Salman Rushdie: a life in writing
The writer, speaking at the FT Weekend Festival in Washington DC, discusses his new novel, Victory City, and his long career as an author
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INTERVIEWER: Salman, it's a real pleasure to have you on screen-- not quite your first conference appearance since that ghastly attack on you. Because last night, I believe, you got the Centenary Courage Award for PEN.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Thank you.
INTERVIEWER: And I imagine that when PEN was agonising over their short list as to who should receive the Centenary Courage Award, it took them probably 5, 10 seconds of extensive debate to come up with your name. Let me just first ask, because we can see visibly the effect of that attack on you, that attempt on your life, how you're coping.
You were stabbed multiply. One of your hands, I believe, you lost use of. How are you coping? How has the last few months since last August been for you?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, thank you. Thank you. It's great to be with you. It's wonderful to have a live audience there, even if I'm not completely there. I'm almost there, as was said.
I'm not-- as you can see, I'm a little beaten up. But I'm basically fine. And the eye is, obviously, the big loss. But other than that, I'm mostly back to functioning. I mean, you asked about the hand. The hand is not doing so badly.
INTERVIEWER: That looks pretty good. Reading and writing?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah. I'm not reading as fast as I used to, but I am doing it. And I'm writing-- I'm writing what I think will be a fairly short book about what happened.
INTERVIEWER: So this will be a first-person, non-fiction account. Because, of course, you had a sort of autobiography but in the third person-- Joseph Anton-- before. This will be more direct?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: This will be more direct and shorter. Because that took place over a 10-year period. This is a very intense, short account and analysis arising out of what happened on August the 12th last year.
INTERVIEWER: So the PEN International Award, the PEN Award, Courage Award, that you got last night does prompt one question about PEN. Because there have been events there this week. They've been holding a conference.
And the American-Russian writer and lacerating critic of Putin Masha Gessen resigned from PEN International because a number-- some Ukrainian panellists at this festival had objected to the inclusion of Russian panellists on another panel, even though they were dissidents, very much victims of Putin. And so they, which is Masha's pronoun, resigned over this. Could I ask you briefly to comment on that?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, I actually only found out about this quite late. I only found out yesterday, really. First of all, just to say that I'm a great admirer of Masha Gessen. And I think that's a great loss for PEN. She's been on the board for, I think, something like nine years-- they've been on the board for something like nine years and a very important part of PEN. So that's very regrettable.
Suzanne also, the CEO of PEN, said in her remarks last night that they should have done better. They should have found a way around the problem. And I really regret that they did not. And I think they regret it, too.
INTERVIEWER: Fair enough. Well, let's get into your novel, your latest novel. I've lost count of how many you've written, but it's in the 20's. And as I read--
SALMAN RUSHDIE: 21st book.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: It's the 21st book.
INTERVIEWER: 21st. Thank you. As Alex--
SALMAN RUSHDIE: But not all novels.
INTERVIEWER: As Alex said, it transports you, not just back to 14th, 15th century India but also back to early Rushdie, to Midnight's Children to The Moor's Last Sigh, [INAUDIBLE] Rushdie to Shame, Shalimar the Clown. There's that sort of magical realist, fabulist yarnery about it. There's that sybaritic feeling that the reader gets when they encounter your words.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Oh, good.
INTERVIEWER: And I read, of course--
Yeah. Well, yeah, the bad bit's coming.
Now, of course, I've read some of your more recent novels. This does take us back. It is that grand, historical, as I say, fabulist trademark quintessential Rushdie. You finished writing this before the attack on you. What made you think of this theme? Why did you go back to that, sort of, grander tableau?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, one way of putting it is I got bored with writing about America. I'd had three-- the three previous novels had been attempts in very different ways to deal with the reality I found myself living in here, that we all find ourselves living in.
And I just thought I'd done that enough for a while. And maybe-- I think you're right in saying that it's a kind of return to an earlier voice. I had the sort of feeling, in a literary sense, of going home. And I'd had the germ of this book in my head for a very long time.
When I was writing The Enchantress of Florence, which is 15, 16 years ago now, a lot of which is set in North India in the time of the Mughal Empire, I remember thinking, there's some really interesting stuff that was going on in South India. And many fewer people know about that than know about the Emperor Akbar and the Taj Mahal and all that. So I thought, one of these days, I want to go and pay attention to South India. And it took me a while to get around to it, but I finally did.
