IT WAS UNDER very strange circumstances that I first met Salman Rushdie in the summer of 1988. She had met Rushdie briefly in the early 1980s in Delhi with Sonny and Gita Mehta, but they were not friends. Her reporting made her a target of the militancy, as well as suspicious in government eyes. And so, that was why we went to meet Rushdie in the summer of 1988: to ask that he take my mother’s name out of his book. The celebrated author of , red devils quarreling on the cover, he wrote: ‘For Tavleen, With apologies for the misuse of her name, Salman.
She had just learned—I don’t know how—I think it was from someone at the PMO who joked, “I always knew you were a terrorist”—that in Rushdie’s new novel, his fourth, there was to be a Sikh woman terrorist called ‘Tavleen’ who blows up a plane. The name was unusual, a coinage of my grandfather’s. She was inside the Golden Temple weeks before when the Indian army laid siege to it during Operation Black Thunder. The last thing she now needed was a fictional namesake who hijacks and blows up a plane.
He, along with his wife, Alba, are the dedicatees of Rushdie’s new novel.
As I’m awaiting Rushdie’s arrival, with a cold six-pack of a Belgian IPA called Raging Bitch, Clemente texts to say he cannot be there.
I offer you this looping narrative, because it is typical of the air of meta-fiction that surrounds Rushdie. It is set in the communal gardens that lie between Macdougal and Sullivan streets, deep in the Greenwich Village.
He is forever bleeding off the page, and events in the outside world are forever seeping into his fiction. That is where this conversation occurs, on a hot July afternoon, swept with windy shadows.
It is that way with Rushdie: there is the work, dazzling and copious, but there is also the life, which has run like ‘a purple thread’ through our times.
Indian independence; the Partition; the Emergency; demagogues on both sides of the border, and the rise of every species of fanaticism: they are part of the work; but they are also, in an almost freakish way, part of his life.
He has a pick-up, but will send his assistant Yana to take care of us.
I had suggested to Rushdie that we meet in the evening, when it is cooler, and there are fire flies in the gardens; but the writer, who now arrives in a grey suit and a Panama hat, replied: “Evenings are no good for me next week I’m afraid. So, what struck me most forcefully as I read your new book—what I found very moving—was a kind of euphoria about escaping the past, and what America could mean in this context.