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Joseph Anton- By Salman Rushdie- Book Review

Life for most people follows usual curve with minimal deviations. Even the most extraordinary of lives, beneath the amazing twist and turns, hides a sense of extreme ordinariness. This is what makes a memoir truly readable and inspirational at the same time. It makes one notice the true significance of the ordinary, like playing with your child, clinging on to your spouse, as you find great, extaordinary lives so hanging on to the common thread of humanity, even in the midst of all the chain of extra-ordinary events happening around them.
Joseph Anton - Salman Rushdie
Reading a memoir is always a pleasure, for it teaches you life from other people lives.The pleasure of memoir is even enhanced if it belongs to an author, not because it will bring to fore some secret chapters which no one is aware of as a spy-thriller, but rather because of the unique skill of articulation which will bring out the perspective which we are all aware of, but rarely conscious of, bringing to life the truth which lies within us in slumber, woken up with beauty of charming florid words. Picked up Salman Rushdie- Joseph Anton with same expectation (Pseudonym with which he lived through the exile, name constructed from the the first names of Polish author, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov), to find a mix of Spy thriller and writer's memoir, though less florid than say, a Maugham or Wilde, but witty at times.

Rushdie comes out as a man walking on a thin line during his growing years, staying away from turning a total iconoclast and revolutionary by inches, as he mentions regarding the essay that he wrote on the wily french politician,  Tellyrand (most would chose Napoleon), his support for flagging, against the common sensibility and his downright refusal to join the CCF (Combined Cadet Force) as a way to protest against the imperial rule of British over India. The memoir does not however, attempts to put him on the high pedestal of righteousness as he mentions an incidence of selling off a chair at ballooned price to a class mate in school, Anthony Reed Herbert, who later emerged to be anti-immigrant politician of British National Front, it merely reflects on the development of an individual with absolute clarity of where he stood on various issues confronting him at much early an age, without any significant attempt to tom-tom those positions which he took and held on to tightly, in any public forum, following more or less on the mode of, "This is my way, what is your way, there is no THE way." He mentions his early frictions with his father, on many of the life choices including the subject he chose in study, as he reflects on the time he moved out of the nest as he reminisces, "..(in fact) the son couldn't wait for the father to leave so that he could start trying to forget the nights of foul language and unprovoked red-eyed rage". He however, credits his father for having inculcated in him a sense of argument and rationalism, against which nothing was sacred, everything was questionable and nothing was beyond reproach, his teenage anger against his father Anis Ahmed Rushdie, justified to an extent, notwithstanding. As the book grows and so does Rushdie with it, mellows down, to quote his own word, "substantial and grounded", the differences melt away, as Salman reached to be by his side in death, and he seems to have captured what his father might have felt at the time of his death as "disappointed but with the knowledge that he was loved."
He left University in 1968 and published his first work of note, "Midnight's Children" in 1981, before which he bluntly says he "wrote unbearable amount of garbage." Post his education, where he did some serious study on Islamic history, he moved through the assignment in advertising field, moonlighting to finish of his first book, "Midnight's Children" (being up for release in November, 2012 as a Mainstream Movie with same name by Deepa Mehta). The book reflected on the metamorphosis of India from a British colony to a country of its own, through the eyes of protagonist, Saleem Sinai borne at the time of freedom of India, which went on to win the Booker. The book sold well enough to support the brave decision of Salman to become full time author, with anticipation of being poor in the process. It was published by Penguin with which Rushdie fell apart on the issue of paperback publication of "The Satanic Verses" and hide and seek played by Peter Mayer of Penguin and he holds back no punches when he describe those days in Joseph Anton. Though he mentions Mayer as a leader of the heroic team,  He responds to the claims that the book was an insult in an inimtable Salman Rushdie banter, when his says quoting that it took him four years to write the book and that "I can insult people a lot faster than that"
