Salman speaks

By PETER KADZIS  |  June 21, 2007

How about your mother's father?
Yes, my mother's father I remember very well. He was a huge figure in my childhood. Unlike my parents, he was really quite a religious man. He was a practicing Muslim. He said his prayers five times a day. He performed the pilgrimage to Mecca. But at the same time, he was one of the most tolerant and open-minded men I've ever known. For myself, my sisters, my many cousins, he was a huge figure in all our lives because he loved children and was never happier than when he was amongst us.

How did his wonder manifest itself?
I remember ― not when I was a very small child, but when I was more grown up ― we would needle him by claiming not to believe in God and so on. You'd say, in your 10- or 11-year-old self, "I don't believe in God, Granddad." And he'd say, "Oh really? Come and sit down here and tell me all about it." And so you'd sit down next to him and he would very seriously listen and probe as you offered your 11-year-old reasons for not believing in God. And then, instead of contradicting you, he'd say, "Yes, well, that's a lot to think about, I think you've given me a lot to think about, I'll have to think about it." And then, a couple of days later, he'd come back and he'd say, "I just did have a couple of thoughts about what you were saying, and let me just talk to you about them." And he'd then offer you, in a very gentle way, his rebuttals to your childish atheism. And when you'd say, "No, no, Granddad, that's just complete nonsense, it's completely wrong," he'd say, "Yes, well, you're probably right, but I just think we should go on talking about it." So certainly, the atmosphere around him was that anything could be said, anything could be discussed, and that's how we all grew up.

What was the first rock-and-roll record you ever bought?
Oh, I think Heartbreak Hotel. It was very difficult in India in those days to buy rock-and-roll records, because they were not locally produced. You had to rely on occasional imports and then run to the record shop when the bush telegraph told you that there were some there. And these were old-style 78 rpm discs that I'm talking about ― fragile, you know? They were often damaged in transit or scratched because they were secondhand and being sold off by somebody whose family was going home. So it wasn't easy to come by these things. There was a particular record store in Bombay, called Rhythm House, which used to occasionally have these imports.

Did you listen to rock and roll on the radio?
Yes, but not, oddly, on Indian radio, which was state controlled and didn't permit the playing of Western music. I think in that post-colonial moment, it was thought to be culturally unsound. Radio Ceylon, as it was then called ― it's Sri Lanka now ― had a rather more tolerant policy, and, yes, at the weekends, it would play a few hours of a Western hit-parade kind of program. That's where we first heard a lot of these songs. But also, because the city was so international, we had access. I often heard this music in my friends' houses, listening to their records. It wasn't easy for that music to arrive, given these constraints. And yet it did arrive, and we all heard. So, in a way, it became the first globalized cultural phenomenon.

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