I used to worry about Salman Rushdie. In the late 80’s the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwã (that means kill the bad man) against “the renegade.” Despite the fact that I liked their use of the word “renegade” I didn’t want them to kill Salman whose crime had been to write a book ,The Satanic Verses, that Muslims felt insulted their religion. One determined Muslim went so far as to blow up himself and two floors of a London hotel in a failed effort to deliver a “book bomb” to Mr. Rushdie. I liked their sense of irony. I can imagine the bomber plotting it: Oh, yes, I will kill the renegade with a bomb facsimile of his book.
When Salman was knighted in 2007, a prominent Iranian cleric said: The old decrepit government of Great Britain should know that the era of their empire is over and today they are a valet in the service of the United States. I love the civilized way that Iranians show their displeasure. They could have just said: Shut up, Britain, you old dog. Remember when Margaret Thatcher told the first Bush not to go wobbly on her about the Iraq war? Who was the valet then?
Throughout the last twenty years and even to this day, I thought of Salman Rushdie, a precious citizen of two governments, hidden and shielded, praised for his writing (he won the Booker Prize) and his courage, as an elevated heroic figure far, far above the ordinary people I would ever meet.
Imagine my surprise when I saw him on a cooking show on my local Plum cable station. He was the guest of an annoying woman who threw the veal into the frying pan from two feet away as if it were a Frisbee so it wouldn’t spatter on her green silk shirt. He was standing around waiting for her to cook his lunch. My first thought was, “good lord, cooking shows have now compromised everything holy.” This is a loose reenactment of the dialogue:
Here’s a wine spritzer with pomegranates.
Ummm. Thank you.
Do you prefer sweet or savory.
Good because I don’t have anything for dessert.
Do you ever cook?
I cook for my little boy when he spends time with me.
Is there food in your books?
Yes. Quite a bit. People have to eat.
Are you writing anything now?
I just ended a book tour. There’s nothing that makes you hate your last book more than a book tour.
Well, let’s have our lunch. This is kale ceviche with cranberries and pine nuts
How do you like the scallopini?
Very good. Food tastes good when you’re in a good mood.
I can’t cook when I’m cranky. Food comes out awful.
So there you have it, Sir Salman Rushdie, once a marked man in hiding, is now relaxed enough to appear on a local television station and eat kale ceviche. Nothing, not even the worst things, stay the same.