In his recently-published memoir, Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie recounts the events that led the Indian government to ban the import of his novel, The Satanic Verses, into India in late 1988. Photo: Paul Hackett/Reuters
During the times of duress, as Salman Rushdie describes the life of a fugitive, what stands out is the friends that he had and who kind of formed a circle of protection around him, when a significant portion of human population wanted him dead, offering support, and places to stay. While Salman appears angry with the British Government, for what he feels as a let down for not publicly endorsing his position or for that matter, not allowing even Vaclav Havel, playwright and President of Czechoslovakia, for someone sitting in India in the current day, it seems quite lucky that he was in Britain, which arranged for a security at the level right below the Royal family, looking at the fact the in spite of all the claims of free speech and democracy we so pride ourselves for, we were the first country to ban the book in the world, and we went further down from there on, on Uniform Civil code, banning several other books and movies, MF Hussain and of late, with the arrest of the Cartoonist, making the submission quite total. He was lucky to have left India. He mentions at a place in the book that where the small house of literature is broken the great walls of the nation comes crumbling down, when we look at the state of India today, to an extent it seems to be coming true. He bluntly refutes the claim made by Khushwant Singh that he had forewarned Rushdie from releasing the book in India. It could be a case of love lost for Singh, ever since I had read his column which he had deliberately used to justify his grandfather's role in the case of Bhagat Singh, which tempts me to believe in Salman's version, but then even if what Khushwant Singh claims were to be true, ought Rushdie have disowned his work, and hidden it in a dark corner, for the fear of fanatics. He feels bitter and dejected for being exiled from the country he called his owned and loved as his own and even quotes, Nehru who had said that it would be very dangerous power to be entrusted to with the government to decide what shall be read and what shall not (pity, the Government of the day does not even respect their own founding fathers). This is a country, he seems so much wanting to love, and this is the country which has been giving him a reason not to.
      The wonder and pleasure of the book however, is not Rushdie, the writer but Rushdie, the man. It take shape toward the middle of the book, close to chapter V when he laments, tired of running away, "I have been down so long, that it seems up"(quoting Richard Farina) as you could almost see a man, who is a husband, struggling to continue a relation which was by then more of a lie than a truth, with Marianne Wiggins, struggling hard not to stray, a father, whose world revolved around the son, Zafar. The love of his progeny stands forth as in those difficult years he writes down "Haroun and the Sea of Stories", children book for his son and expresses the great sense of pleasure at the approval of the ten year old, which he terms better than any jury in the world, which any father would easily identify with. All that he could not get from his father, he pours out for his son, Zafar. He mentions his outings and meeting-up with Zafar in those days as "Ordinary, everyday, father-and-son things" and says "it felt like a miracle". And in those moment, you feel Rushdie a person, a man, beyond the grand persona leaping out the pages of the book, devoide of all his grandness, and hugs you with all his ordinariness and you love him for that.

