Salman Rushdie

2 Stories

Padma Lakshmi

'Love, Loss, and What We Ate'


Padma Lakshmi’s life is certainly something to write about, so it’s fortuitously appropriate that the Indian-born TV host, model, actress, and author has published her first memoir, ‘Love, Loss, and What We Ate.’ The New York Times best-selling book doesn’t shy away from details about Lakshmi’s eventful life, from her childhood and modeling days, to her marriage to Salman Rushdie, and the affair that led to one of the best joy of her life – motherhood. Naturally, the book weaves a motif of food throughout, tying in nicely the idea that life is full of flavors. After an excerpt reading of the memoir at NeueHouse Madison Square, Lakshmi answered some questions for us, touching upon everything from re-focusing insecurities into skills and the happiness of having nothing to do.


NeueJournal: This memoir was difficult for you to write because of its incredibly personal nature. What enabled you to finally write the book?


Padma Lakshmi: It evolved from a book I was commissioned to write on healthy eating. The deeper I went in the subject matter and the more context I gave, the more I realized a narrative arc was taking shape, and that this was becoming more of a memoir, punctuated by food.


NJ: In the book you talk about insecurities of all types and learning to overcome them. Do you think this pressure comes more from an outward place or an inward place? How do you feel women, particularly, can learn to overcome these societal pressures?


PL: That’s a hard question- I suppose it comes technically from both places. You can’t control the images the media feeds you, and at the same time, it’s hard not to internalize ideals that we’re constantly being fed, consciously as well as subliminally. The only way to overcome these types of insecurities as women is to find something more important that defines you. Find a skill, and hone it. Move your energy from focusing on what you don’t have to building upon what you do.


NJ: Looking back, what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your experiences?


PL: That life is cyclical, and nothing lasts forever. Not the good, not the bad, not even the ugly. I’ve also learned that even the difficult times I’ve gone through or the mistakes I’ve made have great value, because they shaped who I am.


NJ: If you could re-live a moment in your life, which would it be and why?


PL: I suppose the only thing I would want to relive is my daughter’s life as a toddler. Or maybe getting on The New York Times best-seller list?


NJ: What do you consider your biggest achievement?


PL: Personally, my child. Professionally, this memoir.


NJ: In your opinion, what is the worst question women in entertainment industries get asked?


PL: How we women ‘manage it all.’ No one ever asks a man how he balances a career with making time for his family.


NJ: What is the last thing you ate? What is the last thing you cooked?


PL: I just ate my way through Paris with my daughter, who herself ate half the macaroons in Paris. And then I promptly returned home and made lentils and rice.


NL: If you could describe your life at the moment with a food dish, which would it be?


PL: A stew of some kind, where everything has been cooking for a while, and I finally feel like the different elements have simmered together into this memoir.


NJ: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?


PL: Misery is an empty fridge.


NJ: What does happiness mean to you? When and where are you happiest?


PL: Happiness is a Sunday where I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything, and I am just free to spend the whole day with my daughter, cooking in the kitchen.


Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal 

Salman Rushdie

Wisdom from one of the world’s great living sages

SR-Portrait-Composite copy

Although Salman Rushdie is, most simply, a prominent international literary figure, his work as a novelist and essayist is far from what defines him. That is, Rushdie is more than the sum of his written words, but a personality that we collectively turn to for general edification and insight. He stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square for a talk/reading to celebrate his new book, “Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights”, which is out today via Random House. We spoke with Rushdie during his visit, hoping to glean some wisdom from one of the world’s great living sages.



NeueJournal: How has your worldview changed over the last decade?



Salman Rushdie: It’s not so much that my worldview has changed. I think the world has changed a lot. Technology has transformed it on the one hand, and politics have got much nastier. So, I am really interested in the transformation that the communication revolution is making and, on the other hand, I think politically it’s a really bad time.



NJ: What’s your favorite place on earth?



SR: I think probably right here in New York City. I came here a very long time ago when I was young. I must have been about 25 and I came here in the early 70s. It was a very different New York — a much dirtier, poorer and, in many ways, a much younger New York. It was cheaper for people to live in places like the Village, SoHo and so on. All the young people and young artists were still giving the place its character. I just fell in love with it. I thought one of these days that I would just put myself here and see what happens, and now I’ve been here 16 years and it was exactly what I thought would happen which is, you know, love at first sight.



NJ: Where do you never want to live?



SR: Tehran, Iran. I just wouldn’t last very long.



NJ: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?



SR: Chastity. It’s boring.



NJ: What is your idea of perfect happiness?



SR: Perfect happiness is hard to find. I love my work. There are moments when a book is coming to life and going well which are very exhilarating. So there’s that, and the rest of it is not very exciting, but it’s just family and friends, as you know, and I’m blessed with a lot of wonderful friends like Opera. I have two great sons, so hanging around with them. Actually going on a holiday with my boys is kind of the nicest thing in the world.



NJ: What is your idea of utter misery?



SR: Misery! If I got to a point where I couldn’t do my writing.



NJ: What is your most treasured possession?



SR: Oh, I have a thing. When I was one day old a friend of my father’s gave him as a gift for me a little silver brick that’s about an inch high and on it is engraved a map of India and I carry that with me wherever I go.



NJ: What item do you find easy to dispose of?



SR: Pens! I lose dozens every day.



NJ: What are your top 5 favorite books?



SR: That’s a hard one because it changes. Authors I would say: James Joyce, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Marquez, and Franz Kafka.



Right now, I am actually reading a lot of nonfiction at the moment because I am going to be teaching at NYU, so I’ve been reading a lot of narrative nonfiction like In Cold Blood, Schindler’s List, Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Susan Orlean’s Orchid Thief, among others… A whole lot of these narrative nonfiction books which I’m going to be teaching at NYU, so I’m really enjoying reading that.



NJ: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?



SR: Somebody once told me that I should give up writing and concentrate on earning a living. That was bad advice.



NJ: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?



SR: My older son, for whom I wrote this children’s book — I had a first draft of it and he said he thought it might be boring, and I said why is that and he used this wonderful term which was that it’s because it doesn’t have enough “jump” in it. Not enough “jump,” and I knew completely what he meant. He meant get on with it and I thought, okay, I can do “jump.” So, I took it back and wrote it again and he said yes, now it was okay.



NJ: What is your greatest accomplishment?



SR: Two children.



NJ: On what occasion do you lie?



SR: Times like this [laughs].



NJ: On what occasion do you never lie?



SR: Oh, well, I try not to lie to my children and I try to encourage a relationship of openness and truth because I think that is a good way to be. I’m not saying never — I have lied, but, as a whole, I think that’s the occasion.



NJ: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?



SR: There is a word or phrase I overuse. I say, “You know”. All the time I’m saying, “You know, you know”. Um is bad, but “you know” is worse.



NJ: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?



SR: Slowness. I’m very slow at writing. I’d much prefer it if I was faster.



NJ: What is the trait you most deplore in others?



SR: Dishonesty.



Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal