Rushdie seeks a passage to India

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AN ISLAMIC death warrant may have forced the novelist, Salman Rushdie, into becoming the world's most famous literary fugitive. But Mr Rushdie has not resigned himself to a lifetime of matchstick games with his Scotland Yard minders.

The writer is fighting a legal battle to win back an ancestral home in the Himalayas which was seized in 1992 by Indian authorities. 'When the house is recovered,' said Vijay Shankardass, the novelist's Delhi solicitor, 'Salman would certainly like to visit the place. It may be feasible for him to slip inside India and travel around a bit.'

Lately, Mr Rushdie has been slipping out to London parties and restaurants. Over coffee, he challenges friends to matchstick games perfected during his long hours with police bodyguards.

Although a British citizen, Mr Rusdhie, 47, was born in Bombay and most of his stories are rooted in the Indian sub-continent. It was only after India banned The Satanic Verses in 1989 that Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini - probably without having read the offending passages - put a bounty on Mr Rushdie's head.

The novelist's solicitor claims that officials in Himachal Pradesh state took advantage of Mr Rushdie's enforced disappearance in the UK to seize his mountain villa.

The estate, valued at around pounds 45,000, was confiscated by the state in 1992 on the grounds that the Rushdie family emigrated to Pakistan in the 1947 partition, leaving the house deserted. Mr Rushdie's lawyer has testified that Mr Rushdie was born an Indian citizen and remained so until 1964. A court decision is expected in March.

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