INTERVIEWER: So just to help the audience here, those who haven't read this book, it's based clearly on the Vijayanagara Empire in South India. The ruins are there in Hampi, which are the Eighth Wonder.
They're up there with Angkor Wat, Borobudur, Forbidden City, Potala, whatever you like. And they're there but much less well known. And I believe you visited the ruins of Vijayanagara many years ago. But that clearly stuck in your head.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Very much. Yes, the reason the novel is called Victory City is that that's what Vijayanagara translates as. Vijaya means victory, and nagar means city, so Vijayanagara-- victory city.
I was in my 20s, travelling in India. And I was very attracted to the idea of Hampi. Because I knew that almost nobody went there. For every million visitors to the Taj, there's probably 100 visitors to the Vijayanagara ruins. And as you say, they are spectacularly beautiful.
And so I went to see them way back then. And they didn't find a way into Midnight's Children because the story of Midnight's Children didn't go in that direction geographically. But yeah, I guess they've been sitting there ever since I was a kid, waiting to be-- knocking on the door and saying, could you please use us?
INTERVIEWER: Well, I want to get into India more broadly in a moment. And of course, this is a part of India and a part of Indian history. But it's a very specific part. Let me give a brief précis of the novel.
The hero, the chief character, is Pampa Kampana, who is this young girl who watches her mother and other women burn themselves on the funeral pyre-- sati. They commit sati. She vows never to do such a stupid thing in her life, lives 247 years, and takes on the powers of Parvati, the Hindu goddess, the wife of Shiva, the Hindu god, and with these magical seeds, finds two shepherds boys and says, go and create a kingdom.
And they create this extraordinary kingdom, a tolerant kingdom, a multi-faith kingdom, a kingdom in which women are not veiled, and, much like the Vijayanagara Empire, was a place of many voices, many cultures, many faiths. And your novel is her voice after the 247 years.
In the ruins of this empire is discovered this urn, a buried urn. And in that urn is a epic Sanskrit poem about this empire. And that's all that survives of it is the words. Talk a little bit about that. This is, as I say, only Rushdie could write this. Talk a little bit about the scale and the magic of that.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, it was kind of a very cheeky thing to try and do, to say that I'm going to try and write something which is on the level of the great Indian epics, on the level of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. It's kind of like deciding to be Homer--
--and, really, an impossible task. And so the device that I use is that, yes, this manuscript is found, but the story is translated and retold by the narrator of the novel, who describes himself as a much less talented writer. So we have the much less talented writer's version of the great book, which was about as close as I could get to pretending to be Homer.
INTERVIEWER: Well, this writer says-- who then turns this 24,000-verse Sanskrit poem into prose-- describes him-- he says, I'm not a poet. I'm not a scholar. I'm a mere spinner of yarns-- a mere spinner of yarns. Is that you?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: That's me-- [CHUCKLES]-- yeah. I mean, I've always believed that storytelling is at the heart of the project. I've always thought that if you want to write a big book, you should put a big engine in it. It's like having a big car. You don't want a big car with a small engine.
And the story, for me, has always been the engine. It's always been the thing that drives the thing forward. And in this book, as you've said, it goes over the course of two and a half centuries. And it's only about 350 pages long. So the engine-- the car has to move at quite a speed.
And Pampa Kampala literally came to me out of the blue as a character. And she turned out to be a really good storyteller, I think. So I just followed her lead and wrote her book down.
INTERVIEWER: Now, for me, as a reader, at any rate, it evokes, in the sweep of its history, it evokes-- and the course of this empire, how it begins in this wonderful birth but then gradually declines-- it evokes The Moor's Last Sigh, for example, part of which is based in late Muslim Spain, the very tolerant, the very diverse, intellectually, at any rate, late Muslim Spain that came to an end in Granada in 1492. It evokes a lot of the history that you bring into many of your novels.
The empire ends because it goes from being tolerant to intolerant. Now, this is clearly a theme that you could, in very crude ways, address directly, but you don't. This is a story with an engine, as you say. But could you talk a little bit about that, that narrative arc?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah. Well, one of the things that really attracted me to the historical kingdom is exactly that it was very open as a society. There were almost as many schools to educate girls as to educate boys. Women were allowed a very open role in society. In the novel, a lot of people think I made up the women soldiers in the novel. But actually, there were women soldiers in Vijayanagara, not unlike Wakanda.
