The author of "The Satanic Verses" discusses the seven places that mean the most to him
From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2011
Few living authors have elicited stronger reactions than Salman Rushdie, now 63. “Midnight’s Children” was voted Best of the Booker winners; “The Satanic Verses” triggered a fatwa that sent him into hiding for a decade. His own favourites are his children’s books.
I still refuse to call it “Mumbai”, as do many people who live there. It’s not ancient like Delhi, with thousands of years of history—essentially it’s a city the British built because they thought the natural harbour would be useful to the navy. They reclaimed land to join together seven islands into what is now the peninsula of south Bombay, then they built a fort and the city grew around it. Marine Drive, along with South Beach Miami, is the longest stretch of Art Deco architecture in the world. When I was growing up I thought that Art Deco was a local Indian style, and I was really disappointed when I got to the West and discovered they had it too! Bombay is India’s most cosmopolitan city, because it stands on the border between north and south India, and faces to the West where historically most of the rest of the world connected with it. You get every kind of Indian person—whereas in Delhi you mostly meet north Indian people, in Calcutta mostly Bengali, in Madras mostly Tamil—and there are also a lot of non-Indian people, so it’s a genuine, exciting metropolis.
JOURNEY London to Karachi
When I’d just graduated from Cambridge in 1968, an English friend of mine who had a Mini Traveller decided he was going to drive it to India, and his mother begged me to go along because—although he was a good driver—he was rather unworldly and she thought if I didn’t go with him, he’d die. My parents, rather courageously, said I could go—they didn’t know where I was for two months. It’s an indication of how different the world was then, that you could get into a car in London and drive across the world, across Iran and Afghanistan. The car broke down on a deserted road in eastern Iran, and I had to hail gigantic trucks and find enough Farsi to persuade them to tow us to the next town. The guy who did was very helpful; took us to where we could get the car repaired, then got his mates to surround us and took all our money.
VIEW Kanyakumari, India
The southernmost tip of India, which used to be known as Cape Comorin, has now reverted to the name Kanya-kumari. It’s a bit touristy, with all kinds of stalls selling memorabilia, but the first time I went there I managed to find a point to stand on where it looks as if three oceans were colliding with each other: the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Great Southern Ocean which stretches all the way to Antarctica. Most beautiful views are a little too pleased with themselves; they just sit there and look back at you and they are beautiful in exactly the same way every day. This one was so dynamic, so busy “being”, that it didn’t care who was watching, and the way the waves smashed into each other was never the same twice.
BUILDING Taj Mahal, Agra
It seems a little obvious to choose the Taj Mahal, but I was very struck when I took my two sons there how their response to it was the same as mine had been when I first saw it. That wasn’t until I was an adult (even though I grew up in India, we somehow never went to Agra) and so like everyone else I’d just seen a million reproductions—photographs, calendars, biscuit tins...And the thing that impressed me was how much more extraordinary it was than any representation of it, in a way that you wouldn’t say about, for example, the Mona Lisa, which seems disappointing when you see it. I was stunned that when you see this very familiar object, it’s as if you’d never seen it before. Modern thinking says that the constant reproduction of an image devalues the orginal. But with the Taj, the original exceeds all the reproductions.
BEACH North-West Mauritius
In 1988, when I finished writing “The Satanic Verses”, I went to Mauritius—it was my after-the-book holiday. I stayed at the Royal Palm and the beach there is very beautiful. I generally get bored on beaches, but I love the sensation when you walk off the beach into the water and there’s no change of temperature, there’s just wet around you instead of air. I hadn’t realised that so much of the population of Mauritius was of Indian origin, brought there by the British and French as indentured labourers 14 or 15 generations ago. When they discovered that I was actually from India, it was as if I’d said I came from paradise, and people became incredibly friendly and curious and opened their homes to me. So it was an unusually fantastic beach holiday, where instead of being just a tourist going for sun and drinks with umbrellas in them, I was allowed to become part of the place, just because of an accident of heritage.
WORK OF ART Goya's Black Paintings
This room in the Prado is the most extraordinary I’ve been to in any gallery or museum anywhere in the world—I’ve spent hours sitting in it looking at these slightly deranged paintings which Goya did late in his life when he was, I think, out of his mind. He actually did them as panels for his house—it must have made a gloomy place: these very dark pictures of goats and black Sabbaths and Saturn devouring his children are not the cheeriest stuff to put on the walls of your home. If I had to choose just one, it would be this Witches’ Sabbath.
HOTEL The Danieli, Venice
When my first wife and I got married, we went to Venice on honeymoon, and we were so relatively poor at the time that we couldn’t afford to go in to fancy places like the Danieli or the Gritti Palace, even for a cup of coffee, so we just looked at them from the outside. More recently I have stayed at the Danieli—and had coffee—and I thought “thanks a lot; this will do!” I think it’s the nicest hotel I’ve ever been in. The Gritti has the advantage of being on the Grand Canal, but the Danieli has an amazing view and is near interesting buildings like the Doge’s Palace. I’m choosing it because I can remember being young and coveting it, so now I can go there I really value it.
Sir Salman Rushdie was talking to Rebecca Willis. Luka and the Fire of Life (Vintage) is published in paperback in June