 His bitterness for Sonny Mehta for putting unreasonable conditions as a pretext to backing out of publishing "Haroun" seems quite understandable, but he seems to bitter to Peter Mayer for not coming around to the paperback as was agreed. Every man is entitled to his own share of courage and cowardice, no other man can define how much of which one should have. Only a foolish man can be courageous at all the time. Salman fought for individual freedom which should apply even for those who do not write. The fact remains that Mayer did not back out on the immediate threat after the release of the book, he ought to have granted him that. Salman also had his moment of weakness, though he comes out to be openly ashamed of that, when he signed a near apologies in the audience of six Mullahs. This admission of weakness so endears the man. He however, need to acknowledge, in spite of the bitterness that a man whom half the world was out to kill, is entitled to; others are similarly entitled to their own moments of  weakness. His hanging on the last imaginary threads of long, lost love of Marianne goes too long and with the benefit of hindsight and perspective of outsiders, one is almost tempted to shake Salman out of the dream which is long over. One almost shouts with silent cheers when he moves out of the shadows of Marianne and meets up with Elizabeth, you want to kiss the forehead of media representative about whom he mentions, when he explains their sensitivity to his precarious state when they filmed him with Elizabeth, always keeping her out of the frame, and you so wish media everywhere were so sensitive (we have our own sorry coverage of 26/11).
Religion has become such inherent crutch to human soul that it can not even admit the credit of walking to itself, one is tempted to credit at least a part of it to religion or God. Through centuries of social conditioning, wherein human maturity could not be relied upon to keep peace upon people, and wherein lots of nature's questions lay unanswered, religion which came out for rescue as a cry of helplessness of a less capable, less knowedgable man, held him so tightly by his throat that lack of religion became inadmissable, at least in public. Rushdie, post the humiliating attempt to buy peace with fanatics, comes around to make such an admission, without any ambiguity, when he goes to United States to make a lecture at the University of Columbia, amid a funnily described security entourage with sirens and motorcade , as he writes "he was not religious and would never again feign religiousity. He was a profoundly irreligious man", and one almost wants to stand up and clap. attempt to buy peace with fanatics, comes around to make such an admission, without any ambiguity, when he goes to United States to make a lecture at the University of Columbia, amid a funnily described security entourage with sirens and motorcade , as he writes "he was not religious and would never again feign religiosity. He was a profoundly irreligious man", and one almost wants to stand up and clap.

When the rational man cedes the space to the irrational, the world is dis balanced and truth is orphaned. While "The Satanic Verses" was a book worthy of all the trouble, or as many suggested was created with an eye on trouble, though may be limited and containable, can only be commented on when one has read the book, which I have not, one fact remains, it rendered uncharacteristic meekness to all who stood with freedom of expression and liberty and gave unprecedented strength to the logic which plainly relies on "because I (or Someone higher up) said so" there by perpetrating all the environment of intolerance which was to follow. This book explains that loss of balance which legitimizes fanaticism, because free thinking people ceded the ground, and a fight that began with relatively non-consequential fiction, today we see culminating with a teenage child, Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan, struggling for her life, people getting killed for supporting a minority community girl, later proven to be wrongly convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan, and the killer, a person who took someones life, being felicitated in public for the act. The mob has legitimized those who act on all that their sick minds tells them to do, in the name of God higher up, with whom they claim to have some strange communication, A God which talks only to these violent souls, A God, seemingly so insecure and so much in need of love and respect that He immediately ordains those followers of His to act with elimination of source of rebellion at the first sight. He does not ask his people to debate or not read or not pay heed to what is incorrect to His thoughts and Ideas for life of His follower, rather instructs them to eliminate the source itself. It always amuses me to think God as such an person, and to think that why He chooses to only speak to those violent few. Does He really think that He can bully people into loving him? Britain, however, lives upto the morals, no matter Rushdie disputes their role as defender of free thought, for he stands today to put forth the dispute because Britain stood by him, protecting him for good eight years, when his publishers were getting attacked and killed (his Italian publisher was attacked, so was Danish one, and the Japanese one was killed). The US may be criticised for coming in late, when officially Clinton endorsed the author, but then they had hostages of their own to be addressed. India surely was a big let down, as it did not even attempt to stand by his Son , prodigal or not; and he was not even taken in well by the India ambassador, Mr. Gopal Krishna Gandhi as Rushdies says. Joseph Anton is a pretty longish book, humanizing the Booker of Bookers winner, though nothing of a classic, but does bring about the frustrations of a man with the whole world against him and at least some part of it on his side. It is a good read, after which, one is left with a good feeling about the British government in general, thought that does not seem to be the intent of the author, feel helpless in the downward spiral which the world humanity has taken since the event. Rushdie comes out at as a man with very high opinion of himself, though to slip in honesty so often required for a proper memoir, he tries to be condescending to himself at some rare occassions. But then could be he did not want to come out as a Hero, maybe he is not a Hero and only a human, who people say writes well.


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