When I saw that Padma Lakshmi had exposed in gritty detail the ins and outs of her three-year marriage to Salman Rushdie, I wanted to do two things: give her a hug because she went through it, and buy her a drink because she left him.
To say her account of Rushdie’s behaviour during their marriage is unflattering would be an understatement. In an interview to promote her memoir Love, Loss and What We Ate, published this week, the former model described her ex?husband as a man who appeared needy; who was begrudging of her success; and who wanted her at his beck and call. As their marriage soured, she claimed that he once referred to her as a “bad investment”.
I immediately recognised the relationship described. Most women know these men. The kind of men who claim they “love women” (“I love my mother!”, “I love their smell!”, “What would the world be without women?”), but what they mean is, they love the idea of a woman.
They love women as a figment of their imagination; vanilla? scented and stress-free. There to listen to them and nourish them. This figment doesn’t have problems or goals of her own.
She doesn’t bleed, cry or complain. She is merely an accessory to his life; an extra in his film.
And — here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write — we have all dated a Salman Rushdie. A man who showers you with attention at the beginning, who makes an art of courtship when you’re nothing but a dazzling appendage on his arm, but seemingly loses interest when it isn’t all about him.
I watched a friend have a serious stint with a man like this. For six long months she was entangled in a thankless romance with her own Salman Rushdie. Initially, he could not have been more attentive. He bombarded her with texts; he wanted to see her all the time. He immediately involved her at the centre of his life, always introducing her to his friends or inviting her to dinner parties. But after a few months, things started to unravel. He saw her drunk for the first time; being uninhibited in a crowd in a way she hadn’t been before. She told stories, instead of listening in awe to his. She made people laugh, instead of giggling on cue at his jokes. He was cold and distant over the following week and barely returned her calls. He also got “freaked out” when she wanted to talk to him about a problem she was having at work and said he “didn’t know what to do”, as if a crying woman is as confusing as a crying baby that you don’t know whether to feed or burp. Then he forgot her birthday - and asked if she could make dinner, as he’d run out of cash. So she made steak bearnaise and spent the evening talking about an issue he was having with a creative project. She was always heading off to his home at the end of the night, while he didn’t even know which postcode she lived in.
It seems appropriate here to quote from Mr Rushdie’s Booker-winning triumph Midnight’s Children: “I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine... to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world.”
It seems a shame that a man who, on paper, has such a developed understanding of the complexities of human nature - of the millions of flecks of experience we are made up of - can reduce a woman to feeling like she is a two-dimensional presence on the sidelines of his intricate existence. It is perplexing to think that in his own life he would try to create a central character with a two-word description and nothing else: My Wife.