And the society was multi-faith and tolerant and, in some ways, better than today, and, I think, many significant ways, better than today. And I thought, how interesting that the past has something to show the present.
It fell apart, really, because the rulers became more incompetent, more venal, less able, and fell away from those principles. But it is in the nature of empires to end, as well. And so it lasted 250 years, more or less, and then the next thing came along.
But this was a great story to tell. That's all. And some of the best things in it, some of the things that people are absolutely sure that I made up, I did not make up. For example, at that last battle, the last emperor gets taken captive and then executed because he needs to get off his battle elephants to have a pee.
And there are several versions of the story of how that last emperor got captured. But that's one of the stories that's in the records. So I thought, this is too good not to use.
INTERVIEWER: That wouldn't have been out of place in a Monty Python sketch, except it actually happened.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: [CHUCKLES] Exactly, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Now, I wondered whether to ask you this question. I wrestled with whether it would be too insensitive. But towards the end, Pampa Kampana has her eyes put out. She's tortured. She has her eyes put out. She loses her sight and experiences unbearable pain.
Now, you wrote this a few weeks before you lost your right eye. I'm not going to ask you about losing your right eye. I want to ask you about the relationship between the fabulist world you create and reality and whether you perceive a relationship between that.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah. I've always said that I think the problem with the phrase magic realism is that when people use it, they hear magic, and they don't hear realism. In my feelings, it's just another way of telling the truth about people, another way of telling the truth about the world and about human nature.
And yeah, I think it's very much about the real world. I think if, reading Victory City, you didn't feel that this was a real world, then I would have not done my job. It's just another door into the room of literature.
And I think when-- I mean, you have Kafka, in that sense, as a magic realist. But when you read Kafka, you certainly think you're reading about what the world is really like.
And so, yeah, I think, yes, it's very much about-- in terms of the blinding, I mean one or two of my books have had a tendency to predict something that's going to happen in the future. And I'm a little bit tired of it. Could they please stop?
INTERVIEWER: What are the other examples?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Oh, you know, assassinations of world leaders-- things like that.
INTERVIEWER: It must have been a temptation for you after the fatwa in 1989, Valentine's Day 1989, and subsequently, with various sustained threats to you, it must have been a temptation for you to take that on directly in your writing, in your fiction. But you don't seem to directly.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: No, I did it-- Joseph Anton, the autobiography, that's what took it on. Because I thought the point about what happened then and now is that it really happened, that it's true. It would be diminishing it somehow to make fiction out of it. So yeah.
I never in my life, actually, thought that I would write an autobiography or a memoir. It was a form that didn't really attract me. I want to make things up. I wanted to use my imagination. And then, unfortunately, I acquired an interesting life.
And in the end, I thought I'd better be the one to tell that story. I don't want somebody else to tell that story. At least, I want to have the first go at telling that story. And that's where Joseph Anton came from. And now, this is also, I feel, this event has been so-- it's such a big event in a life that, in a way, I can't get beyond it until I deal with it. And so writing this account of it is a way of taking ownership of it. It's a way of getting past it.
INTERVIEWER: So you're, in a few weeks' time, like India, going to turn 76. You were born a few weeks before midnight, August the 15th, 1947. You were born in June 1947. But you're close enough to Midnight's Children to be exactly the same age as India. Now, you're producing some of your best work. Assess how India is at 76.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Mm. There used to be this wonderful English cricket commentator, Brian Johnston--
INTERVIEWER: I remember him well.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: --who, when any individual player or team reached the score of 76, he would always say "trombone time."
INTERVIEWER: [SNICKERS] Trombone time.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Trombone time, because of the song, "Seventy-Six Trombones." So we're approaching trombone time, yeah. I think, to be truthful, I think India is not doing very well. I think, certainly, in the area of religious tolerance and personal freedoms and journalistic independence and so on, it's doing pretty badly.
INTERVIEWER: You've written novels about-- well, of course, your first great novel that won the Booker Prize, Midnight's Children, and then the Booker of Bookers after 25 years was about India at independence. Shame is about Pakistan. Zia, the dictator, banned it because, again, he didn't like it.
You've written a lot about contemporary subcontinental world in your various ways. And you've written about the precolonial world, most recently with Victory City but also The Moor's Last Sigh and other writings. You haven't written about the colonial era.
Now, that trip you took after-- and I can feel a lot of empathy with you here, having experienced a few years at a ghastly English boarding school-- you then had a nice time at university. You then went to India and travelled a lot. And that's when you went to Hampi, to the ruins of Hampi.
