It was a Sunday afternoon when the Orie clan of 15 or thereabouts were all gathered at home when a white Royal Saloon pulled up at the front of our house and filled with passengers who seemingly appeared to have freshly arrived from the Middle East. They ask for Lester Orie, and when I went and met them at the car, I (and my family) was threatened with violence if I had not immediately withdrawn the book, “Even the Gods” I only had released to the local public just days earlier.
This was in the year 1986 and five years earlier than when in 1991 Ayatollah Khomeini placed a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for his satirical work “Satanic Verses” and thereby making the book a global bestseller. Although Rushdie had won the Booker Prize ten years earlier, he was essentially unknown to the world except among the purest literati but when Khomeini imposed a death threat on him, Rushdie became a household name and till this date, 31 years later, he has remained a literary icon comparable with the stars of the film world.
After the death-threat visit I had, I immediately had the book pulled off all bookshelves across the country and for further life-saving insurance, I enlisted the intervention of a younger, fiery Suruj Rambachan, who responded in kind to those who had issues with me as a writer who told the truth.
The irony here is that what I had written back then and what so threatened the world of those who went ballistic when they read my revelations, could for years ever since access such information on the net by just the click of a button; but by having me pull my book off the shelves, my budding writing career had been badly truncated and it was only after almost two decades later I republished the book only after expunging from it the chapter that was thought to be combustible to a small bigoted community.
Although the book now reads and is published as an erotica – which I dare say rivals DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I never re-read it in all that time and have only done so recently only after those who have read it says it’s a masterpiece in terms of literature, diction, style, vocabulary. My conclusion now? It’s all of those things and I have no need to be fearful anymore or be ashamed of my daring.
One of the tremendous pluses of Khomeini’s Fatwa on Rushdie was the inescapable fact that he brought to the world’s attention the writing of one of the best of the last century. The fact that Rushdie went on to win the Booker of all Booker Prizes beating out even Naipaul proves that he needed to be read and that out of Khomeini’s evil came a priceless good.
While my “Even the Gods” has remained something belonging to the literature of the underground, I experienced a momentary shock when years later at the Shiv Mandir in NY where I had exiled myself after the threats, an older couple, devotees there, invited me to lunch at their home where I was told they had a special book written by a Trinidadian and when they showed it to me, lo and behold! It was Even the Gods! When I blurted out it was my book my host quickly responded, No! it was his and that he bought it in Trinidad when he visited the country for its 150th Indian Arrival Day Anniversary.
When I explained to him that I meant it was I who wrote it, it created a small seismic shock with elongated aftershocks at the house.
When a Ms. Rajbansie, one of the reviewers of my last book, Conversations with an Atheist, compared my style of writing with Rushdie’s, I took that as a great compliment but chauvinistically thought, isn’t it supposed to be reversed? Incidentally, I just learnt, Rushdie too travels the Atheist road after our individual face to face encounter with Armageddon.
To the main event: the attack on Rushdie after 31 years by someone who has probably never seen the book but who did it not only to collect the million-dollar bounty if he was murdered, but who proves that in the name of religious bigotry there are satanic people not just verses.
One hopes Rushdie survives this attack thereby making a mockery of those who think violence could in anyway subjugate freedom of the pen – just as I came across a copy of my book in NY when it was supposed to have been the non-existent publication.
L. Siddhartha Orie.