Rushdie satire infuriates Hindu extremists

TIM McGIRK

New Delhi

As if a death-threat from Iran were not worry enough, the fugitive writer Salman Rushdie now faces the ire of Hindu extremists in his native city of Bombay. His newest enemies are furious over Rushdie's new novel, The Moor's Last Sigh, in which he lampoons Bal Thackeray, Bombay's most powerful - and feared - politician.

Just released in Britain, thousands of copies of Rushdie's novel were shipped to India, but so far his distributors, Rupa, have been afraid to sell any in Bombay. "There's no threat so far," said a Rupa spokesman, "but we want to avoid a flare-up." The trouble may have already begun, however. Several spicy excerpts appeared in Indian newspapers, and Rushdie, who was born in Bombay, can count on at least one sale in his native city: to Mr Thackeray.

The chief of a militant Hindu organisation, Shiv Sena (Shiv's Army), Mr Thackeray is a dangerous foe. Not only does his party rule the state government of Maharashtra, of which Bombay is capital, but his militant followers have fought Muslims during Bombay's riots and thrashed journalists who dared to cross the movement.

One of Mr Thackeray's top aides, Pramod Nawalkar, now culture minister for Maharashtra, said, "We're trying to get Rushdie's book. If we find parts that are offending or insulting or any such thing, we will ban the book across Maharashtra."

In many ways, the city of Bombay is as much a presence in Rushdie's novel as the hero, Moraes Zogoiby, born into a family of wealthy spice merchants known for their peppery temperament. One can perhaps understand Rushdie's wanting to take a risk with Mr Thackeray, for no other modern city but Bombay, with its tropical seediness, could give rise to a cartoonist who transformed himself into a gang leader and then a Hindu demagogue.

Rushdie's caricature of Mr Thackeray is too finely drawn to be accidental.

Playing with the literary coincidence of the political strongman sharing a surname with the Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, Rushdie names his creation, Raman Fielding, after the earlier writer Henry Fielding.

The name of Raman Fielding's organisation - "Mumbai's Axis, the party of Hindu nationalists" - also strikes home. Mr Thackeray is responsible for changing the name of Bombay to the less colonial Mumbai. He is also widely misquoted as once having said he admired Hitler and the Axis powers. Fielding's party shares a remarkably similar line with Mr Thackeray's. Rushdie writes: "He was against 'immigrants' to the city, by which he meant all non-Maharathi speakers, including those who had been born there . . . He was . . . for 'direct action', by which he meant paramilitary action in support of his political aims."

In India's flag, Fielding was "in favour of the colour saffron (for Hindu) and against the colour green (for Islam)". At Strand bookshop, where Rushdie often browsed while a student at the nearby Cathedral School, the owner, Narayan Shanbaug complained: "The distributors got cold feet. They are anticipating violence. But I could have sold a few thousand copies before it was banned by government. That way at least some people in Bombay would have had a chance to read Salman. He's one of our boys, you know."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss