes everything!
CB: Sorry to leave you dangling Salman, but, my flight is here.
SR: But, they didn’t announce any.
CB: It’s my private Lear, I’m going to meet the Shah of Iran – he’s a big fan of my other pseudonym.
SR: Another pseudonym?
CB: (British accent) Expelliarmus, old chap.
SR: You’re JK Rowling and Arundhati Roy!
CB: Bingo! Best-selling author in three different worlds, Sallu. You go on out there and shock the world, I’ll rake in the big bucks and the awards. I think you had an haiku to write, right? Well, ciao. I’ll see you at the next Litfest. We’ll all see you!
Sorabh Pant is the author of The Wednesday Soul.
What do you think when you think ‘celebrity’: “A person who spends every moment getting every slice of attention he/she can garner.”
What makes you ROFL? “Indian politicians (Run Off to Fin Land).”
Do you think you are a celebrity: “A man in a party once thought I was Rohit Shetty.”
From HT Brunch, May 20
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