Would the real Salman Rushdie please tweet up?

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The Independent Online

Is it the real Salman Rushdie? So tweeters wondered as they saw the celebrated novelist (or yet to be unmasked impostor) make one of the most surreal Twitter debuts yet.

To start, Mr Rushdie failed to secure himself a suitable handle. Some impostor had already claimed "@SalmanRushdie". The person claiming to be the genuine article was not amused. "[Who] are you? why are you pretending to be me?" demanded @SalmanRushdie1 a less useful twitter handle. "Release this username. you are a phoney. all followers please note."

As word spread of Mr Rushdie's apparent surfacing on twitter, followers steadily flocked to the account. Their curiosity heightened when the tweeter claiming to be Mr Rushdie took to his first days of tweeting with such enthusiasm that he began tweeting the opening lines of a new short story, "A Globe in Heaven." Though promised just a single tweet each day, readers were yesterday spoiled with a full ten tweets that were later posted in full on a page of their own.

It looked too good to be true, or so it seemed to Pakistanis on Twitter. It is a little known fact that the country can lay many claims to Mr Rushdie. His family moved here from Bombay after partition in 1947. Many of his family members lived in Karachi. He even worked as a television producer in Pakistan soon after finishing Cambridge. And one of his finest novels, Shame is set in the country, though now banned after the protests here which preceded the notorious 1989 fatwa. To this day, his work is only circulated as samizdat.

The tweeter said he was proud of having written what is still considered one of the best novels on Pakistan. "I'm very proud of Shame. Sometimes, as the news twists and turns, it feels more relevant now than in 1983..." he wrote in reply to me.

Naturally sceptical, I hazarded a question that would likely have eluded all but the shrewdest of impostors. Where did the great Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz seek sanctuary when he was hounded by a mob? I asked. "Under my aunt Begum Majeed Malik's carpet, in her cellar in Karachi," came back the reply. "Now stop it everyone," he added with an exasperation worthy of Mr Rushdie's less patient moments. "It's becoming dull."

The speed and accuracy of the reply was impressive, but many remained unconvinced. "[He] may yet be a very well informed pretender, Which would be even more fun..." said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director at Human Rights Watch, and someone intimately familiar with Mr Rushdie's family in Pakistan.

Mr Hasan then posed an even trickier question, the answer to which is a possession of very few. "Ok. To convince me, tell me the late Nabeela's middle name," Mr Hasan demanded, referring to Mr Rushdie's sister, "and pet name and i will believe you totally." Within a moment, he replied, with correct answers to both questions.

The display picture, apparently taken by a webcam, suggests it is Mr Rushdie. It's too clear and close up to be from among the many pictures available publicly. The list of people he follows, from his son to Kylie Minogue, are all known to be intimates of Mr Rushdie.

Still, it remains to be seen whether the real Mr Rushdie confirms the account's existence, or it was an elaborate fiction.