Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s child
Sir Salman Rushdie is a popular British Indian author whose subtle, politically-themed work has often attracted controversy alongside critical acclaim.
Rushdie was born Ahmed Salman Rushdie on 19 June, 1947 in Bombay, India, to Anis Ahmed Rushdie, a lawyer turned businessman, and Negin Bhatt, a teacher. Rushdie belongs to a Muslim family of Kashmiri descent and travelled to the University of Cambridge to study history.
Rushdie first joined advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter. It was during his time at the agency that Rushdie penned his 1981 breakthrough novel, Midnight’s Children. He was responsible for several memorable taglines, including ‘That’ll do nicely’ for American Express and ‘Irresistibubble’ for Aero chocolates.
Midnight’s Children, a story of a child born precisely at the moment of India’s independence and his journey through the birth of modern India, was critically acclaimed and is considered by many as one of the best books of the century. The book was particularly critical of the Indian Emergency of 1975, imposed by Indira Gandhi, and criticized the former Prime Minister’s policies as well. She claimed to have been defamed by the book, citing a paragraph in which her son Sanjay Gandhi is said to have accused of neglecting her father Feroze, thus leading to his death. The case was settled out of court and Rushdie agreed to remove the paragraph.
The novel will be adapted in a film to be directed by Deepa Mehta later this year.
His third novel, Shame, released two years after Midnight’s Children examined politics in Pakistan and was based on the Pakistani politicians, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
In 1988, Rushdie published his most controversial work, The Satanic Verses. The work refers to an alleged incident during which the Prophet Muhammad uttered several words he believed to be from God, but that were in fact from the devil. These verses are therefore not found in the Qur’an, but are described in biographies of the prophet.
The book depicts several episodes in the prophet’s life and features prostitutes who take the names of Muhammad’s wives.
It was released to widespread critical acclaim, but became a controversial topic in Islamic communities. Several countries, including India, Sri Lanka and Singapore quickly banned the book. Bookstores in the United States and the United Kingdom were bombed and burned by angry mobs.
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa (a ruling), which was retracted ten years later, calling for the author’s death. Rushdie quickly apologized but his apology was rejected by Khomeini’s office. He thus became the target of several failed assassination attempts and has declined to appear at several literary festivals, citing possible threats to his life.
He has since gone on to author several other popular novels, including The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown, and The Enchantress of Florence.
Rushdie has won several literary awards during his illustrious career.
For Midnight’s Children, he received the 1981 Booker Prize and, in 1993 and 2008, was awarded the Best of the Bookers. The Satanic Verses won the Whitbread award of the year. He has also received several ‘Author of the Year’ awards from countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom.
In 2007, he was knighted for his services to literature, despite protests by Muslim nations around the world.
Rushdie, born a Muslim, has since stated that he was not religious and has often called for reforms in the Islamic faith.
He has been married four times, first in 1976 to Clarissa Luard, then in 1988 to novelist Marianne Wiggins and Elizabeth West in 1997. In 2004, he married Indian American actress Padma Lakshmi, a marriage that lasted all of three years. He has been romantically linked to Bollywood actress Riya Sen, but has denied any romantic involvement.
References: Wikipedia, BBC
This biography will be updated regularly.