Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Yoga of Salman Rushdie

The recent piece by Salman Rushdie on his life after the fatwa (death sentence) issued against him by Khomeini moved me in many ways today. I was eleven years old when we watched the evening news in Tehran; the white bearded Ayatollah condemning the book 'The Satanic Verses' and calling for Muslims to kill the author. The war had just ended. The country needed something new to rally against, as collective samskaras of resistance and condemnation are hard to shed. I remember our teachers in schools telling us about the evils of the book. In my impressionable young mind, the very name of the book became a scary, demonic thing. Years later, when I was in America and in graduate school for writing, I was embarrassed to admit to my peers that superstition from all those years ago had kept me from reading any of Rushdie's glowing literary works. Something illogical inside me had believed the stories. I had internalized the hatred and the fear. This is how samskaras and conditioning work: seeds are planted in the most insidious ways, and soon enough, the roots are too deep and entangled with our own. Severing them takes discernment.

As a writer, Mr. Rushdie's work appeals to me greatly. He is an immigrant writer who has transcended the typical immigrant novel. The following passage speaks to me on so many levels: his process as a writer in exile, the 'yoga' of the two seemingly disparate places that he has inhabited, and how this living on the edge of two worlds gives him access to a nuanced perspective on reality, time, and space.

'There was a novel growing in him, but its exact nature eluded him. It would be a big book, he knew that, ranging widely over space and time. A book of journeys. That felt right. He had dealt, as well as he knew how, with the worlds from which he had come. Now he needed to connect those worlds to the very different world in which he had made his life. He was beginning to see that this, rather than India or Pakistan or politics or magic realism, would be his real subject, the one he would worry at for the rest of his career: the great question of how the world joins up--not only how the East flows into the West and the West into the East but how the past shapes the present even as the present changes our understanding of the past, and how the imagined world, the location of dreams, art, invention, and yes, faith, sometimes leaks across the frontier separating it from the 'real' place in which human being mistakingly believe they live.'

--from The Disappeared: How the Fatwa Changed a Writer's Life, published in the New Yorker,

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