| Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi in Calcutta on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Dec. 8: A three-and-a-half-hour drive on dirt track to meet Satyajit Ray two decades ago. Waiting at a Mumbai station with his ever-punctual father for trains never on time. Receiving New Year's greeting cards from India signed 'The Pirates' ' from bootleggers pleased as punch at having made a killing on Midnight's Children'
Salman Rushdie would rather not talk about politics and gives away little about his forthcoming novel. But the most famous ' and controversial ' writer to have come out of India in recent times has no trouble keeping his audience captivated.
A three-day trip to Calcutta after over 20 years has given the author a chance to catch up with old friends and pay homage to Ray at The Telegraph Talk Show tomorrow.
Mumbai-born Rushdie arrived early this morning with actress-model Padma Lakshmi ' the rage in the life of the man who wrote Fury.
'Two or three' days with Ray on the sets of Ghare Baire are 'great moments' he remembers. 'We talked about films. He was happy to hear that I liked The Golden Fortress.'
Ray's children's stories influenced Rushdie so much he named the fish in Haroun and the Sea of Stories Goopy and Bagha, who speak in rhyme.
Lakshmi, who prefers Charulata, is on her second visit to Calcutta. 'I came here during the World Cup to cut a ribbon of some sort,' she recalls.
'She doesn't know a thing about cricket, but she knows everything about cricketers,' jokes her Booker-of-Bookers husband.
Rushdie spent a 'disappointing' first day in town. 'We thought we would see the city, but we spent the whole day sleeping.'
They ventured out in the evening to call on artist Paritosh Sen. 'I think it's better to meet two or three interesting people in a city rather than to go sightseeing and attend official receptions,' says Rushdie.
'I have always been interested in contemporary Indian painting.'
If Rushdie seems relaxed now, it may be because he has just finished the final manuscript of Shalimar The Clown. 'It starts with a murder' but it is not a whodunnit.'
'It is still extremely suspenseful,' points out Lakshmi. 'My agent',' mumbles Rushdie, under his breath.
Lakshmi endured the apparently stressful experience of being one of the first to read the manuscript. 'He stands behind you the whole time looking over your shoulder,' accuses Lakshmi.
Her husband agrees: 'I would point to a line and say 'Why aren't you laughing'. That's supposed to be funny'.'
While the novel may hit the shelves by September, he is now working on a film adaptation of his short story The Firebird's Nest, where Lakshmi will have a prominent role.