Meeting Salman Rushdie for lunch at Willie Dalrymple’s sprawling farmhouse in Gurgaon, I find reconfirmation of a recently formulated theory, which says that there is something completely special about women from the subcontinent. Mr Rushdie’s wife, Padma Lakshmi, is an Iyengar Tam-Bram from Chennai. And she has had a magical effect on him. He is positively glowing. Gone is the untidy stubble, the hair is neatly cropped, despite the bounty on his head he looks entirely serene, he has a new state-of-the-art wardrobe. During the lunch you would have had to be blind not to notice that Salman is besotted by Padma—he couldn’t keep his hands/eyes off her—and she by him. Those who predicted that this was going to be another famous author-meets-Page 3 bimbette affair have been proved foolishly wrong.
Mr Rushdie is on to his fourth (or is it fifth?) wife and has, as the expression goes, played the field. One or two of his previous marriages have ended in ugly public brawls. Meanwhile, gossip columns of the British and American press were forever linking him to celebrity white women. We were told he had a glad eye; it was not in his nature to be a one-woman man. Enter Padma Lakshmi.
Now consider Vidia Naipaul. Sir Vidia has always been rather keen on women and sex, but was determined not to spend too much time in the pursuit. He confessed he preferred prostitutes because time for both the sex worker and this writer was critical. Naipaul’s former literary editor, Diana Athill, tells a lovely story of how Sir Vidia asked her if she knew any "fast girls" so that he could get over the "business" quickly.
Enter Punjabi Nadira Alvi from Lahore. She too has transformed the "prickly" Nobel laureate and beautifully domesticated him. Sir Vidia’s proudest possession currently is not the Nobel medal, but Augustus, his cat, who he spoils and engages in long existential conversations. My wife and I have an abiding memory of the Naipauls. We had taken them out for dinner and late at night dropped them at their hotel. Nadira had lovingly wrapped her arm around the man, who reportedly has a Brahminical dislike of touching people, and together they passed through the revolving door, the very picture of a happy, devoted and contented couple.
So, I am back to my original question: what is it about Indian and Pakistani women that tames the most awesomely gifted, ferocious, promiscuous and difficult of men? I don’t have a clue, but if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.