A Study In Dream, Fantasy & Realism
The Dreams of British Indian Kubla Khan/ The Hindustani Don Quixote of British Indian Cervantes
And the first grey of morning fill'd the east,
And the fog rose out of the Oxus stream.
But all the Tartar camp along the stream
Was hush'd, and still the men were plunged in sleep;
Sohrab alone, he slept not; all night long
He had lain wakeful, tossing on his bed;
But when the grey dawn stole into his tent,
He rose, and clad himself, and girt his sword,
And took his horseman's cloak, and left his tent,
And went abroad into the cold wet fog,
Through the dim camp to Peran-Wisa's tent.
— Matthew Arnold in Sohrab and Rustum
Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
“Time,” they had briefed him in London, “is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.”
— W. H. Auden in Partition poem
Sir Salman Rushdie is one of those writers of the diaspora dais and the postcolonial platform who have really shaken the foundations of our conventional thought and idea with his new found theories of coloniality, post-colonaility, nation, nationhood, nationalism, history, politics, society, art, culture, constructing and deconstructing it all, busting the myths of prejudice, hypocrisy and sham living. His thesis and anti-thesis, treatises and documents are the documents of human thought and thinking, what a logical mind argues it, refutes, contradicts and accepts it. What the historians have left it Salman Rushdie is saying all that magically applying the tools of phantasmagoria, allegory, satire, sarcasm, irony, fun, comic and humour mocking it down, what is it history, what it politics, what it mind-set and it vested interests of the parties concerned. The freedom drama, the drama of azadi none understood it well, what it went in the making of a nation, a history; setting of human thought none could feel it then and the nation was divided mindlessly without keeping in good governance and administration in mind. A British Indian writer, Salman Rushdie is not only a novelist, but an essayist, a memoir-writer, a talk-giver, a lecture-deliverer, a paper-reader, a reviewer, a columnist and what not. He need not be introduced, as the world knows it well, who Salman Rushdie is. Educated at Cathedral and John Cannon School, Bombay, Rugby School, Warwickshire, King’s College, Cambridge, he worked as a copywriter for Ogilvy and Mather and wherefrom he started his journey of writing Midnight Children to be a full-time writer. Grimus (1975) is the first with which he started his writing career, but it did not attract the readers. But the second, Midnight’s Children (1981) dealing with India’s tryst with freedom and history, the dawn of a democracy, nascent politics won him the Booker Prize with the scenes and happenings going within internally at the consciousness layers which the politicians, separatists and historian were not aware of what it went in the making of history and holding of debates. Shame (1983) followed in with the turmoil in Pakistan with Sikander or Iskander and Raza busy in doing politics, hatching of plots and conspiracies and Intrigues. But the Satanic Verses blew the storm, took the world by hurricanes and tempests and we cannot explain it as for what, what it disturbed the quell, calm composure. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, London, of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he is one of the most famous writers of the world with so many prizes and awards and doctorates in his credit. One book after another has tumbled from the pen of the author, The Moor’s Last Sigh appeared in 1995, The Ground Beneath Her Feet in 1999, Shalimar the Clown in 2005, The Enchantress of Florence in 2008, The Golden House in 2017, Quichotte in 2019.
It is indeed a tougher job to evaluate and assess a writer of the stature of Salman Rushdie; to comprehend his mind and vision; his psyche, persona, protagonist, mouthpiece and spokesman, as his is a complex space drawing and deriving from history, art and culture, local, national, continental and postcolonial as well, but is very difficult to say what he is, a Kubla Khan or a Dr. Faustus for the kiss of Helen or a Sohrab and Rustum fighting, a bundle of thesis and anti-thesis like George Bernard Shawian or one of contraries and contradictions? What is he indeed, a Charles Lamb of Dream Children: A Reverie or a Bollywood man under romance and fantasy? Or just like William Hazlitt's Indian Jugglers he juggling with the balls, seeing the acrobatic skills of the tightrope walkers? Or a magician, a master of black art ? Who is this writer Lawrentine, Shawian, Orwellian? Who is this hero going from Bollywood to Hollywood? Clutching freedom of speech and expression, fearing none whoever comes it on the way, so brave and undaunted and daring, this is none but Sir Salman Rushdie. A talker like George Bernard Shaw, a satirist and laugher like Cervantes creating the character of Don Quixote, a Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels and an Orwell of his stature writing political satires rebuffing nation and nationality, racial prejudice and old theosophical mind-set using dream fantasy and magic realism. Is he the Alexander Pope and John Dryden of Indian English fiction and non-fictional prose? Or, is he a Prospero reigning in Caliban with his black art? Caliban’s magic and music he is hearing in the post-colonial period after destructing and re-constructing it all.