But before going, you spoke to EM Forster, who was an ageing writer, the author, of course, of Passage to India, Howards End, et cetera. And he said to you-- correct me if I'm wrong-- he said that the novels about India have to be written by Indians. And you then-- The Empire Writes Back, as it were. That was you?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, I was so lucky to be at King's College, Cambridge when Forster was in residence there as an honorary fellow. And he was 91. I was 19. But Forster had always had a great love for India.
And when he-- I mean, I bumped into him by accident. I went into his room by mistake, looking for someone else. And when he realised that I was of Indian origin, we had a few chats. I wouldn't say we knew each other well, but we met-- we had a couple of walks. And we played croquet on one occasion.
And he was very-- and I confessed to him very shyly that I was thinking that maybe I would one day try and write a novel. And he was very encouraging. And he did. He said something like that. He said that he always thought that the best novels about India would be written by Indian people.
And it gave me-- I kept that line of encouragement very close to my heart when I was struggling, as I did for many years, in my early years as a writer. I just remembered what he said. So it was a very important encounter.
INTERVIEWER: Am I right-- talking of India at almost 76, one of your most vivid characters of any of your novels is Raman Fielding. And Fielding is, of course, the name of a character, also, in Passage to India, Cyril Fielding. Raman Fielding is a lampooning of Bal Thackeray, the Hindu nationalist sort of strongman of Bombay, of Mumbai, in the '80s, '90s. And he didn't like your book, either.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Nope.
INTERVIEWER: You pick really good critics, by the way.
Was that direct-- was the choice, calling him Fielding, deliberate?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah, of course it's deliberate. In the first case, I thought it's a joke about 18th century novelists-- Thackeray, Fielding-- Vanity Fair, Tom Jones. And yes, there is the reference to Passage to India, as well. Bal Thackeray, like my character, started life as a political cartoonist and then kind of became a political cartoon--
--a sad fate. But I wanted to-- you know, I have a fairly strong satirical instinct, I think. And yeah, he didn't like it. But I think maybe it would be true to say that if my work has enemies, they're probably the right enemies to have.
INTERVIEWER: One of the lines in the book in Victory City, your latest novel, is that the only things that survive even great empires, which leave great ruins, the only things that survive are words. And of course, those words are found in that buried urn many, many centuries later. And it's words that matter. Is that coming close to your philosophy of life, as well as of writing?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, it's what history is, isn't it? History is what remains of us. And history is written down. So long-- there's Shelley's famous poem about "Ozymandias" where, "look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" And there's nothing to see.
All that remains is the stories that are told about the past. And if you're lucky, there's some ruins and buildings, yes. And in the case of Hampi, that's very true. But the way in which the past remains alive is through narrative, is through narrative and history and story. And so in the end, it's the words that live on.
Put it like this, in our own time, poets have often been persecuted by dictators. Osip Mandelstam basically died in a labour camp because of his persecution by Stalin. But his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. And Lorca in Spain was murdered by the Falange. But his poetry has outlived Spanish fascism.
Even if we go further back, the poet Ovid upset Caesar Augustus and was exiled to a little dump on the shore of the Black Sea where he had to live out the rest of his life writing letters pleading to be allowed to go back to Rome, which he never was. But the poetry of Ovid has outlived the Roman Empire. So that's what I'm trying to say. Words, in the end, last longer than the things that oppress them.
INTERVIEWER: I like the idea of exiling certain people to a little dump on the Black Sea, but we won't get into-- we won't get into politics. You mention history. And one of your characters says, "History is not just the actions that people take. It's what people forget."
Now, Pampa Kampana lives, like her empire, for 247 years. And I think one of your reviewers-- it might have been David Remnick in The New Yorker-- calculates that it is 247 years between the Declaration of Independence and 2023.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Oh!
INTERVIEWER: Now, this might have been a piece of mischief, and your response implies that it probably was on the part of that reviewer. But 247 years is a very precise number. Any reason why it wasn't 251?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, because that's how long it was, the Vijayanagara Empire. Really, it's just me paying respect to what really happened. So from that those-- those two brothers who became the first kings to the final battle was 247 years. So I thought that's it. That's my number. I think it's very clever of David to work that out.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, it seemed too clever by half by your response, though. I thought I should ask you.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: I think I'd better start pretending I did it on purpose.
