Rushdie’s first-hand experience in the field of writing was as a freelance writer for the advertising agency ‘Ogilvy & Mather.’ Working as a copywriter, he wrote ads and came up with tag-lines for various companies. Some of his catchphrases or slogans were ‘irresistibubble’ for ‘Aero’ and ‘Naughty but Nice’ for cream cakes.
In 1975, with the release of the part-science fiction tale ‘Grimus,’ Rushdie plunged into full-time writing, though he still continued freelancing as an advertisement writer.
The book ‘Grimus’ revolved around the story of a Native American Eagle which voyages to find out the true meaning of life. It failed to impress both the public and literary critics.
Rushdie’s second book ‘Midnight’s Children,’ which released in 1981, brought instant fame and recognition to him. Apart from popular and critical appraise, Rushdie received much literary notability due to the book.
Midnight’s Children’ highlighted the life of a child, born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence. It focused on the character of ‘Saleem Sinai’ and the special powers that he seems to be endowed with. The book also speaks about his connection with other children born in independent India and their magical powers.
Reveling in the success of ‘Midnight’s Children,’ Rushdie released his next work titled ‘Shame.’ The book illustrated the political unrest, mayhem, and tumult faced by Pakistan. Two of his characters drew inspiration from principal Pakistani political leaders, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
The success factor for both ‘Midnight’s Children’ and ‘Shame’ rested on the fact that they had a style of magic realism and presented an immigrant outlook, Rushdie’s most bankable style of writing.
Rushdie’s next venture was released under the title ‘The Jaguar Smile’ in 1987. It was his first attempt at non-fiction and was primarily about Nicaragua. Unlike his previous works, the book presented an account of the first-hand experience and research based on the Sandinista political experiments.
The year 1988 witnessed the release of the most controversial book of Rushdie, ‘The Satanic Verses.’ A take on Prophet Mohammed’s utterance of the three verses, which were later removed as they were considered offensive to the Muslims (hence the title Satanic Verses), the book caused a rage of fury amongst the Muslim community worldwide.
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The book was banned in 12 countries, namely India, Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore, Venezuela, and Pakistan.
Ayatollah Khomeini, the then spiritual leader of Iran, issued a ‘fatwa’ or a death sentence against Rushdie. He called for all obedient Muslims to assassinate Rushdie and offered a bounty to kill Rushdie.
Copies of ‘The Satanic Verses’ were burnt all over the globe as Muslims condemned the book for insulting their sentiments, faith, religion, and Prophet. While the book was removed from the shelves of large bookselling chains, several people who were involved with its publication were injured and killed.
Rushdie went into hiding for several years and was forced to live under police protection. Though he made a public apology and embraced Islam, he was not entirely safe and thus had to live in isolation for many years.
Despite the major turmoil in his life, Rushdie’s love for writing did not die as he continued to write even in his years of isolation. In 1990, he released his next book ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories,’ a children’s novel.
His next couple of works included a collection of essays titled ‘Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991,’ released in 1991, and a collection of short stories titled ‘East, West,’ released in 1994.
While ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’ presented an epic tale of a family, ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ highlighted an alternative history of modern rock music.
2001 witnessed Rushdie’s next piece of work titled ‘Fury’ which was followed by ‘Step Across This Line: Collected Non-fiction 1992-2002’ in 2002. In the latter, Rushdie acknowledges his appreciation and respect for the Italian writer Italo Calvino and the American writer Thomas Pynchon, among others.
While each of these books appealed to the senses of the readers, it was the 2005 released ‘Shalimar the Clown’ that increased Rushdie’s popularity even more.
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In 2010, he came up with the novel ‘Luka and the Fire of Life.’ Two years later, he released a memoir of his days in isolation. The memoir was titled ‘Joseph Anton: A Memoir.’ The same year, Rushdie became one of the first major authors to embrace ‘Booktrack,’ a company that synchronizes e-books with customized soundtracks. He collaborated with ‘Booktrack’ for his short story ‘In the South.’
