He came, he spoke, he disappointed. “In Delhi, Rushdie Issues a Battle Cry” declares the headline in New York Times’ India Ink blog rather grandly, but the only battle Salman seemed to be fighting on stage at the India Today conclave was against his myriad opponents.
Those hoping for a much-needed dose of Rushdie’s trademark wisdom were treated instead to an extended exercise in settling scores. First came the long, and very personal diatribe aimed at Imran Khan – the man who refused to share the stage with him. Rushdie spent over a third of the speech deriding Khan as a liar, hypocrite, and an opportunist. But he drew the biggest laughs from his A-list audience for this ad hominem crack: “Back in the day when he was a playboy in London, the most common name for him in London circles was Im the Dim.”
Others on his to-insult list – the Jaipur Litfest organisers, Chetan Bhagat, Arundhati Roy – got off relatively lightly with the exception of Rahul Gandhi, for whom he reserved this stinker: “Years and years of kneeling down in front of every mullah you could find and it didn’t even work. It must feel sick.”
Salman Rushdie may have been in the right, but he did not sound right. An artist’s creation is his gift to the world and Salman Rushdie has been more than generous in his fiction and his erudite non-fiction. But that generosity was conspicuously absent in these attacks which came across as snide, overly personal, and at times, near-ugly. The Telegraph editorial rightly observed:
For writers or artists, having to assert their freedom of expression repeatedly and vengefully, instead of taking it for granted and getting on with what they do best, can become a terrible expense of spirit. Anger is not the ideal muse. So, the entertainment that Mr Rushdie provided his audiences on Saturday night in Delhi had an unsavoury quality to it that did not enhance his stature as a man of letters. This is the “immeasurable hurt” that the tediousness of the fatwa has caused his public life. It has locked him in endless combat with adversaries who seem to be ubiquitous, shadowy, yet all too real.
This has nothing to do with the unquestioned brilliance of his ideas and writing. But over recent years, Rushdie’s increasingly vitriolic persona has ironically come to share many of the same qualities as his detractors. His well-earned sense of injustice has hardened into a permanent state of self-righteousness which often makes him every bit as thin-skinned and easily offended as his critics.
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