Monday, Nov 28, 2022
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The Craft Of Salman Rushdie And His Belief That Writers Must Tackle Larger Issues Of The Day

What makes Salman Rushdie one of the most important contemporary writers is his stating that the writer has a responsibility to tackle the larger issues of the day.

All Snug: A 1988 photograph of author Salman Rushdie after launching The Satanic Verses Photo: Getty Images

The last interaction I had with Salman Rushdie was the night before his horrific stabbing. He had posted a serene photo of the full moon on Chautauqua Lake and I had admired it. Less than 12 hours later, as the awful news spread, it was like a body blow. I can’t think of another writer whose work has had such a visceral influence on me. I was 17 when Midnight’s Children opened up a world whose language shed the stilted straitjacket of so-called “proper English” and replaced it with the lush polyphony that captured the way South Asians live and speak, inhabiting multiple linguistic realms at once. This, coupled with his amazing ability to invent new words (a skill he had already perfected in his early advertising days in the UK), is what continues to marvel readers. Who else can come up with gems such as the character Insultana of Ott in Luka and The Fire of Life?

It is worth noting that though the milieu of his novels has shifted from India and Pakistan to the West, all the central characters in his works continue to be South Asian.

When Rushdie speaks of the early influences on his writing, he mentions the Thousand and One Nights and the animal tales of the Panchatantra and the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, among others. Although fantasy and fantastical situations are a hallmark of his magic realist style, I believe the crux of his genius lies in how he uses these magnifications and distortions to reflect upon our essential human nature with all its flaws and foibles. There are obstacle courses in all of Rushdie’s novels, any number and permutations of internal and external dilemmas around which the story rushes, as though it were the rapids of the river—and this is what yields the rich palimpsest where you have the sediments of fantastical underpinnings above which the narrative momentum flows—interspersed with eddies and pools in which the inner workings of the character brew and ferment. It is also worth noting that though the milieu of his novels has shifted from India and Pakistan to the West, all the central characters in his works continue to be South Asian and in their various dis/locations are an important kaleidoscope of the immigrant experience.

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