This Day In Literary History
On June 19th, 1947, the legendary Indian writer Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India. His father was a lawyer turned businessman, his mother a teacher.
Rushdie graduated King's College, Cambridge with a degree in history. He worked in advertising - for two different agencies - before trying his hand at writing.
In 1975, Rushdie published his first book, Grimus, a science fiction / fantasy novel that told the story of Flapping Eagle, a young Indian who receives the gift of immortality after drinking a magic potion.
He then wanders the Earth for 777 years, searching for his sister, who is also immortal. He ends up falling through a hole in the Mediterranean Sea, where he crosses over into a parallel dimension.
There, he arrives at a place called Calf Island, where fellow immortals, tired of the mortal world, live in their own community and sacrifice their freedom to maintain their immortality.
Grimus was pretty much ignored by critics and readers alike, but Rushdie's second novel, Midnight's Children, published in 1981, was a huge success and made him world famous.
The novel won him the Booker Prize that year, as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Midnight's Children introduced the magic realism style of writing that Rushdie's future works would become famous for.
The main character, Saleem Sinai, is born on August 15th, 1947, at the exact time that India becomes independent. He later discovers that all children born on that date, between 12 and 1AM, are gifted with telepathic powers.
Saleem embarks on a quest to gather together all his fellow telepaths and discover the meaning of their gifts. He then becomes swept up in the famous state of emergency declared by Indira Ghandhi in June of 1975, which would last for almost two years.
During this time, Ghandi suspended elections and civil liberties and granted herself the power to rule by decree. It was one of the most controversial periods in Indian history, where many innocent people were arrested and held without charge.
These political prisoners were subjected to abuse and torture. The government used public and private media outlets for the purposes of propaganda. A notorious family planning initiative forced thousands of men to have vasectomies against their will.
During this period, Saleem Sinai becomes a political prisoner for a time, and Salman Rushdie uses Saleem's ordeal to level scathing criticisms of Indira Ghandhi.
Rushdie's next novel, Shame (1983), dealt with political turmoil in Pakistan. It was followed by The Jaguar Smile (1987). The non-fiction book chronicled Rushdie's experiences with the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua during the seventh anniversary of their rise to power.
The Sandinistas were supported by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, but his successor, Ronald Reagan, secretly and illegally financed right-wing Contra guerillas in their attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government.
Nicaragua later won a historic case against the United States at the International Court of Justice, where the U.S. was ordered to pay twelve billion dollars in reparations for undermining Nicaragua's sovereignty.
In 1988, Rushdie published his most famous and most controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. In the dazzling, surreal narrative, two actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, are trapped on a hijacked plane during a flight from India to Britain.
The plane explodes over the English Channel, but the two actors are magically saved. Farishta is transformed into the Archangel Gabriel and Chamcha is changed into a devil, both men possibly suffering from multiple personality disorder as the result of their ordeal.
The novel features numerous dream vision narratives. One of these tells the story of how the prophet Muhammad - the founder of Islam - had originally included in the Quran verses of prayer to three Persian pagan goddesses - Allat, Uzza, and Manat.
Muhammad later renounces these verses as the work of Satan and removes them, hence the title The Satanic Verses. Later, one of Muhammad's companions doubts the prophet's divinity and claims to have altered parts of the Quran as Muhammad dictated them to him.
Another narrative tells the story of a fanatical imam who returns from exile to incite the people of his country to revolt, without any regard to their safety.
These narratives provoked great outrage in the Muslim world. The Satanic Verses was banned in most Muslim countries. In the West, Muslim extremists firebombed bookshops selling the novel and held rallies where copies of the book were burned.
Some people associated with translating or publishing the book were attacked and seriously injured or killed; in February 1989, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - the spiritual leader of Iran - issued a fatwa condemning The Satanic Verses as "blasphemous against Islam."
The fatwa also called for Salman Rushdie's execution. A bounty was placed on the writer's head, and he was forced to live in hiding for years, under police protection. There were two failed attempts on Rushdie's life, one of them carried out by Hezbollah.
The UK government broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in protest of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. In 1998, nearly ten years later, Iran, in an attempt to restore diplomatic relations, made a public statement claiming that it would neither support nor hinder assassination attempts on Rushdie.
In 2005, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed the fatwa and the death sentence of Salman Rushdie. Two years later, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Rushdie for services in literature, angering Muslims around the world. In Pakistan and Malaysia, mass demonstrations took place in protest of Rushdie's knighthood.
A year leter, in response to the outrage of Muslim extremists over editorial cartoons satirizing Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper, Rushdie signed the manifesto Together Facing The New Totalitarianism, which was published in the French liberal newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
Sadly, in January of 2015, two Muslim extremist gunmen invaded the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, screamed "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is great!") and started shooting. Twelve people were killed, including five cartoonists and two editors.
Death threats continue to be made against Rushdie. In January of 2012, he was scheduled to appear at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India, but had to cancel that appearance and the rest of his Indian tour.
Jaipur police warned Rushdie that hired assassins were planning to kill him either there or at another one of his appearances in India. He later investigated the police reports and concluded that the Jaipur police had deliberately lied to him.
Never one to back down, Salman Rushdie often appears as a discussion panelist on the HBO TV series Real Time With Bill Maher. He is without a doubt one of the world's great writers, as well as a crusader for freedom of expression.
His most recent novel, The Golden House, was published in September of 2017.
Quote Of The Day
"The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas — uncertainty, progress, change — into crimes." - Salman Rushdie
Today's video features Salman Rushdie discussing his most recent novel, The Golden House, and other topics on the UK's Channel 4 News. Enjoy!