Ami­tava Ku­mar

Tehelka - - BOOKS -

Ev­ery evening at seven, by ar­range­ment, does the prin­ci­pal make a phone call? Who does he call? One evening, was there no re­sponse when he made the daily agreed-upon call? No re­sponse when he called 15 min­utes later? No re­sponse when he called again and again ev­ery few min­utes?

Did the body­guard come in to ask if there had been a break in rou­tine? Was the prin­ci­pal sit­ting on the floor, with his back wedged against the wall, the phone on his lap? Was he afraid that his son had been killed or kid­napped? Was there a mis­take?

The sur­pris­ing con­ceit that Rushdie does em­ploy in his mem­oir is the use of the third-per­son nar­ra­tion to write about him­self. JM Coet­zee had done this in his mem­oirs, the voice suit­ing his clin­i­cal por­trayal of the past. But Rushdie is a more gre­gar­i­ous and vol­u­ble writer. In Joseph An­ton, there is fury, and, what is rarer, also shame. What the dis­tanc­ing de­vice does, more than any­thing else, is that it al­lows Rushdie to re­veal, at length, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the per­sona cre­ated by the fatwa and the per­son he had been till then.

There is no art with­out ar­ti­fice. It is ev­i­dent even in the choice of the name Joseph An­ton. Drawn from the first names of Con­rad and Chekhov, this was the iden­tity Rushdie chose when his pro­tec­tion team pointed out that he needed a new name to es­cape de­tec­tion. Of course, the best dis­tanc­ing de­vice at the dis­posal of the writer is the fic­tional imag­i­na­tion. But, as the events af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of The Sa­tanic Verses showed, it hadn’t been enough for the lit­er­al­ists. It is in­spir­ing then to see that the artis­tic imag­i­na­tion is at work again, tri­umphantly shap­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in new ways.

They had wanted to kill Sal­man Rushdie; they failed. The writer him­self has now killed, as only writ­ers can, a char­ac­ter he had in­vented. RIP, Joseph An­ton.

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