Do You Know About Anis Villa in Himachal's Solan?
The mansion was built by Salman Rushdie's grandfather Muhammad Ulladin
Mumbai-born Author Salman Rushdie (75) is now recovering from serious injuries sustained after he was stabbed in New York. According to news reports the authorities described it as a "targeted, unprovoked, preplanned" attack. Rushdie was stabbed on stage at a literary event in New York on Friday.
Many solidarity statements and many more wishing him a speedy recovery are still being made. People are recalling their own memories, and 'connect' with Rushdie, both personal, and as his readers.
Born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1947 to Anis Ahmed Rushdie and Negin Bhatt Salman Rushdie's link India, is evident in his writing, most of which has the subcontinent at the core. But few are aware that he also has connections with the town of Solan in Himachal Pradesh.
Still standing in one remote corner of the town is Anis Villa, a mansion built by his grandfather Muhammad Ulladin in 1927. The house was reportedly gifted to Salman Rushdie by his father in 1969 on his 21st birthday, although the family had migrated several years back. He had to fight a legal battle in the 1990s to get it back and last visited the property in 2000.
There were reports some years ago that Rushdie wanted to convert this property into a writers' home, but the project never took off. Although there is a caretaker and his family living there, the house that once represented splendour of a bygone era, needs better maintenance.
I visited the house on the evening of August 14, carrying thoughts about the attack on Rushdie, and the journey of the midnight's children as they have come to be known. I also carried memories of the trauma of Partition that my family bore when they moved from Rawalpindi to settle down in this hill town.
The irony was, this is a time when 'reading' is confined mainly to social media on mobiles, and the youngsters of the area were not aware of Rushdie. They did not know much about Anis Villa. Now when everything is defined in the binary of religious or caste identities, all they knew was that a 'Muslim writer was attacked by a fanatic' somewhere in the western world.
When there were reports in the regional papers in the early 1990s of Rushdie approaching the authorities for possession of his property, I, then an aspiring journalist, went to the house of a retired teacher I. D. Sharma who must have been at least in his 80s then. Sharma was aware of the family that had built the Anis Villa. He recalled that the household had contributed towards the education of the people living in the vicinity, particularly girls.
Sharma had shared that the girls from the villages around used to go to the house in late 20s and early 30s to learn Urdu, which was also the lingua franca of these parts at that time.
Reports stated that the mansion had been declared an evacuee property in 1951. It was used as a hostel, and then as a government office in the later years. It was only in the early 1990s that Rushdie staked an ownership claim to it.
The younger generations may be unaware of the historic value of the property, but there were some locals who are fans of Rushdie's writings. Among them was Shammi Ahluwalia, a retired teacher who said, "Rushdie's writings show that he loves India. The ease with which he writes, shows how well versed he is with the history, geography and the culture of the subcontinent. His storytelling makes one think about how the stories of Panchtantra are written."
Namrata Tikoo, also a retired English teacher who had done research on Rushdie's writings, said, "Rushdie loves India but not in the traditional way. He can be sceptical and also critical. He does not convey things merely in black and white, but comes out with the grey as well. His writings are not the run of the mill. He is one of those who taught us to laugh at ourselves. At the same time he never shied from calling a spade a spade. Look at the way he referred to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 'Midnight's Children'. His writings cover the large expanse of the country." However, she added that in her opinion the downside was Rushdie's 'arrogance' .
It is for his plain speak that Rushdie has been the target of the hate mongers across religions. If he was the target of the fatwa issued by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini after his book 'The Satanic Verses', it has been the Hindu right wing that has targeted him for his views on the Gujarat riots and the present political leadership.
In Gujarat it was interesting to see how some of the Muslims right wingers referred to him as 'Suleiman Rushdie' as they criticised him without having read any of his works. The same was the case with most of the Hindu right wing elements. That is how hate factories work.
At the same time those who are aware of his writings and their relevance in the present times felt that writers like Rushue are essential. The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) called him 'an inspirational leader of persecuted writers and journalists'. They issued a statement underlining that, "throughout his life and in his works, Rushdie has stood for the right to artistic expression and for the right to speak truth to power and the right to offend, shock and disturb. As he puts it, 'nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read'."
It was highlighted that Rushdie has been a defender of heterogeneity, diversity and difference and opposed to a monoculture of the mind. "He is a defender of the 'Imaginary Homelands' of literature and says, 'It has always been a shock to me to meet people for whom books simply do not matter, and people who are scornful of the act of reading, let alone writing. It is perhaps always astonishing to learn that your beloved is not as attractive to others as she is to you.' In his view, literature represented the multiplicity and diversity which was the characteristic of plural societies."
Rushdie's words from 'Imaginary Homelands', were also mentioned in the statement, "I come from Bombay, and from a Muslim family, too.'My' India has always been based on ideas of multiplicity, pluralism, hybridity: ideas to which the ideologies of the communalists are diametrically opposed. To my mind, the defining image of India is the crowd, and a crowd is by its very nature superabundant, heterogeneous, many things at once. But the India of the communalists is none of these things'."
While youngsters of Solan might not be aware of the importance of the Anis Villa, or of Rushdie's works, many from an older generation grew up reading 'Grimus', 'Midnight's Children' and 'Shame' at the Moti Lal Nehru Central State Library in this small town. What drew many to Rushdie's works was the ban on 'The Satanic Verses'.