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All this happened years back so why mention it in a secret diary now? In 1989, the world exploded around Joseph Anton when he learnt he had been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini. It was Valentine’s Day and he was not getting along with his wife, Marianne. He had several wives and faced the same problem. After recording a live show with CBS, he told a journalist he wished he had written a more critical book. Not on Islam, he clarified, but its religious leaders. Anton was always careful about what he said. Wherever he went, he was followed by journalists. One of them, everything in gray, insisted on an interview because he was from Daily Telegraph and had been to public school. A tall friend who was in the car asked him to “f*** off”. He made arrangements to meet his son, Zafar, and moaned the fate of writers who had to face rulers with assassins at their service. Not the US presidents and their CIA, of course!
His mind went back to his Cambridge years where Arthur Hibbert, a medieval history genius, advised him, “You must never write history until you can hear the people speak.” But Anton wanted his own version of history. Then he discovered the origin of the Satanic Verses, which emerged out of a mixture of three temples in Mecca, Angel Gabriel and Satan, a combination which initially misguided Mohammed. The Quran mentions that all the prophets had succumbed to temptation and he tucked away this story in the back of his mind. The idea grew and grew and he wrote The Satanic Verses. It took him four years.
Soon the real book was replaced in public minds by one which he never wrote where he referred to the Prophet and his friends as “scums and bums”. He had only allowed the characters who persecuted the followers of his fictional Prophet to use abusive language. No one bothered to understand. He became the Insulter. He did it for money, fame or to please the Jews, came the charges. The real book was banned and burnt in many nations, including India, where the ban was imposed by the finance ministry and the ministry of road development!
But he had to be protected. Will Wilson and Will Wilton were the Special Branch officers for the job and he was reminded of Thomson & Thompson. The other ‘Prot’ team of Doll and Winters were so handsome that he called them 007 and 008! He also needed a name, and quickly. So he sat down and noted Vladimir Joyce, Marcel Beckett etc before settling for Joseph Anton, first names of Conrad and Chekhov. And then he told himself, “Joseph Anton, you must live till you die.” He was happy with the third person narrative because there had been too much of “I did”, “I worried” or “I loved” which was all too narcissistic. For the time being, Joseph Anton was fine.
The Mumbai-based satirist is the creator of ‘Trishanku’; E-mail your secret diarist: vgangadhar70 AT gmail.com