By Nehru Odeh
Six months after bestselling writer Salman Rushdie was brutally attacked onstage by 24-year-old Hadi Matar at an event in upscale New York, he has shared a never-before -seen photo showing scars to his face and darkened lens to one side of his glasses to obscure his damaged eye, which, alongside other injuries, is the result of that insidious attack.
Rushdie himself released the photo via his Twitter handle on Tuesday 7 November in apparent reaction to the photo the New Yorker had earlier released, still showing him blind in the right eye.
However, Rushdie, in order to set the records straight, and to inform the public how he really looks like, released his own version of the new-look photo saying: “The photo in New Yorker is dramatic and powerful but this, more prosaically, is what I actually look like.”
Still, what makes the release poignant and important is that this is the first time Rushdie is releasing the photo six months after he survived a brutal attack , which aside from the fact that it coincided with the release of his latest book, Victory City, today in the United States, it shows his high spirits, usual sense of humour and defiance.
It is instructive to note that Rushdie places so much importance on that photo because hours after he posted that photo on his Twitter handle, it vanished from his tweets. Rushdie had to tweet the photo for the second time, saying: “The photo seems to have vanished from my tweets. Here it is again, just for the record,” he tweeted.
The Indian -born British writer, who faced death threats for his novel, The Satanic Verses, was attacked in 13 August as he was about to deliver a lecture in New York. He was stabbed 12 times, including in his face, neck and torso.
In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, Rushdie’s literary agent Andrew Wylie disclosed the 75-year-old’s injuries were profound and he had lost the sight of one eye.
“He had three serious wounds in his neck”, Wylie said. “One hand is incapacitated because the nerves in his arm were cut. And he has about 15 more wounds in his chest and torso. So, it was a brutal attack.”
Rushdie is indeed not just the personification of courage; he is a metaphor for the freedom to express oneself and write. And he has proved this enviable but risky trait once again by the interview with David Remnick in The New Yorker and the release of the photo of his new new looks himself, hours after the New Yorker had released a photo alongside the interview. According to the BBC, in the interview his voice is sounding as it ever did – witty, fiercely eloquent, thoughtful, and, crucially, uncowed.
This interview, which could be likened to his public outing, means a lot in the sense that it came alongside a rare photograph of the bestselling writer, blind in an eye but defiant after the attack, on the very day the novel, Victory City was released in the United Staes. Victory City is also scheduled to be released in Europe on 9 February.
Victory City is indeed a victory song for the writer who escaped death by a hair’s breadth and is alive to tell the tale. Completed just before his brutal attack, Victory City tells the story of a nine-year-old girl who has a divine encounter that will change the course of history. And of course, the literary world and the globe have not remained the same after that insidious attack.
Yet Rushdie, still recovering and in high spirits about the release of his latest book, said in the interview he is lucky and grateful. “I’m lucky. What I really want to say is that my main overwhelming feeling is gratitude.”
According to the New Yorker, Rushdie said he was grateful to a number of people: the doctors, the E.M.T workers, the fireman in Chautauqua who stanched his wounds and the surgeons in Erie. “It’s very nice that everybody was so moved by this, you know? I had never thought about how people would react if I was assassinated, or almost assassinated … At some point, I’d like to go back up there and say thank you.”
Rushdie was also grateful to his two grown sons, Zafar and Milan who live in London and his poet wife Griffiths “She kind of took over at a point when I was helpless … “She just took over everything, as well as having the emotional burden of my almost being killed.”
Speaking about his injuries, Rushdie said: “I’ve been better. But, considering what happened, I’m not so bad … The big injuries are healed, essentially. I have feeling in my thumb and index finger and in the bottom half of the palm. I’m doing a lot of hand therapy, and I’m told that I’m doing very well,” adding that it was difficult to write due to a lack of feelings in his fingertips.
“I’m able to get up and walk around. When I say I’m fine, I mean, there are bits of my body that need constant checkups. It was a colossal attack.”
Rushdie also said he has mental scars from the attack and that he is having to rethink his approach to security, having lived without it for more than two decades.
“There is such a thing as PTSD, you know,” he said. “I’ve found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens. I write, but it’s a combination of blankness and junk, stuff that I write and that I delete the next day. I’m not out of that forest yet, really.
Asked if he thinks he should have been more on guard after moving to New York in 2000, having previously lived underground for several years, Rushdie said: “Well, I’m asking myself that question, and I don’t know the answer to it,” he said. “I did have more than 20 years of life. So, is that a mistake? Also, I wrote a lot of books.”
Speaking about Victory City, which he said might have to compete with his real-life drama, he said: “I’m hoping that to some degree it might change the subject. I’ve always thought that my books are more interesting than my life,” he said. “Unfortunately, the world appears to disagree.”
“I’ve always tried very hard not to adopt the role of a victim,” he said. “Then you’re just sitting there saying, ‘somebody stuck a knife in me! Poor me’… Which I do sometimes think!
“But what I don’t think is: That’s what I want people reading the book to think. I want them to be captured by the tale, to be carried away.”
Asked who he is blaming for the attack, Rushdie said he blames Matar the 24-year-old attacker, solely. “I’ve tried very hard over these years to avoid recrimination and bitterness,” Rushdie said. “I just think it’s not a good look. One of the ways I’ve dealt with this whole thing is to look forward and not backwards. What happens tomorrow is more important than what happened yesterday.”
However, Matar, who has been charged with attempted murder, has pleaded not guilty after he stabbed the Booker Prize-winning writer multiple times.