The newspapers are full of his visit to Jaipur and how the radicals are all against it. I am no fan of his, not having read any of his books bar one – Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which I really liked. This was several years ago and I remember reading it aloud later to my kids as well. But now, with all this hoopla about him, I cant help remember by brief and practically non-meeting with him around five (or was it six) years ago. We almost rubbed shoulders for we sat on the same sofa.
It was at the second Madras Week celebration. We had a three-day programme at The Amethyst, which was then at its old location – Sunder Mahal. Muthiah was speaking on Madras and there was a good crowd to listen. I went in late (not being part of the organising committee then) and got a seat somewhere at the rear. Halfway through the talk, a tall vision appeared in something short and behind her, short, rather like her dress, came another being whom I vaguely recognised as someone I had seen in some photo.
“That is Padma Lakshmi,” said my neighbour. “And therefore that is Rushdie,” I deduced. And sure enough it was him. Even Muthiah was taken aback and paused mid-presentation before continuing as though nothing had happened. The vision and her companion looked around for a seat and finally came and sat, next to me. I wondered what conversation I could make. Surely not about the fatwa. I had a fear somewhere at the back of my mind that Amethyst and all of us were at risk. If I had only been carrying my copy of Haroun… with me, I could have asked for an autograph. What if the man at the other end of the room was staring pointedly at us, were to have a gun and a poor aim? What if the neighbour who recognised them be a Mata Hari?
I need not have worried or bothered. 15 minutes further into the talk, the vision and her companion vanished. Perhaps I had imagined it all for when the meeting ended, nobody spoke about their arrival, or departure.