Rushdie's novel ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,’ a book which was written using his old beloved technique of magic realism, was published in 2015.
In 2017, a satirical novel set in contemporary America was published under the name ‘The Golden House.’
Rushdie's 14th novel ‘Quichotte,’ inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel ‘Don Quijote,’ was published in 2019.
Awards & Achievements
For his outstanding contribution to the field of literature, Salman Rushdie has been felicitated with numerous awards. ‘Midnight’s Children’ was bestowed with the ‘Booker Prize’ and ‘Best of the Bookers,’ while ‘Shame’ won France’s ‘Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger’ (Best Foreign Book) award. ‘Shame’ was also a tough competitor at the ‘Booker Awards.’
Despite the controversy surrounding it, ‘The Satanic Verses’ won the ‘Whitbread Award.’ ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ won the ‘Writers’ Guild Award,’ while ‘Shalimar the Clown’ managed to become one of the finalists for the ‘Whitbread Book Awards.’
Rushdie is a Fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature. Additionally, he holds the honorary doctorates and fellowships at six European and six American universities. Rushdie is an Honorary Professor in Humanities at M.I.T, and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at ‘Emory University.’
He is the Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and a Distinguished Fellow in Literature at the ‘University of Anglia.’ He holds the rank of Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest artistic honor. In ‘The Times’ list of ‘The 50 Greatest British Writers’ since 1945, Rushdie takes the 13th position.
From 2003 to 2005, Rushdie served as the president of ‘PEN American Center.’ Additionally, he is also the founder of the ‘Pen World Voices Festival.’
In 2007, Rushdie received a knighthood during the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Rushdie also became a member of the ‘American Academy of Arts and Letters’ and was named a ‘Library Lion of the New York Public Library.’
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Personal Life & Legacy
Rushdie first tied the nuptial knot in the year 1976 to Clarissa Luard. The couple was blessed with a son named Zafar in 1980. The alliance however did not last long as the two separated in the year 1987.
Following the divorce, Rushdie entered wedlock with American novelist Marianne Wiggins in 1988. This marriage too did not work out as the two separated in 1993.
Rushdie married Elizabeth West in 1997 and fathered a son named Milan in 1999. Rushdie and Elizabeth divorced in 2004.
Indian American actress-cum-model Padma Lakshmi became Rushdie’s fourth wife. They got married in 2004 and shared a cordial relationship until Lakshmi decided to end the relationship in 2007.
Rushdie was romantically linked to Indian model Riya Sen in 2008, but there has been no formal announcement.
In 1989, Rushdie survived an assassination attempt as Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh failed to kill the former. A book bomb loaded with RDX explosives exploded prematurely, causing the death of Mazeh.
Rushdie refrained from appearing at the ‘Jaipur Literature Festival’ in January 2012 and canceled his entire India tour citing security concerns as the primary reason. However, he made an official appearance in the country in March 2012.
Rushdie is living in New York City since 2000. He underwent an operation to correct ptosis, a tendon condition that causes drooping eyelids. The condition was making it increasingly difficult for him to open his eyes.
This controversial writer’s writing style has a characteristic magic realism which mixes religion, fantasy, and mythology into more grounded reality. Thanks to his works, he has been compared to the likes of Peter Carey, Emma Tennant, and Angela Carter.
Interestingly, it was during his years at ‘Ogilvy & Mather’ that he wrote and compiled the book ‘Midnight's Children,’ before becoming a full-time writer. His novel has been adapted into a film of the same name by director Deepa Mehta.
His book ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ highlighted an alternative history of modern rock music. There is also a song by the same name by ‘U2,’ due to which he has been credited as a lyricist as well.
A Pakistani film titled ‘International Gorillay’ (International Guerillas) depicted him in a Rambo-like character. His character was seen plotting the downfall of Pakistan by opening a chain of casinos and discos in the country.