November 7, 2005 11:28 pm
Today was the big day: Rushdie in Cambridge, reading from Shalimar, conversing with Homi Bhabha.
We arrived early. An hour early, to be precise, although we had advance tickets. With a bagful of Rushdie novels. Notable exception: Grimus — the wife doesn’t care for it, and my copy isn’t in great condition anyway.
Bhabha was annoying. And verbose. And boring. I mean, yes, he’s the man and The Location of Culture is on every undergrad’s reading list, but I was there for Rushdie. Not Bhabha and his pompous references to “my work” on the “phenomenology of nationalism.”
Rushdie was scintillating. Witty. Downright brilliant. He speaks and reads exceptionally well. I’ve been known to not be entirely present for readings, but tonight was entirely free of the droopies.
He read from a few places in Shalimar: The arrival of the Iron Mullah Bulbul Fakh in Pachigam, the “dirty bit” (as he called it) about Shalimar and Boonyi, and — the part that I enjoyed most — the introduction of Colonel Kachhwaha, and the absurdity of integrity and integral parts.
Like some rock-star groupie, I was first in line for Q&A. Rushdie cracked a joke about people sprinting towards the microphone. My question was horribly juvenile: something about Kashmir, allegories, the earthquake and magic realism. But he was nice enough to take a good five minutes to answer it.
On to the book signing. The Harvard Bookstore organizer had announced earlier that Mr. Rushdie would only be signing copies of Shalimar. What a ripoff! I carried the bag o’ books around for nothing. Anyway, I had to purchase an over-priced copy of Shalimar right there and have him sign it. He recognized me from the Q&A: said “thank you for asking your question.” I said, “um yeah that’s fine but what about this bag of books I’ve been lugging around with me?” He peeked. Shame peeked back. “Maybe next time,” he said dismissively, and that was that.