“A book is a version of the world. If you don’t like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.”— Salman Rushdie
“Five mysteries hold the keys to the unseen: the act of love, and the birth of a baby, and the contemplation of great art, and being in the presence of death or disaster, and hearing the voice rise in song. These are the occasions when the locks of the universe are opened and give us a glimpse of what is hidden; an effect of the ineffable.” —Salman Rushdie, The ground under his feet.
The last interaction I had with Salman Rushdie was the day before his horrific stabbing. He had posted a serene photo of the full moon over Lake Chautauqua and I had admired it. Less than 12 hours later, as the terrible news spread, it felt like a bodily blow. I can’t think of another writer whose work has had such a visceral influence on me. I was 17 when midnight children opened up a world whose language shed the straitjacket of so-called “good English” and replaced it with the lush polyphony that captured the way South Asians live and speak, inhabiting multiple areas linguistics at the same time. This, coupled with his incredible ability to invent new words (a skill he had already honed in his early days in UK advertising), is what continues to work wonders. Who else could come up with gems like “Insultana” (Luka and The Fire of Life)?
When Salman Rushdie talks about the early influences on his writing, he mentions the Thousand and one Nightanimal tales Panchatantra, and the epics of mahabharata and Ramayana among others. Although fantastical and fantastical situations and attributes are a hallmark of his magical realist style, I believe the crux of his genius lies in the way he uses these enlargements and distortions to reflect on our essential human nature with all its flaws and weaknesses. . There are obstacle courses in all Rushdie’s novels, a number and permutation of internal and external dilemmas around which the story rushes as if it were the rapids of the river and that is what gives the rich palimpsest where you have the sediments of fantastic foundations above where the narrative momentum flows, interspersed with swirls and pools in which the workings of the character brew and ferment. It should also be noted that although the milieu of his novels has shifted from India and Pakistan to the West, the central characters in all his works continue to be South Asian and, in their various moves, constitute an important kaleidoscope of the immigrant experience.
What makes Rushdie one of the most important contemporary writers, however, is that he has always maintained that the writer has a responsibility to tackle the big issues of the time. “It seems to me imperative that literature enter into such arguments,” he writes in an essay, “because what is disputed is nothing less than what is true, what is true and what is false. , and the battlefield is our imagination. If writers leave it to politicians to make pictures of the world, it will be one of the greatest and most abject abdications in history.” The world has more than never need Salman Rushdie’s words continue. Me and my fellow wordsmiths wish him a speedy recovery.
(Sophia Naz is a bilingual poet, essayist, author, editor and translator. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, in 2016 for Creative Nonfiction and in 2018 for Poetry.)