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Open up the universe
- Terrorism, literary technique and no beating about the Bush
Salman Rushdie explains the role of a novelist on Thursday. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal and Amit Datta

'On the whole, the role of prophet is not one that I have applied for' I've had some trouble with prophets.'

Thus spake Salman Rushdie. He may choose to talk about art, but politics, rather inevitably, follows.

At The Telegraph Talk Show on Thursday evening at the GD Birla Sabhagar, Rushdie proved once again his mastery over words ' moving from writing to politics, cinema to terrorism ' sharing a glimpse of what he feels his role as a novelist is.

If Rushdie himself has, over the years, stepped out of an imposed cloister (he has now left insecurity behind him ' on Thursday morning he passed through three bookstores for signings), the same principle forms his artistic raison d'tre.

'For God's sake, open the universe a little more,' he said, quoting Saul Bellow. 'That's it' That's the job.' Or, inspired by the art of Andy Warhol, 'to solve the riddle you have to break the frame'.

There are some riddles and problems Rushdie is not interested in solving. Asked if he thinks the world is an evil kind of place, he replied with a wry smile: 'I am against terrorism. I think it is regrettable.'

If that didn't clarify his stand, this did: 'In America, we have to deal with strange growths called Bushes.'

There are still other problems the man behind Midnight's Children has put firmly behind him: 'In the matter of the dispute between me and the Ayatollah Khomeini, I would like to point out that one of us is dead.'

Words aside, Rushdie spoke of ideals which shaped him as a writer, before plunging into an interactive session with the audience and speakers Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Mukul Kesavan and Swapan Chakravarty, moderated by Dilip Padgaonkar.

He started with a few words on Satyajit Ray' 'perhaps the greatest artiste this country has ever produced'.

The verbal 'jugglery' of the aural tradition of storytelling caught Rushdie's eye, who began looking for the 'literary version of that gymnastic act'. So, he put storytelling at the centre of his work.

He looks down his intellectual's nose at nothing, drawing parallels between Bollywood and Shakespeare.

He just as easily convinces a crowd that private lives today can't exist in isolation from public events. As opposed to Jane Austen, in whose novels 'the function of soldiers' is to show up at parties and look cute'.

If the audience left as full of questions as it did of answers, Rushdie may have been pleased. In his words: 'Questions don't need to get answered. You just need to know they are there.'

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