Salman Rushdie was 72 when he contracted Covid in March 2020. His age and bronchial asthma gave his household trigger to fret. The virus, fortunately, by no means reached his lungs. Having recovered 17 days later, he, like so many others, missed his youngsters. After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in opposition to The Satanic Verses in 1989, calling for Rushdie’s demise, the creator was compelled to maneuver from one secure home to a different. When New York went into lockdown, he was instructed, “This must be familiar to you.” Rushdie’s comeback, one he thought however by no means articulated, is as humorous as it’s unnerving: “A stone thrown at a man’s head in a village square is not the same as a lethal avalanche of boulders descending upon that village and destroying it.” There are, nevertheless, different causes to get pleasure from his essay, ‘Pandemic’.
Rushdie, of course, didn’t purchase Hulk Hogan’s principle—the coronavirus is divine retribution—however neither did he endorse Arundhati Roy’s view that it’s “a portal, a gateway between one world and the next”. Rushdie’s takeaway is extra ruthless in its objectivity: “Crisis shines a very bright light on human behaviour, leaves no shadows in which we can hide, and reveals, simultaneously, the worst of which we are capable and our better natures as well.” For those that have learn Rushdie’s fiction and, extra particularly, his two earlier collected volumes of non-fiction—Imaginary Homelands (1981-1991) and Step Across this Line (1992-2002)—this religion in “our better natures” could also be recognisable.
Apart from ‘Pandemic’, Languages of Truth collects a number of different essays, speeches and criticism the creator wrote between 2003 and 2020. Though they’re disparate in tone—Rushdie likes transferring from the avuncular to the jugular—they’ve one reality in widespread. They go away you buoyant. There is extra pleasure right here than despair. Like a track that winds again to its refrain, Rushdie usually returns to 3 of his fondest themes: how tales illuminate, how fiction enlightens, and how fact redeems.
Over time, Rushdie has referred to as three nations house—India, the UK and the US. In all three, he now sees falsehoods being offered as info, credible info being dismissed as faux information. “The lunatics are running the asylum.” Making the case that “all citizens must feel free” in a very free society, Rushdie routinely stops to say the influence demagoguery has had on books: Penguin India pulping Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, A.Okay. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas and Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey being faraway from our college syllabi.
For there to be artwork, Rushdie tells us, one wants not solely freedom but additionally the belief of freedom. “If creative artists worry if they will still be free tomorrow, then they will not be free today.” He exhorts us to signal petitions and be part of protests. He desires writers to revive their readers’ religion in reality. “Art is not entertainment,” he says. “At its very best, it’s a revolution.” In our bickering about whether or not we choose early or later Rushdie, if his typically-lengthy sentences now go away us breathless as a substitute of delighted, we neglect that only a few dwelling writers have been as vilified, hounded or threatened as he was. Rushdie wasn’t simply dismissed as subversive and rebellious. He was as soon as thought of as heretical and harmful.
Satanic Verses, Rushdie reminds us, was at all times extra about migration than it was about faith. He thinks of migration as an “existential act”, one which strips “us of our defences, mercilessly exposing us to a world that understands us badly, if at all”. Rushdie deftly describes this inscrutability—years he spent in a British boarding college, for example—however he’s additionally, equally, conscious of migration’s advantages. He can look East and West. He can declare each the Mahabharata and Ulysses as his personal.
Rushdie likes to name texts just like the Mahabharata and One Thousand and One Nights “wonder tales”. He finds capacious their “so and not so” high quality. Fiction, he says, descended from these tales and by means of that course of, inherited the flexibility to reach at fact by means of a set of made-up lies. For one who has taken such enjoyment of invention and “irrealism”, the present style of autobiographical novels—championed by the likes of Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante—proves dispiriting. “Self-regard has never been so well regarded. Self-exposure has never been so popular, and the more self that is exposed the better. Amid such promiscuity of revelation, how can art compete?” he asks. For Rushdie, life can at instances be stranger than fiction, sure, however fiction will at all times be stronger than “memoir-abilia”.
Languages of Truth helps us see that Rushdie wasn’t simply making some extent about authorship by writing Joseph Anton, his 2012 memoir, within the third particular person; he was additionally cracking a joke. Rushdie, we all know, cracks a imply joke. The paradox of rapper Eminem, he writes, “is that he both is and is not the real Slim Shady”. Reading Huckleberry Finn as a boy, Rushdie requested, “Why, if the runaway slave Jim was trying to escape the world of slavery and get to the non-slave-owning North, did he get onto a raft on the Mississippi, which flows south?” The reply, Rushdie makes you are feeling, have to be both fact or dare.
‘Languages of Truth’ by Salman Rushdie; Hamish Hamilton, Rs. 799, 416 pages
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