INTERVIEWER: You heard it first here. In a moment, I'm going to get on to questions because we've got a 12, 13 minutes left. But I want to ask you about intolerance today. Clearly, intolerance is a strong theme in your life and in your writing, in the magical and the realistic bits.
And I'm not going to ask you about Iran. I don't want to have gratuitous controversy from this conversation that we're having. I'm going to ask you about intolerance closer to home.
Now, you're a novelist who takes on many different guises. You take on different genders. You take on different religions. You take on-- you speak in the first person. Sometimes you write in the third. We're in a phase where a lot of novelists, publishers are having to withdraw novels because of allegations of cultural appropriation, that novelists are stealing other people's demography, as it were, their own personal experience, and shouldn't do so.
This has become a theme in recent years. I don't know whether it's going to become more pronounced as a theme. But could I ask you to talk a little bit about what you think of that and whether you think-- whether you think this is just a passing fad?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, I hope it is because I think novelists have always been kind of thieves, magpies, borrowers of other people's lives. And you couldn't write novels if you weren't able to bring into your books every kind of character with every kind of background and feel free to do so. So I think that just how it is. That's how you have to be to be a writer.
There's a wonderful, I think a little bit apocryphal, quotation that is ascribed to William Faulkner. After As I Lay Dying was published, which is a novel with multiple narrators-- the voice of the narrator keeps changing to another narrator-- somebody who wrote about the book way back then accused Faulkner of plagiarism, of stealing that idea from some other book, long forgotten other book. And Faulkner is supposed to have said, as perhaps only Faulkner could, when I'm in the throes of my genius--
--I take whatever I need from wherever I can find it. And I don't know any writer who would do differently. Well, apart from the throes of his genius, I think most people would agree with that.
INTERVIEWER: So I'll go to questions. We've got we've got 10 minutes, and I don't want to be selfish and monopolise. And I know that there are lots of Rushdie fans here.
You probably won't be able to see them, but whoever is going to ask questions will need a microphone so that you can hear them. And if you can't hear them, I'll be able to hear them. So please raise your hands, anybody who'd like to. There's somebody right next to the microphone there that I can't see.
AUDIENCE: So Bombay features in many of your early books--
INTERVIEWER: Can you hear?
AUDIENCE: --as a larger-than-life character. In Ground Beneath Her Feet, you kind of said goodbye to Bombay. You wrote that wonderful poem, which U2 converted into a song. So since you've returned to Indian themes, is there a Bombay book that you wish to write?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: I hope so. I hope so. I don't have a story. If you've got a good story, send me a note.
But Bombay is-- I'm happy to hear you say Bombay and not Mumbai. It's the difference between Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City. I still say about Bombay, but that's a generational thing, maybe. Anyway, yeah, I think there might be one more, but I really have no idea what it might be at this point.
INTERVIEWER: Might you explain why you prefer Bombay to Mumbai just in a bit more detail.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah, all right. I will do my $2 explanation. First of all, in various English Indian languages, it's-- in Hindi, the word is Bombay. In Urdu, the word is Bombay. In Marathi, the name has always been Mumbai.
So what happened is Marathi-speaking politicians took over the city and changed the name. And then they created for it what I consider to be a false etymology, which is that one of the very popular local goddesses is the goddess Mumba Devi-- devi meaning goddess-- Mumba the goddess.
Mumba Devi's name could also be written Mumba Bai-- Lady Mumba. The Mumba Bai is contracted to Mumbai, and that's the reason for the name, which is a very good explanation, except it's not true.
Bombay is not an ancient Indian city. Bombay is a city that the British built in India. When the British came, there were a collection of seven islands and some fishing villages and a rather beautiful natural harbour.
The British performed an enormous act of land reclamation, joining the seven islands into what we now see as the city sticking into the sea. And they built Bombay. And the most plausible explanation-- the previous owners of that area, previous colonisers of that area, were the Portuguese.
And the Portuguese called it Bom Bahia because it was a beautiful bay. And that is the most plausible reason for the origin of the name. Bom Bahia became Bombay, the beautiful bay. Everything else is historical revisionism.
INTERVIEWER: That's more than $2, I think.
But I should also add that that local politician was-- I think his fictional name was Raman Fielding, and his real name was Bal Thackeray. Yes, Alec?
AUDIENCE: Salman, sorry. This is probably an outrageous abuse of my position.
INTERVIEWER: It is.
