Born in India, Sir Salman Rushdie, 73, worked as an advertising copywriter after leaving university. His second book, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker prize in 1981, and was named the Best of the Booker in 2008. His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988 and led to a fatwa. Quichotte, which was Booker-shortlisted in 2019, is out in paperback on 23 July. Rushdie lives in New York, has been married four times and has two children.
When were you happiest?
I’m pretty happy right now, although the plague is a problem. I got the virus early, and was unwell for two and a half weeks. I was spared the worst symptoms; I realise more strongly every day that I’m one of the very lucky ones.
What is your earliest memory?
Sitting on my father’s shoulders on Malabar Hill in Bombay, watching Sherpa Tenzing Norgay waving from an open car after the first ascent of Everest in 1953.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Too embarrassed to say.
What is your most treasured possession?
A small, inch-high silver ingot dating from June 1947 and engraved with the unpartitioned map of India. I was given it when I was one day old, so it’s my oldest possession
Who would play you in the film of your life?
The last time I was asked this question I said, “Johnny Depp, because of the strong physical resemblance,” and the tabloid journalist thought I was being serious.
What is your favourite word?
The End. That’s two words. Apologies.
What do you owe your parents?
To my father, I owe my secularist world view. To my mother, I owe everything else.
Which book changed your life?
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. Or, maybe, a Superman comic book. They gave me the reading bug, and that led inexorably to the writing bug.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A writer, I’m sorry to say. Boring, I know, but true.
What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
I was about 22 and had been invited to a fashionable party in Chelsea. I was introduced to a well-known designer, who turned and walked away. Ten minutes later, he scurried back and said: “I’m sorry I was so rude to you. You see, they told me you were Jewish.” I still remember his name but let me pretend that I’ve forgotten it.
Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I’ll stay here, thanks. The past has bad dentistry.
When did you last cry, and why?
Watching Sooni Taraporevala’s film Yeh Ballet on Netflix. It took me back to Bombay – a surprisingly powerful burst of nostalgic emotion.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Nineteen books. Twenty next year…
What has been your closest brush with the law?
During the 1990s, when I needed police protection, I became good friends with quite a few officers of the law.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing. I sleep like a baby.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To thine own self be true.
Tell us a secret
I still haven’t finished Middlemarch.