Sunday, January 18, 2004


NEW DELHI — Author Salman Rushdie fled the city of his birth last week after demonstrations calling for him to be killed were staged outside his hotel in Bombay.

Islamic protesters brandished banners that read, “Kill Salman Rushdie” and “Kill Rushdie, the white-collar terrorist,” outside the Taj Mahal hotel, where the author was staying with his girlfriend, model and actress Padma Lakshmi.

Mr. Rushdie, who was forced into hiding in 1989 after a fatwa(decree) demanding his death was issued by Muslim fundamentalists, was visiting Bombay for the first time in 15 years. He went to see members of his family and research a book, but left just five days into his stay after Islamic organizations issued a press release condemning his presence.

Earlier, Mr. Rushdie had told local reporters of his pleasure at “coming home” and that he was “enjoying every minute of being here.”

The “security angle was no longer an issue,” he said, adding that he intended to return more often.

The protesters threatened to “take the law in their hands” if the Indian government did not expel Mr. Rushdie, who was condemned to death by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late Iranian spiritual leader, after his novel “The Satanic Verses” was published in 1989. The fatwa, accusing Mr. Rushdie of blasphemy, never has been lifted.

“Until this man apologizes for what he has written, we will continue to campaign against him,” said Muhammad Saeed Noori, general secretary of the Raza Academy, one of the groups opposing Mr. Rushdie.

The Islamic groups offered to pay about $2,200 to anyone who succeeded in shaming the writer by “blackening” his face.

Until Mr. Rushdie and Miss Lakshmi, who also is Indian, were spotted in a restaurant in Bombay, they had traveled unnoticed around Rajasthan, Delhi and Madras. The protests apparently were sparked by an interview published in the Times of India newspaper last week in which Mr. Rushdie said: “I’ve tried to keep in touch with Indian politics as best as possible, but it’s just the same old mess.”

Security was tightened later at the hotel, though Mr. Rushdie’s attorney, Vijay Shankardass, denied that the protests drove the author — whose ancestral home is in Himachal Pradesh, in northern India — out of the country.

“Mr. Rushdie left when he was scheduled to leave,” he said. “Although people threatened him, they didn’t do anything about it.”

Miss Lakshmi did not return with Mr. Rushdie. She is thought to have stayed in India to research her role in a forthcoming film in which she plays an Indian immigrant in the United States.

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