The fatwa against him for The Satanic Verses has neither silenced him nor made him bitter, said author Salman Rushdie. "If you're going to censor yourself, you should shut up and never speak again in public," he said.
Rushdie who is in India for the Jaipur Literature Festival spoke at length in a standing-room only hall about his latest book, Shalimar the Clown, which is set against the backdrop of Kashmir. "I needed to get out of the city, not just as a setting but as a sensibility," he said.
He was unequivocal in condemning the Indian army's role in Kashmir. "You cannot escape the fact that the army has behaved absolutely dreadfully," he said. Insurgency, he said, began in 1989 but the army's 'atrocities' in Kashmir had begun well before that.
The army could not escape blame by saying it was only doing what it had been ordered to do. "That argument went out with Nuremberg. You can no longer say you didn't know what you were doing," he said in response to a question put to him by NDTV's Barkha Dutt who was moderating the session.
Love for a country should not blind a writer to its faults, Rushdie said. "You don't have very far to look to know what's wrong with India," he said.
Earlier, during a press conference, Rushdie disclosed that he is working on his next book - a historical novel that makes connections between Mughal India and the Italian Renaissance but declined to give details. "I'm very nervous about talking about unfinished work," he said.
Rushdie described himself as a 'cook' as distinct from someone in the fast food business. "There will always be a need for popular fiction, just as there's a need for junk food," he said. "But you shouldn't try and confuse McDonald's with cooking."
There was little sympathy for Shilpa Shetty though. "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen," he said, adding that "it's quite clear that some very unpleasant things were said about her" and that he wished Shetty would come home with the prize. Jane Goody, the contestant who was voted out of the Big Brother house is a 'foul-mouthed, ignorant girl' he said.
He added that Indians were not immune to racism and could be 'extremely prejudiced about colour and matters of religion'. But human beings were imperfect and in a nation of a billion people he would have been surprised if 'prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness' hadn't existed.
And which of his books is his favourite? Rushdie said he didn't have a ranking order but said that the most fun he has ever had after a book's publication was following Haroun and the Sea of Stories, his 1990 children's book. "The kind of response you get from children is of a completely different order. Children can be more frank. But they can also be brutal."