Salman speaks

By PETER KADZIS  |  June 21, 2007

Let's talk first about growing up in Bombay. In Midnight's Children, you wrote, if I recall the line correctly, that you were "floating in the amniotic fluid of the past." The thing to say about the Bombay of the 1950s and the 1960s is that it was a very different place than the city that now exists. I suppose it's true that, to a certain extent, there's a kind of golden glow of childhood about it in my memory. But it's also the case that the people who were of an older generation thought of that city as going through a particularly beautiful and sort of memorable phase. It does seem to have been Bombay's great moment. How to describe it? I mean, as a child, it was a very exciting town to grow up in. It was a very cosmopolitan town, much more so than most other Indian towns. Like any great city, it acted as a magnet, and so people came to Bombay from all over India. It had a greater diversity of Indians than other Indian cities. And it was the commercial center, so it attracted a large population of non-Indians. When I grew up, the kids I played with were by no means all Indian kids. They were American kids, Australian, Japanese, Europeans, and so on. It felt like a very cosmopolitan, big-city upbringing.

So you were multicultural before your time?
Well, we all were. I think this idea of a separation of cultures between the East and the West was certainly never the idea I grew up with. They were all mixed in together from the beginning.

Your parents were Muslims. Was your family religious?
Not really, as far as I can remember. I think that's one reason why, although it was technically an Indian-Muslim family, my parents ― at the independence of India and at the division of India into India and Pakistan ― never considered going to Pakistan. They certainly felt more like Indians than Muslims. And my father's family was an old Delhi family from the old Muslim neighborhoods of Old Delhi, and that's where my parents lived when they first got married. They decided to move to Bombay about nine months before I was born, I guess. They, like many other people, were nervous about the trouble that everybody could see coming at the partition. And my father felt that Bombay would be a safer place. Bombay has always had ― until recently, anyway ― a reputation of being a more tolerant environment than the rest of India. So they moved to Bombay to get out of the firing line. When the terrible events of the partition happened, the riots and the massacres and so on, almost nothing happened in Bombay. And so they stayed there, and that's where I was born and raised.

Can you recall your extended family?
I can't remember my father's father, who died before I was born, but he was, by all accounts, one of my few literary antecedents, in that he was an essayist and a patron of young writers and so on ― and he also made a fortune, which my father then spent most of his life losing.

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