The “match that lit the fire” that would soon consume Rushdie’s life was struck by someone he considered a friend: the journalist Madhu Jain, who interviewed him for India Today. The magazine then ran the piece and an excerpt from the book under headlines that Rushdie found objectionable and misleading: “An Unequivocal Attack on Religious Fundamentalism” and “My Theme Is Fanaticism.” Two Muslim members of the Indian Parliament, Syed Shahabuddin and Khurshid Alam Khan, took offense at the excerpt and responded with letters to the editor. The book had not even been published in India yet. A prominent Sikh columnist and novelist, Khushwant Singh, had read an advance copy; he now called for a ban. From there, The Satanic Verses quickly moved into the nebulous realm of the contentious. A few British newspapers fed on the controversy brewing in India, in pieces that quoted anonymous sources deriding Rushdie for his ego or his education. Literary reviews began to appear—some excellent, others not—but the book was already becoming more than just a work of art: it was seen as a political statement by a willfully offensive author.
more from Laila Lalami at The Nation here.