From Salman Rushdie’s chat with Barkha Dutt: (this is reasonably accurate, but is not a complete transcript–taken from handwritten notes, so a few words and phrases are missing here and there.)
Rushdie on the travelling performers or bhaands of Kashmir:
In 1987, I went to Kashmir to make a documentary…. met the bhaands, went to their village and stayed with them.
We found that we would not tell the truth when the camera was running. They’d tell us all about an encounter with the Indian army, and then we’d start the camera:
“So tell us the story about what happened with Colonel so-and-so.”
“No, no, no, nothing happened. Indian army, no problem. We love the Indian army.”
“Cut”. (Camera stops.)
“So tell us what happened with the Indian army?” (Long description of horrific encounter with the army follows. The film crew explains that they are now going to start the cameras.)
“So tell us the story about what happened with Colonel so-and-so.”
“No, no, no, nothing to tell. Indian army, no problem.”
Rushdie on the Indian army:
“The Indian army [in Kashmir] has behaved absolutely dreadfully.”
In response to a question about whether he should have been so hard on the Indian army when officers were just following orders:
“Because ‘I was only doing my job’ was not an excuse in Nuremberg.”
On Chhagan Bhujpal, former BJP leader, now a Congress minister, whom Rushdie interviewed for a documentary:
“He was, you know, an asshole.”
“He spoke in very clearly racist, communalist and fascist language.”
Bhujbal was anxious that some things should not appear in the official documentary.
“He said, ‘racism is okay, because we are racist. Fascism is okay, because we are fascist.'” But Bhujbal didn’t want to be photographed with his telephone.
“On his desk was a telephone in the shape of a green plastic frog, and when it rang it said ‘Croak! Croak!’ He didn’t want pictures of the frog pressed to his face; and when you see a man talking to a green plastic frog, he is humbled. It’s difficult to hate him.”
Rushdie on meeting a fan in Egypt:
“So this man came up to me and said, Rushdie! Rushdie!
I said, yes, yes?
He said, I read That Book!
I said, oh.
He said, I like That Book! It’s banned in Egypt! It’s TOTALLY banned! But everyone has read it!” (Then Rushdie quotes from Mikhail Bulgakov: “Manuscripts don’t burn.”)
Rushdie on his parents, on Islam and on growing up among “extremely practising but incredibly open-minded” Muslims:
“My father was better at unbelieving. My mother was better at golf. In her old age, she did begin to get religion. It was kind of like arthritis…”
Rushdie was 13-and-a-half when he went to England and turned agnostic during a Latin lesson at Rugby–he was staring at the chapel, an ugly “great rocketship” to his eyes that “were trained by India”. He thought, “What kind of god could live in a house as ugly as that?”
“By the end of the lesson, I had lost god. I went to the canteen and I ordered a ham sandwich. It wasn’t very good ham, but I ate it. And there were no thunderbolts. And I thought, what kind of god is it who doesn’t kill you for eating a ham sandwich?”
“My father wanted to rearrange the Koran–he believed the surahs were in the wrong order. He would discuss this with my grandfather, my father drinking whisky and my grandfather not.
He never did rewrite the Koran. Or The Trouble [a reference to the fatwa] would have arrived sooner.”
On the burkha: “It’s a one-woman tent! Maybe it’s not such a good idea to put half the human race in a bag.”
When Barkha suggests that perhaps he should worry about being so outspoken:
“What are they going to do, sentence me to death?”
Rushdie on being an author in the 21st century:
“If you look at books published in the 18th century…the title page of Robinson Crusoe has ‘Robinson Crusoe: The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner etc etc’ (nb: the full title continues “…who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pirates. Written by Himself.”)in very large type with Daniel Defoe’s name in tiny letters. It’s the same with Gulliver’s Travels–there’s ‘Jonathan Swift’ in small letters. Tristram Shandy: Sterne’s name in small letters.
The books could go out and be famous, the authors could stay home and write.
There is now in our lives a public dimension that we can’t escape…. But most of my life is not spent in public–it’s spent with family and old friends….”
Rushdie on the difference between journalism and the novel:
“Let me read you this item from Bibliophile (Outlook’s gossip column on books): ‘Not everyone is delighted at the prospect of Salman Rushdie descending on Jaipur’s litfest. The fatwa-ridden litstar is a security nightmare, and police plan to seal him up in an undisclosed hotel room until it’s his turn to sing for his supper at the litfest.'”
Rushdie, who’s been ambling around the festival grounds, signing autographs and chatting with fans for the last two days, gestures at the crowds sitting practically in his lap.
“As you see around you–security blanket! When writers write books, on the front page it says ‘a novel’. They tell you it’s made up. It’s fiction.”
Barkha, rising to the defence of journalists:
“How would you feel if you were completely ignored?”
“Why don’t you try it and see?”
Rushdie on Karachi:
“Well. I really don’t like Karachi. It’s a dump. It used to be a little dump, now it’s a bloody big dump. My parents are buried there, but owing to the current crisis, I cannot visit their graves.”
Rushdie on producing Edward Albee’s Zoo Story for Pakistan television:
“This was when I wanted to be an actor. I suggested Zoo Story to them on the grounds that it would be very cheap–it was 50 minutes long, needed just two actors, and was performed on a bare stage with just a park bench.
Then we got to the scene where Jerry feeds six hamburgers to the dog, and the man from PTV said:
“No, no, no, the word ‘pork’–pork is a four-letter word.”
Rushdie argued that in the script it is very bad pork in the hamburgers, so bad that even the dog won’t eat the burgers, so perhaps this should be seen as an anti-pork statement. The censor won’t budge, though, so pork is replaced with a less offensive meat. Then they come to a scene where the word ‘sex’ is repeated thrice.
“No, no, no, the word sex–sex is a four-letter word.”
Rushdie argues that the scene is crucial, that the word sex is necessary.
“No, no, no. The word ‘sex’ cannot be said on Pakistan television.”
“But the scene?”
“No, no, scene is okay. But no sex.”
So that’s why Zoo Story is produced in Pakistan with the word ‘sex’ replaced serially by “desire”, “lust” and “love”.
Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for Rushdie, the tape was wiped.
“So nobody will ever see my Jerry,” he says, looking greatly relieved.