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Salman Rushdie tells personal anecdotes during his talk as this year's annual orator of the Philomathean Society. [Julia Zhou/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Covering everything from his literary masterpieces and controversial political views to being accosted by a bejeweled Indian woman, world-renowned writer and activist Salman Rushdie addressed a packed Irvine Auditorium last night. "I sometimes think that people know too much about me already," chuckled Rushdie as he took the stage and wondered aloud what it must have been like long ago to live in an age when an author's books could be famous while his personal life remained anonymous. Rushdie spoke about his humble beginnings as an author with his first book Grimus. "I had a very bad start as a writer," he admitted, relaying how his first book received the kind of reviews that every author dreads. "It took me a long time to find out where I wanted to go." He then spoke about his book that followed, Midnight's Children, which put him on the track to fame. Starting with the construction of the first sentence, the author talked about the evolution of the work into a symbol of India's generation of independence -- originally it had read, "Most of what matters in your life takes place in your absence," but he quickly decided that it was "too Tolstoy" and replaced it. Within the detailed discussion of his literature, Rushdie managed to tell a multitude of personal anecdotes that repeatedly left the audience laughing out loud. He discussed how there always seem to be people who see themselves as direct characters of his novels. "They're determined to be in them," he asserted. He relayed how on one trip to India, a bejeweled woman whom he had never met in his life came up to him, slapped him playfully on his arm and said, "Naughty boy -- but I see why you had to do it." Confused, Rushdie inquired as to what she meant, discovering that the woman was convinced that a character in one of his novels had been based on her, and she simply could not be convinced otherwise. He then told another story about preparing to purchase an apartment in New York City, when at the last minute, the seller pulled out of the deal. But no one messes with Salman Rushdie -- as a result, Rushdie placed one of his characters in The Ground Beneath Her Feet in that building, in the exact apartment and decorated it as he had planned. "Okay, scumbag, I got your apartment now!" he chuckled, grinning at the memory. A lyrical piece from the same book was even made into a song by U2. He admitted that it greatly excited him to now "have a U2 song on his resume." Rushdie also mentioned the infamous 1989 proclamation for his death issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, but played the situation down with humor. Calling Khomeini "not my favorite person," he proclaimed, "I'd like to call into attention which one of us is dead." When the floor opened to questions, political inquiries started to fly. Prodded to speak about his views on Islam, Rushdie said, "It has slid backwards in the most horrifying ways." He added how in Islamic countries, there is, "a kind of stagnation and oppression of its own citizens that is horrifying to see.... Islam has not served well the Muslim world. When will people wake up to this? The loss of freedom, the loss of everything is dreadful." Other questions ranged from how Rushdie arrives at the names of his characters to his views on rock 'n' roll. In the end, students responded positively to the talk. "He did an excellent job focusing on the literary aspects of his work, while at the same time recognizing the fact that he's in a position to discuss political issues," College senior Sage Anderson said. "I liked how he went off the cuff," College senior Matt O'Dowd added. "For a person once marked for death, he seems to have a pretty positive attitude about it." Rushdie's message to students was both as a writer and influential representation of intellectual freedom. In his own words, "A writer goes out there and conquers bits of the world." The event was put together by the Social Planning and Events Committee's Connaissance branch, the Provost's Spotlight Series and the Philomathean Society.

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