Joseph Anton, aka Salman Rushdie, who has kept book reviewers and lawmakers across the world busy over the past week, was an avid cricket buff I came to understand recently from someone who played with him as a child. He also had a ‘righteous’ streak in him that might surprise both his supporters and detractors.
Bombay boy Rushdie and eminent cardiologist Dr Altaf Patel were part of a group of school-kids that played gully cricket regularly in front of Devonshire House off Warden Road in the 1950s.
“He wouldn’t let go of the bat or ball, was a very good fielder and always wanted to be in the game,’’ remembers Dr Patel. If that sounds a bit like Sachin Tendulkar, Dr Patel is quick to quip that he never saw Rushdie score a century.
A couple of years older, Rushdie was from Cathedral School. “I was from Campion and we had a ‘friendly rivalry’ that is common to children. He always wanted to show his school was the best,’’ recalls Dr Patel.
Through the 1950s, before migrating to Pakistan, Rushdie lived in Westfield Estate, which stands behind the stores Amarsons and Premsons, and bang opposite the Breach Candy Club, where incidentally high-profile members are currently embroiled in a power struggle.
The aforementioned stores and various other shops and eateries came much after Rushdie left India. Before the mid-1960s, Breach Candy – now defined by cacophonic traffic jams and amid all the fancy high-rises and homes of the super-rich – was known for its tranquil environs. This probably explains why the club and the adjoining Breach Candy Hospital are located here.
Subsequently, the Rushdies’ flat in Westfield Estate was reportedly bought by Raj Kumar Pitamber, technocrat and golfer, and his wife Sunita who was for many years the Queen Bee of Bombay society: long before the dubious trend of appearing on Page 3 of newspapers for validating your social status became commonplace.
But to get back to schoolboy Salman, Dr Patel says that apart from his love for cricket, he was also prim and steadfast in his manners. “We would often be at birthday parties together,’’ recounts the doctor, “wearing shorts, shirt and a pre-knotted tie as ‘good’ boys had to be.”
“At one such party, I was about to take a bite of a sandwich when Salman stopped me with an admonishment.
“You can’t eat that, it is ham!’’ When Dr Patel told his god-fearing mother about the incident, she was highly impressed. “These are the kind of boys you must make friends with,’’ she advised him.
Dr Patel does not know Rushdie’s food preferences now, but that was the last time he picked up pig meat in his life. The closest he has come to ham since, he says, was when he treated an actor. But that’s another story altogether.