For the past two weeks, I have been gorging upon the HBO Series, Curb Your Enthusiasm. In the Third Episode of the Ninth Season, I was pleasantly surprised to watch a very ridiculously disguised Larry David walk into a room where Salman Rushdie expected him. Rushdie, damn! He seemed so alive, dapperly dressed, looked delightfully rosy and plump, almost like a cherub! Only a bow was missing, he else would have resembled Saladin Chamcha or Gibreel Farishta from the Verses. This episode was telecast in 2017. The fatwa on Rushdie’s head was by then more than a quarter of a century old. Joseph Anton had already been published and forgotten. The fatwa still stood, but as Salman told Larry, “Well, you know, it’s there. But fuck it.” As I write this piece, Salman lies on a hospital bed in New York, recovering from a near fatal stabbing at the hands of an Islamic fundamentalist, might possibly lose an eye, and a lot of his vitality. If he is lucky, that is.
It is easy to blame Salman Rushdie for having become complacent, but that would be missing the point. Salman knows well that a fatwa once issued can never be withdrawn, even if it is taken back for tactical reasons. Fatwas are not financial instruments, rather divine directions. A Faithful is expected to obey a fatwa in its letter and spirit. You cannot take back a divine injunction, can you? For the sake of saving one’s face or image, one can practice Al-Takiyaa, and make a show of withdrawing the order, but make no mistake, the command shall eternally stand. It is up to the daredevil believers, Soldiers of Gods, Hunters of Fortune, to obey the fatwa and act on it, and later encash the promised rewards in this world, and the next. What could the ‘blaspheme’ have done anyways? Avoided going to book releases and readings, lecture tours, literary festivals and other public events? Can one blame the security either? That would be too convenient.
Coming back to the third episode (S09E03), I should have seen this coming. Everything was building up towards that tete-a-tete. The Ninth Season had begun with Larry David submitting a script titled, ‘Fatwa, the Musical’ to Jeff, his best friend and long-time manager. It was about Rushdie, and the whole fracas surrounding the Satanic Verses, and the bans and the Fatwa that followed. Sure enough, it made huge waves, and many producers displayed keen interest. But then Larry got invited to the Jimmy Kimmel Show where he went overboard with his lampooning of the Ayatollah, and turned himself into the new target of the rabid mullahs. A Fatwa was promptly issued against Larry by the Ayatollah- he was declared an enemy of the Muslims worldwide, and a prize was declared on his head.
Larry, being the hyper-cautious, over-dramatic, obsessive-compulsive, idiosyncratic, curious oddity that he was, went into a tizzy. Producers shunned him, his friends disappeared, he was saddled with a sensitive bodyguard he didn’t want and as a matter of last resort, bought a hideous wig to hide his bald pate and pasted a bushy moustache over his lips. Finding the FBI and the local law enforcement least bothered about the threat perception, he moved around the town in his farcical disguise, and wore himself down with fear and anxiety. That’s when he reached out to Rushdie to learn more about his experience, and the latter responded with his been-there-done-that kind of calm manner. Remember this was 2017! In his mind, Rushdie had already ridden the storm, and had emerged safely on the American side of the Atlantic.
Rushdie began by easing Larry’s fears, who confessed to being at his wits’ end. He insisted that his first name was Salman, with stress on the second syllable, and not Sal-mon, with stress on the first (as Larry had addressed him). Then Salman summoned the decades of his accumulated wisdom and poured it upon LR-
“It’s all those things- it’s scary, it’s bewildering etc. etc., but then there are things you gain. There are a lot of women who are attracted to you in this condition. You are a dangerous man.”
This sounded like music to Larry’s ears, but he raised he characteristic doubts.
“Even in my case? Would they get attracted even to me?”
“It’s not exactly you, it is the fatwa wrapped around you. Like sexy pixie dust. But you have to stop acting like a wuss. Come on, you look like a person trying to hide. Be a man, stop this, and fatwa sex will follow. The best sex there is!”
Calling him out for being pathetic, and seeking to help him look like the ‘man of danger’ that he had become, Salman pulled and removed Larry’s luxurious wig.
“Now the fatwa sex is beginning to surround you,” Salman told him. An excited Larry responded by pulling at his moustache and throwing it away.
The duo, the Fatwa Boys, headed to a restaurant, where people turned around to notice them. Larry noticed the gapes and the gazes and became overexcited. Salman Rushdie eagerly asked who Larry had in mind to play the author in the Broadway show.
“Jerry Alexander”, LR blurted.
“Do you mean ‘George’ Jerry Alexander?,” Salman was disappointed. “He is shorter than me.”
The narcissist in him wanted Hugh Jackman to play him, but LR ridiculed his vanity in no uncertain terms. Larry also suggested that since ‘Fatwa-The Musical” was never going to be made given that producers were too afraid to risk it, it was a moot point anyways. Salman also mentioned another big advantage of living under the scourge of fatwa- one could always use it as an excuse and avoid going someplace, or doing something, by mentioning the risk due to fatwa. By that time, Elizabeth Banks, had sent a drink over to Larry, and Salman asked him to stop wasting his time with the author, and go over to chat with the lovely lady, obviously hooked to the ‘man enveloped by danger.’
Salman’s prophesy came true. Larry did score with Banks. The author played his part really well, seemed utterly confident before the camera, holding his own in front of LR. Jihadis are gonna rue the missed chance. A One-eyed Rushdie shall be irrepressible. Having become the mascot of free speech, I expect him to win the Nobel in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, another assassin somewhere must be sharpening his blade, because the fatwa still stands.
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