He called himself Joseph Anton, a combination of the first names of two of his favourite writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov; masqueraded as a publisher who, for inexplicable reasons, needed to live in a house with bullet-proof doors and windows; and constantly lived in fear of a potential assassin lurking within shooting distance.
That is how Salman Rushdie spent 10 long years on the run in the wake of the Iranian fatwa ordering his death following the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988. A full account of those nightmarish years is revealed in his new book, Joseph Anton, due out later this month. In a literary conceit, he refers to himself throughout the book in the third person as Mr. Anton.
Describing how overnight “Mr Anton’s” life changed into a horror story, he writes: “He realised in that foot-stepped silence that he no longer understood his life or what it might become.”
In BBC documentary “Imagine,” to be telecast ahead of the book launch on September 18, Rushdie reportedly talks of “being 41 and thinking it pretty unlikely I would see my 42nd birthday”. He recalls what it felt being suddenly deprived of his freedom and shut out from the outside world.
“You are zooming around in armoured Jaguars and people are jumping to open doors. But it didn’t feel grand. It felt like jail. It was also up to me find the houses, places the police would approve of. It was just very cooped up. When I wanted a walk, they would have to take me,” he reportedly says in the documentary.
According to snatches from the book published in The Sunday Times, Rushdie says the police accompanied him everywhere, even to the lavatory, but he declined to wear a wig as a disguise.
Rushdie, who lived in 20 different “safe houses,” spent the first weekend of the fatwa locked inside a bedroom in a hotel.
“One of the other guests was a journalist from the Daily Mirror, who had taken a neighbouring room with a lady who was not his wife,” he writes.
Rushdie’s protection team always worried that “they” would get him in the end. In the end, though, “Mr. Anton” survived to tell the tale.