Literary Readings: Salman Rushdie (11/22/2010)
Everywhere you go in India, you see bootlegged copies of Salman Rushdie's groundbreaking Midnight's Children being sold by hawkers along the footpaths to tourists who've come to see if the romanticized country is as mythical a place as the then-copywriter delightfully described in his make-me-or-break-me novel. The fantastical worlds created in Rushdie's mind closely resemble our reality, but their magical element—at times more prevalent than others—has the ability to transport the uninitiated from a place of sensory overload to one of simple beauty. And it was with great pleasure that I attended the literary reading with Rushdie, and subsequent jocular verbal sparring with fellow Mumbaite, and Maximum City author, Suketu Mehta at the 92nd Street Y.
After Mehta's endearing introduction of Rushdie, in which he comically described being rebuffed at the authors' first encounter, the senior writer took the stage to read excerpts from his recently published young adult adventure novel, Luka and the Fire of Life. I had read the book a few days prior to the event while stuck on the 2 train from Prospect Heights to West Harlem. Crushed on all sides in the crowded train, Luka's quest allowed me some reprieve from claustrophobia during the snail's pace journey. And I much preferred experiencing Rushdie's linguistic acrobatics and smarty pants humor in the comfortable seats at the Y.
The audience seemed pleasantly amused at the children's story, crafted at the request of Rushdie's own adolescent son. They tittered at all appropriate parts and chuckled at Rushdie's added commentary between excerpts. Luka and the Fire of Life is clearly a rumination on mortality and fatherhood, a point Rushdie freely admitted. As an aging father of a teenage son, the desire to leave a personal legacy influenced the timing of this book, which Rushdie said was vetted by his son before he turned it over to the publisher.
After the reading, Mehta returned to the stage to facilitate a conversation that ran the gamut of nonlinear literature, so-called cultureless Americans, the inevitability of the novel's survival, and Rushdie's addiction to Angry Birds. Rushdie's natural charisma outshone his interviewer, but he was gracious enough to dim the light from time to time. The evening came to a close with a more serious consideration of present day tyrannical regimes and Rushdie's having the "misfortune of acquiring an interesting life."
He told Mehta, "[Writers] look aghast at the world as it is...When times are bad, it's great for writers [because] the worse it is, the better it is [for us]." To which Mehta fondly responded, in an effort at comical flattery, "Then let's hope it gets worse."