Saturday, June 10, 2000

Rushdie’s retreat in the hills

By Anjali Mahajan

THE obscure town of Solan was recently in the news when Salman Rushdie, the author of the controversial, Satanic Versesvisited his ancestral house, Anees Villa. It was also a dream come true for the celebrated India-born writer who had, for long, wanted to visit Anees Villa, which he left as a 14-year-old in 1962.

Rushdie’s ancestral home, Anees Villa, in Solan — Photo by the writerIncidentally, mediapersons and security men did not know about his visit . By the time journalists could rush to interview the author, he had already left for Delhi to attend the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2000.

It took the 52-year-old Booker Prize-winning author, who spent the last 12 years in hiding after the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, almost five years to finally claim his ancestral home on November 15, 1997. Rushdie’s bungalow on Forest Road, in possession for nearly three decades, was restored to him through mutation papers handed over to his attorney, Vijay T Shankardass.


Salman Rushdie, had often recalled his bond with India and his house at Solan. He had also complained about not being granted a visa during the past decade, despite the fact that he was a non-resident Indian. He had also remarked that how painful it was for a writer not to be able to visit the country of his birth, a country from where he drew a wealth of material for his novels. He had expressed his desire of converting his house into a writers' retreat. His father had gifted Anees Villa to him in July 1969, when he completed 21 years of age. Rushdie, who was accompanied by his son Zafar and attorney Vijay T. Shankardass, said that visiting Anees Villa was an emotional moment for him as he had wanted his son (who would be completing 21 years in two months time) to see the house of his father Maulvi Anees Ahmed. Before dawn on April 12, Rushdie was spotted alighting from a black bulletproof Mercedes, one of the three vehicles in a caravan of six black cars, all bearing New Delhi registration numbers. Accompanied by his son, Zafar, Rushdie was seen running from one room to another and later did a videography session. "Oh I love these majestic deodars and the scenic splendour of the place", he was quoted as having exclaimed.

Rushdie estate, measuring over three bighas with a bungalow and an attached garden, came into the limelight when Rushdie filed a writ petition in the State High Court to seek its intervention for the restoration of his ancestral property to him. He filed the petition following an order passed in 1992 by the then Deputy Commissioner on the plea that there was no claimant for the property.

As a sequel to the District Collector’s order of November 1995, the title of the property went in favour of the late Maulvi. However, Rushdie filed a review petition, claiming he had an exclusive title over the property on the basis of the registered gift deed.

In reply to his notices, the other legal heirs of Maulvi, who included his wife and two daughters, informed the collector that since Rushdie had a registered gift deed, the property could be given to him.

The then D.C. Solan, Srikant Baldi, passed an order by which the property was conceded to Rushdie, keeping in view the eminence of the writer and the Rs 1.54 lakh which had been spent by him for renovating the house, was waived. The Himachal Pradesh government expedited the proceedings as a goodwill gesture, and the house was handed over to Rushdie in November, 1997.

Perched high on a pine-covered slope, Anees Villa was built by Maulvi Anees Ahmed in an area of 2240 sq. km. Maulvi Anees lived here during the summers and left for the plains in the winters when he would hire a watchman to take care of the bungalow. Also called the peeli kothi, this two-storeyed building built in typical British style of architecture is situated at one of the highest points of Solan. The area is highly moisture prone and is also called Shilli because just where its boundary ends, the Shilli Wildlife Sanctuary starts. It is very sunny in the winters and the view from the house is magnificent. There are three chimneys atop the three roofs. The magnificent villa overlooks the bazaar and a cluster of houses leads to a winding, serpent-like road. Above the villa are the terraced stone fruit orchards and a cluster of pine trees. In the 1950s, the house was used as a hostel for a local school.

Solan had a huge Muslim population, a majority of which was engaged in business. After communal riots broke out following Independence, most of the Muslims fled Solan, abandoning their houses and other property. Anees Villa too was abandoned. Following the Partition in 1947, the villa remained unoccupied for approximately two years. It was the registered property of the Maulvi till 1951. However, after some years the house was declared an evacuee property by the state government and subsequently transferred in the name of the Revenue Department of Himachal Pradesh.

Apparently Rushdie’s father first visited Solan in 1925 on a sight-seeing trip. While Rushdie’s mother hailed from Aligarh, his father had businesses spread all over Delhi and Mumbai. Rushdie’s father was a dedicated social worker who was ever ready to help the poor and the downtrodden, irrespective of caste, colour, creed or birth. The Maulvi also owned bungalows in Mumbai, Dalhousie, Musoorie and Flag Staff Marg in Delhi. Salman Rushdie had spent his childhood days in the house at Delhi.

The renovation of the Anees Villa began on a war footing prior to his arrival. The bungalow, which did not have drinking water connection and telephone facility for more than three years, has recently acquired a water connection and two telephone lines.