On 26 December 2022, Hanif Kureishi, the celebrated British novelist and screenwriter behind 'The Buddha of Suburbia' and 'My Beautiful Launderette' collapsed in Rome.
Unable to move his arms or legs, the Oscar-nominated scriptwriter, 68, said he thought he was dying.
"I believed I had three breaths left. It seemed like a miserable and ignoble way to die," he said.
"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," he explained in a series of messages posted on Twitter.
"For a few days I was profoundly traumatised, altered and unrecognisable to myself. I am in the hospital. I cannot move my arms and legs. I cannot scratch my nose, make a phone call or feed myself," he said.
The author is being treated at Gemelli hospital in Rome, where he underwent spinal surgery.
"At the moment, it is unclear whether I will ever be able to walk again, or whether I'll ever be able to hold a pen, if there is any assistance that I would be grateful for, it would be with regard to voice-assisted hardware and software, which will allow me to watch, write and begin work again, and continue some kind of half-life."
These messages were all part of a what has become a Twitter diary, keeping his followers updated on his progress in real-time. His ongoing and frequently surprising posts share some intimate thoughts on creativity, grief, backstage anecdotes, cappuccinos and cunnilingus.
The tweets, composed by voice recognition technology and with the help of his son and wife (Isabella d’Amico), have significantly boosted his online following and read like a beautiful stream of consciousness which shows that a brilliant voice has not been silenced. The posts are simultaneously profound, potent, funny and always compulsively readable.
If you haven’t already tuned in, get on it. Here are a few recent extracts from his blog:
"My friend Salman 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. He should know. He gives me courage."
"The nurses attach me to the machine which lifts me from my bed. For a few moments I hang in the air like a fly, my limbs dangle down beneath me. Then it places me nicely in a wheelchair."
"My friend the Maestro comes in with my cappuccino and feeds it to me through a straw. We then have a very complicated conversation with the doctor about how Americans drink cappuccinos at inappropriate times of the day. The doctor said he had heard of an American who had once requested a cappuccino in the evening. The Maestro could not believe that such a thing could have ever happened. It would be like putting jam on pasta, he said."
"I have eaten in fine restaurants. I have dined with scientists, artists and Brian Eno. But spending every night six feet from this injured man, his wails and incessant night-time phone calls, is new to me."
"I considered O’Toole a bit of a cunt despite his fine acting. He said to me, “The only Paki I ever liked was Omar Sharif”. I said, “It’s a bit of a stretch to consider Omar Shariff a Paki but at least one of you was probably a gentleman”."
"I was far more developed than my peers. Trauma saved me and made me into a writer. Something similar is happening here, I am finding a way to cope with the horror of my recent accident."
"I might eventually be capable of a little light cunnilingus, and I imagine myself as a man with a mouth full of mango rather than the last image I had of myself, as a desperate man attempting to open a bag of cashew nuts using only his teeth and a brick wall."
Sometimes I am hopeful, particularly when I am with my friends, all of whom have made remarkable progress. On other days, I feel flat and unmotivated. But writing this blog, which has connected with so many thousands of people, is a good reason for living. So: two victory fingers to my pals and readers. And a finger to the future, Your loving No-hands man, Hanif x"
The son of a Pakistani migrant and an English woman, Kureishi, known for his sharp insights on race, class and multiculturalism in a post-colonial Britain, has been a writer for more than three decades.
His first novel, 'The Buddha of Suburbia', was an international bestseller in 1990 and won the Whitbread book of the year award for a first novel. The book was turned into a four-part television series by the BBC in 1993, with David Bowie providing a song of the same name.
Other extraordinary novels followed, including 1998’s 'Intimacy', dealing with a middle-aged man and his thoughts about leaving his wife and two young sons, and 2003’s 'The Body', a novella which follows a British writer in his sixties who is given the chance to transfer his mind to a younger body.
He is perhaps best known for his screenplay for Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Launderette (1985), a romantic social comedy featuring a gay British Pakistani man and his relationship with a British skinhead. Launching the career of Daniel Day-Lewis, the film was a critique of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies and was nominated for a screenwriting Academy Award.
Kureishi has written several other screenplays, including Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), London Kills Me (1991 – which he also directed) and The Mother (2003), starring Daniel Craig and Anne Reid.
His 2006 screenplay Venus earned best actor nominations at the Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe awards for veteran actor Peter O'Toole.
His most recent novel, 'What Happened?', was published in 2019 and is a stirring and at times comedic collection of essays and fiction revolving around ideas of race, religion and cultural identity.
Kureishi is currently receiving physiotherapy and a physio has now promised him that he will raise a pen again one day. You can read some of his hospital bed dispatches here.