Rushdie’s reading

So the Babu met Rushdie during his visit to Delhi, and it was everything he’d thought it would be–ie two ships that passed in the night, one of them an ocean liner, the other a very small dinghy. We exchanged brilliant, sparkling conversation, or rather Mr R tossed off one bon mot after another while The Babu said, “Er, the kababs are that way” and “So how’s the Haroun opera doing” and “Um, haven’t read the anthology yet” and “Ain’t Padma hot?” (Okay, he didn’t say “Ain’t Padma hot?” But he definitely thought it.)

Then the Babu toddled off to the Rushdie reading. It was supposed to be a William Dalrymple reading, and was billed as such, but was secretly changed to a Rushdie reading, Willy D being a generous man and realising that sharing mike time with Salman R wasn’t exactly going to do his profile any harm. The switch was kept absolutely secret for security reasons (the small matter of that fatwa still crops up), which, in Delhi terms, meant that only about 400 people knew it was on five minutes after the plan was made.

So Dalrymple warmed the audience up at the Oxford-Bookstore Gallery with a few Comic Anecdotes. And then Rushdie took over. Two things have to be mentioned here: one, that this was Rushdie’s first reading in Delhi in ten years, so this was a very emotional moment for some of us, two, he and William have similar noggins and were wearing white kurta-shirts, so they looked a bit like a Twin Act.

He started off by talking about Telling Tales, which allowed him to mention that though Nadine Gordimer had asked some of the biggest names in literature to contribute, “Lord Vidia” was not one of them. (It is not true, as Putu asserts, that the sideswipe had the Delhi audience stunned into silence. The Babu said “Ha!”. Delightedly. But in a lonely sort of way from the back row.)

The reading (The Firebird’s Nest, in toto) was…

“Awesome! He’s so GOOD!” (dewy-eyed young woman in floaty dress wearing three scarves and much clanking silver jewellery)

“That story, man, that story, it has the touch of genius, pure, jaano, calibre aachey. Each line has the stamp of a Master.” (Displaced Bong intellectual wannabe who spent most of the reading with eyes closed in ecstacy that would have been more convincing if he hadn’t snored once or twice in between.)

“There’s cake? I didn’t know there was cake. Where’s the cake?” (Man with strong sense of priorities.)

“Hmmm. It’s got his–handwriting–but, well, not his best, shall we say?” (Upcoming young writer. Don’t even try to guess. There were six of them present.)

“Too long.” (Sleepy photographer who wanted to go home but had been told by his editor to stay till the bitter end. “In case,” the editor apparently said, “Rushdie gets shot or something.”)

“He has a nice profile. And I like the way he tucks one hand neatly into a pocket. Kind of endearing.” (The Babu.)

“I saw Rushdie! I saw Rushdie! I heard Rushdie! I saw Rushdie!” (Excitable young college girl. She’s new to the city so she hasn’t yet realised that Delhi Is Always Blase.)

I wish I could tell you what happened next but my last glimpse of the Rushdies was of them using upturned plastic chairs to hold at bay hordes of stampeding camerapersons and squeaky-voiced journalists asking original questions (“Mr Rushdie! Are you writing a new novel?” “Padma, what’s your favourite food?”).

5 comments

  1. Funny, he pulled that comment about outgrowths called Bushes when he was in Atlanta too. It pissed me off, since he had written an article in December 2000 claiming that Gore and Bush were essentially interchangeable. He even included it in his anthology of non-fiction, with a footnote claiming that it is the fate of journalists to be rendered absurd by the events of history. What he should have said was, “Oops, I didn’t bother to do any actual research on Gore’s and Bush’s careers, but I’d like to pass the buck anyhow.”Did he read from Shalimar the Clown?

  2. Funny, he pulled that comment about outgrowths called Bushes when he was in Atlanta too. It pissed me off, since he had written an article in December 2000 claiming that Gore and Bush were essentially interchangeable. He even included it in his anthology of non-fiction, with a footnote claiming that it is the fate of journalists to be rendered absurd by the events of history. What he should have said was, “Oops, I didn’t bother to do any actual research on Gore’s and Bush’s careers, but I’d like to pass the buck anyhow.”Did he read from Shalimar the Clown?

  3. I had a similar dinner experience with Mr. R when he came to Lehigh a couple of years ago. It’s hard to think of anything interesting to say to someone whose life is much, much more interesting than one’s own.Your quotes from audience members are quite funny. I like the pretentious Bong the best!

  4. well, i didnt hear your delighted ha. this is because i was far away at the time. the roaring belly-laughs did, however, freeze on the blaze lips. but i have no doubt that you did, indeed, ha delightedly. so…

Leave a Reply to Amardeep Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s