Joseph Anton

By Sunil Kumar

For those of us who like to read; the Indian diaspora has always churned out books in regular intervals. The Bombay(Mumbai) convent; is a strange concoction; loud rowdiness interspersed with the aspirational value of education; something the Hindu ethos has cherished above all else. Like me; the subject of this blog post is a byproduct of the Bombay Jesuit school.

Mumbai (Bombay) Gateway of India

Visit Mumbai (Bombay) Gateway of India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first heard of Rushdie way back in the late 80s; infamous due to the fatwa on him. “Haroun and the Sea of Stories“; the first book of his that I ever read; was a phantasmic allegory; typical of the writer; a fact quite apparent later. Moor’s Last Sigh; Aurora; paintings. Vishal Bharadwaj seems to be in a distantly similar world; a Hindustani ethos along with Shakespeare’s passions in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez world of injustice.

Indian model, actress, and cookbook author Pad...

Visit Indian model, actress, and cookbook author Padma Lakshmi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acharya; an adman who lived upstairs got this book for me; and I remember a strange story of his; about madness and its connection with the phases of the moon. He had a bookshelf in his house; the most prominent author on display; Harold Robbins.

A semi-nude photograph of a girl in a swimming costume was also to be found somewhere on the wall; but then titillation is a coarsely interesting subject. Flesh is too in-your-face these days.

Joseph Anton is an account of Rushdie’s years in hiding at the British taxpayer’s expense. Since like Rushdie; I have contributed to Her Majesty’s exchequer in this lifetime; I can boldly proclaim that freedom of speech is a virtue I hold in high esteem. Salman may probably agree; if he ever reads this.

Nearly every book penned by the blaspheming author does have Bombay as one of its star attractions; he seems to be returning to the subject out of nostalgia, boredom or plain interest. But the world is one that is so long gone; dead and buried; that the magic realism of the author sometimes sounds hollow.

The author has a connection with Delhi, Kashmir and Pakistan; apart from the U.K and the United States where he lives currently. He claims that his life in hiding was like a “spy novel”; but the safehouses in this case were exclusively for him; the perks of solitary confinement.

There are many interesting accounts penned by the other side; which seem to paint the author as an arrogant leech; living off the British taxpayer; patronizing and interested in philandering. There’s truth in both sides of the story; Rushdie and the Brits out to capitalize on their association. It’s all about the money inn’it; mate? Most things in the world often don’t tread the straight and the narrow. “Joseph Anton” obviously gives Salman’s version; saying that he had to dish out a lot more than the world realizes.

Joseph Anton is Rushdie’s assumed name during the years in hiding; a writer’s touch; the first names of two of his favorite authors; Conrad and Chekhov. He gives us glimpses into his early life; starting from his early years in a small town in Britain; after having to leave a Bombay environment which he obviously seemed to like.

England of the evensong, the riff-raff; and the scholarly makes an appearance in his narrative; apart from his years in university; where he seems to have had his first sexual experience. His early years were in the hippie counter-culture that prevailed during the times; benefiting from the Transcendental Meditation connotation that defined people of Indian origin.


Early experiments with writing do not seem to have been successful; and the first book that got some global attention was the Shiva-Saleem India magic realism saga; “Midnight’s Children”.

Most of the world is hardly into the written word at any rate; and his global infamy or recognition was a result of that splendidly boring book which many people condemned without ever having read it. Considering that the thing is absolute drudgery; maybe they would have given the whole thing short shrift.

At any rate; Rushdie is quite “pompous” and self-obsessed; as even a cursory reading of any of his effusions reveals. But then that’s something he shares with a substantial section of humanity.

He famously said; “Pakistan Sucks” and called Imran; the former captain; “Im The Dim”. The interesting fact here is that his uncle was instrumental in creating one of the most dastardly intelligence agencies in the world; Pakistan’s ISI.

India; and Bombay; which he’s so fond of; could actually do without the rabid intelligentsia we have these days; most of whom have no connection with the actual people; the middle class; the rich or the poor.

Somebody lampooning the political establishment is welcome; but then governance is already in the hands of the mob; with everybody else only existing in constant speculation.

The 67 year old author’s love life received a jolt in 2007 when his last wife Tamilian Padma Lakshmi moved on to a richer white businessman.(the one or the two; don’t remember?). Earlier spouses are either dead or estranged; and like Naipaul; he seems to move on quickly. Unlike Sir V.S; he does not seem to have a cold exterior facade; and is more media-savvy.

Strange how books tell me about people you’re unlikely to ever meet; and the world goes on merrily; whoring with fact; sleeping with fiction. Khattam Shud!



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