Hanif Kureishi’s Dispatches: an ode to writers in recovery

Hanif Kureishi’s Dispatches: an ode to writers in recovery

by Suswati Basu
Hanif Kureishi's Dispatches. Kureishi speaking in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University on September 8, 2008.
Hanif Kureishi’s Dispatches showcase his recovery. Kureishi speaking in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University on September 8, 2008. (Nrbelex)

There’s some thing so pure and magical about reading the great lyrical writer Hanif Kureishi’s meanderings and dispatches. The My Beautiful Laundrette writer started his newsletter originally in September 2022, but it only took off in January after tragedy struck the beleaguered author. And it turns out his reports on recovery will now be turned into the book Shattered, out in 2024.

Just in October last year, I saw Kureishi pay tribute to his good friend Salman Rushdie as part of a special British Library event to celebrate the writer’s work. The Midnight’s Children author was brutally stabbed while giving a speech in August 2022, and Kureishi was deeply struck by what happened to Rushdie. He said the spectre of fascism was on our doorstep, as Rushdie had spent years escaping a fatwa placed on his head, for his work the Satanic Verses.

Hanif Kureishi among a number of star-studded guests to pay tribute to Salman Rushdie

Unfortunately, Rushdie was not the only one to befall traumatic circumstances. Kureishi revealed that on Boxing Day 2022, while travelling in Rome, Italy, he had a major fall, leaving his arms and legs paralysed. He shared the scene, saying that he “had just seen Mo Salah score against Aston Villa, sipped half a beer, when I began to feel dizzy. I lent forward and put my head between my legs; I woke up a few minutes later in a pool of blood, my neck in a grotesquely twisted position, my wife on her knees beside me.”

Who is Hanif Kureishi?

Hanif Kureishi is a British playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, and novelist. He was born on December 5, 1954, in Bromley, Kent, England. Kureishi is known for his works that explore themes of race, identity, sexuality, and cultural conflict, often drawing from his own experiences as a British Asian. 

He gained widespread recognition for his screenplay for the film "My Beautiful Laundrette" (1985), which was directed by Stephen Frears. The film explored themes of race, sexuality, and social class in 1980s Britain. Kureishi also wrote the novelisation of the screenplay.

Kureishi's notable works include the novel "The Buddha of Suburbia" (1990), which won the Whitbread Award for First Novel, and the screenplays for films such as "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1987), "London Kills Me" (1991), and "Venus" (2006). His writing often reflects his multicultural background and tackles issues of identity, multiculturalism, and the complexities of modern society.

What are Hanif Kureishi’s Dispatches about?

Following the incident, he was hospitalised and needed spinal surgery, and he helplessly wrote that “it is unclear whether I will ever be able to walk again, or whether I’ll ever be able to hold a pen”. His dispatches now come through assisted technologies in the form of dictation software, as well as help from his family. And despite his horrific malady, he continues to provide beautiful prose and hilarious anecdotes from his bedside.

“Everyone has a death waiting for them”

Apart from tales about his friend from Sarajevo bringing home a human penis to his wife and having no idea how it got there, Kureishi showcases existential stories – evoking the style of Jean Paul Satre and Franz Kafka. This includes the story of Arnold in The Premonitions Man, who lost his parents to the Covid-19 pandemic, and spends his time, wallowing in loneliness down a pub. Arnold struggled to live in the present and ended up dropping LSD and became a prophesier, much to the cynicism of people around him. Until he began to predict things that came true, including deaths of people around him.

He met a 79-year-old Buddhist woman, where he predicted she would die of stomach cancer. Kureishi writes: “Addressing those around her, she said. ‘I’m seventy-nine and know that dying isn’t failure.’ And turning to face those sitting at the bar, she continued, ‘Since life is only a passage and not the destination, isn’t it inevitable that I will disappear from the Path in good time? Everyone has a death waiting for them. We should thank the Cosmos for such mercy: there will be an end to suffering.’”

And perhaps the story is an allegory of Kureishi’s own feelings towards mortality at this present time, and the need to stay mindful in the current moment. Of course I won’t say how it ends. You’ll need to read it for yourself to make that judgement call – but the author has been venturing in to fiction, all while observing society and his place in it.

“I never go more than a week without writing something”

At the same time, Kureishi waxes lyrical about his own reality and his life as a writer, who now has a disability. He speaks about having wanted to put pen to paper since childhood, and that it was his vocation, much like the nurses who continue to care for him. He says “I cannot be persuaded out of my desire to write. It is the centre of my being.” Whilst also questioning whether it was an obsession he needs to stop.

“I cannot be persuaded out of my desire to write. It is the centre of my being.”

Hanif Kureishi

“In truth, however, I never go more than a week without writing something,” he admits. But he comes to a realisation, which even though was probably rather obvious before, seems more poignant than ever. That writing can be used as a refuge, as a hiding place. “You are concealing yourself from others and the world, and living entirely in your own mind.” And perhaps he needs this more than ever before to help him through this difficult journey.

And there’s something so bitter-sweet about the fact that Kureishi’s friend Rushdie has been reaching out to him at this time. Brothers in calamity. Kureishi revealed in his January 9th memo that “Rushdie, one of the bravest men I know, a man who has stood up to the most evil form of Islamofascism, writes to me every single day, encouraging patience.” And of course he should know. Rushdie’s injuries were extensive, losing sight in one eye, with his left hand badly damaged.

So this is an ode to the troubled writers suffering together.

An ode to recovering writers

From shattered dreams and fractured despair,
You gather the fragments with tender care.
Your words, like mending threads, weave a tapestry,
Stitching together your wounded identity.

Through the maze of healing, you bravely tread,
Finding solace in the stories left unsaid.
With every line written, a cathartic release,
A pathway to heal, to find inner peace.

Through tragedy's grasp, you found your voice,
A beacon of hope, a reason to rejoice.
In the wake of sorrow, you found strength,
To share your dispatches, no matter the length.

In each dispatch, a testament to your fight,
To seek solace in words, even in the darkest night.
Kureishi, Rushdie your spirits shine so bright,
Through tragedy and triumph, you bring us light.

The memoir, titled Shattered, will be published by Hamish Hamilton, the imprint of Penguin Random House. Follow Hanif Kureishi’s Dispatches on Substack.

Listen to Through the Flames author Allan Lokos on healing.

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