AUDIENCE: But I'm going to ask a question. Salman, if you were playing EM Forster to a young would-be writer, a young would-be, whether it's a young would-be Rushdie or just a young would-be writer, what would you say?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: I would say, do what you have to do, and don't be scared. There's a lot of people in a lot of ways right now trying to put fences around what's OK to do and not OK to do.
And I think if anything is going to lead to the death of the novel, that's what it is. So I think we have to have the courage of our art. We have to say our truth in our way and offer it to the world and hope the world gets the point of it.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Yes, there's some hand I see in the middle of that row. Sorry. I'm not looking widely.
AUDIENCE: Thanks. I had a question on Victory City and Vijayanagara. VS Naipaul wrote about Vijayanagara and kind of talked about it as this lost Hindu empire that was crushed by Muslim forces. And it's sort of taken on that role, I think, in modern Indian culture and history. Is the book a way to reclaim Vijayanagara as something that was more secular and less a purely Hindu empire pushing back against Islamic armies?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, that's a very good question. Thank you. Because you're quite right that the way in which VS Naipaul writes about it in A Wounded Civilization is essentially to make a simple opposition between what India was, which is a Hindu civilization, and what he calls the wound of that civilization, which is the arrival of Muslim invaders and kingdoms.
And that, yes, has been, in a way, taken up by the current ruling forces in India, to make a simple Hindus good, Muslims bad argument. But actually, when you read the history of the place, that isn't what's happening. It really was a much more complicated and interesting thing than that.
And so, yeah, I wanted to reclaim the historical place from the sloganized place. And my way of reclaiming history is to make up a fantasy about it. But that's just my problem.
But I certainly think that the really existing empire was much more complex and much more tolerant than it's now made out to be. The kings of Vijayanagara would hold seminars in which they would invite people of all religious backgrounds to come and debate. There were intermarriages between the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara the Muslim sultanate to the immediate north of it.
There were long periods of alliances between Hindu Vijayanagara and this or that Muslim sultanate. So to make it into a simple us versus them argument, it's not only, so to speak, bigoted, it's also wrong. And it's also much more boring than what really happened.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, sorry. Any more hands? Are you going to deal with, as-- I'm sure there will be more hands-- but I meant to ask you a little bit earlier, are you going to deal with the British colonial period in fiction at any point?
SALMAN RUSHDIE: I don't know. I don't know. It's interesting. When you said it, I thought, it's quite right. I've never dealt with that period. I'm not exactly sure why I haven't. Maybe I just feel that the Passage to India dealt with that so brilliantly that we could leave it there.
Or maybe I'll have an idea. One of the great things I've learned is never say never because never is a long time. And so if I can think of something, then I will. I mean, it's an obvious gap in the body of work. So yeah, I'm going to think about it.
INTERVIEWER: I think there probably were quite a lot of colonial pith-helmeted types who got off their elephant to relieve themselves. There's a lot of material there.
So yes, sorry. I think we've got time for a final question. Nope? No questions? Yes, sorry, the woman in the second row from-- oh, well, we've got two, actually. If you ask them quickly, we can have more than one question.
AUDIENCE: I might not be able to because I have a very serious brain injury, but I'll try.
AUDIENCE: There was a moment when you said that it was a bit like the story and the characters were just a paraphrase-- and sorry-- kind of coming from you, through you, and you were just writing. And I wondered if that was how you feel about all of your writing? And if so-- it's a big question-- why should it be you that is persecuted? You're just a messenger. You're just a conduit. We're so grateful to you.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yep, I totally agree. Why should it be me? Go persecute someone else. But I do think that, when writing, when the writer is most excited by his writing is when the characters seem to be speaking to one.
And I've often thought that what you do in your daily work as a writer is it's not so much creating as listening. You listen to these people in your head telling you what they need you to do for them to tell their story. And when that happens, it's always the best moment.
It doesn't always happen. But when it does happen, it's the best moment. And it certainly happened with Saleem in Midnight's Children, and it certainly happened with Pampa Kampana in Victory City. So it means both those books are very close to my heart. But you're quite right about persecution. Go persecute another writer.
AUDIENCE: No writer.
INTERVIEWER: No writer, she's saying, which I'm sure you meant.
Well, look, this is, sadly, the time to come to an end. And as you approach your trombone moment, we couldn't be more privileged to have talked to you. And many, many congratulations for the Courage Award, which was a slam dunk. And may you write many more novels. Thank you, Salman.
SALMAN RUSHDIE: Thank you. Thank you.