“CHILDREN love to listen to stories about their elders, when they were children; to stretch their imagination to the conception of a traditionary great-uncle or grandame, whom they never saw. It was in this spirit that my little ones crept about me the other evening to hear about their great-grandmother Field, who lived in a great house in Norfolk (a hundred times bigger than that in which they and papa lived) which had been the scene—so at least it was generally believed in that part of the country—of the tragic incidents which they had lately become familiar with from the ballad of the Children in the Wood. ”
— Charles Lamb in Dream Children: A Reverie
Here Saleem Sinai recounts and reconnects the story of the Partition, that of the Indian sub-continent in Midnight's Children, its bifurcation, the tryst with freedom in the same manner as Charles Lamb does it in Dream Children, K. A. Abbas in The Refugee, Krishan Chunder in The Peshawar Express, Khushwant Singh in Train to Pakistan, George Orwell in Shooting An Elephant and George Bernard Shaw in Freedom.
The Partition story, how does he tell to so comically, in a funny way just one alluding to anecdotes and narratives, with the tongas, bullock-carts and trains loaded with passengers, public coming and going and ferrying, transporting, but many trespassing as pedestrians, leaving their homes and belongings, where they are going? This the politicians could not feel it then, this much they could not take to their heart. Salman Rushdie tells the same in a sarcastic manner the sardonic truths of the Partition drama of Fakru Mian and Mr. Pandit. What is strange is this none could take to feel the sensitivity of the matter and think about the perishing people driven out of their places to take to the paths and to be the refugees.
Rushdie as Sanajaya telling the whole to Dhritrashtra what did it happen to the Kauravs and Duryodhana in the battle-field of Kurushetra. The story is almost like the same. Or, just like Abhimanyu yet to be born on the Partition night he overhears it all the dirty politics they are doing from the mother’s womb to take action in the form of literature sometime later on.
Now the question is, the power has been handed over, the transfer of power from the British to the Indians, but will they be able to rule, is the question in askance and even they, how will? Using allegories, Sinai has shown it all, from Hindustan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the Emergency.
Midnight's Children is a fantastic book dealing with India' tryst with midnight freedom in a novel way and the politicians sitting thereon to divide the nation for the chair, but Saleem as a child just born overhearing all that, giving an ear to the whispers and talks doing the rounds, but saying it not all as for the materials to be used in the book to come, feeling within to hold the conferences of the midnight children and to plan for a prospective future, but the things taking a turn otherwise and this is what he means to say herein with fun, satire and magic realism. A rare work of fantasy and imagination, fancy and realism, humour and distorted facts of history, it can charm as well as surprise us with the ideas germinating, opening new avenues of thought and idea. Why was India partitioned? Who partitioned? Was the chair more important than the common people? What the historians have failed to say or mean have been clipped and curtailed and suppressed, he has told them just by the way. People's governance is more important than the transfer of power. This is what he means to relay it. What had it been the expectation of the people and what did they get, come to feel?
“Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool. ”
— George Orwell in Shooting An Elephant
I do not know if there is a book of the kind of Satanic Verses where the author takes liberties with myth and prophecies and transforms them into magical realism and paradox to suit his fantasy and narrative, a rare work of art to have been done in the history of world thought so dreamy, so visionary and allegorical at same time we read it with interest and so much profit. Why to libel and slander it? Those who are fanatical and conservative will not; those who are educated and progressive will. Was Milton's Lucifer not so? Is his Paradise Lost not? There is so much of caricature, joke, fun, comedy and reality too in it. There is also some sense to reason and show the truths. Who Satan, what it in God, what it in the prophecy, where did prophecies come from? But people take in their own way. Salman Rushdie falls in the category of controversial writers as was D. H. Lawrence, as was Khushwant Singh.
What it comes upon the mind of Salman Rushdie, none can it about as he keeps changing places from Himachal Pradesh to Bombay to London to New York, a writer who keeps rebutting the colonial dialogues and keeps deriving and drawing from memory, remembrance, reminiscence, memoir, memento, souvenir. A world without the borders which the religionists and fanatics understand and approve of it not. Those who are shameless, how will they take to shame, delicacy and etiquette?
It is really a matter of shame even if they understand it not the geopolitical, the socioeconomic realities of the sub-continent and try it not to come to terms is but the other side of the story, but what it strikes us most is their friction, the clash in opinion and the desire to supersede each other driven by the lust for power. Though unnamed it is perhaps his no-man's land and let it be so as the indications are quite clean which country he is indicating it through his Forsterian Notes on the English Character and Where Angels Fear To Tread. Rather than shaming the nation, they could have developed as per a welfare state. What is it his characteristic feature is that he makes us burst and bubble into a laughter with his caricature and comicality.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Kubla Khan
Who is this Quichotte, Salman Rushdie's or Cervantes'? Whose creation is this? Don Quixote is definitely not there, but Miguel de Cervantes. Medieval chivalry not, but spy thrillers have done with the brain of the protagonist. Who the Sancho Panza telling the story in Salman's Quichotte? Who the Alanso Quijano after all in the end?
The Golden House is a story of an old billionaire coming from foreign shores to New York’s Greenwich Village to settle with his eccentric sons just on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, so different and varying in nature, but without anyone to look after the household till a Russian joins the caravan seconded by a filmmaking neighbour to derive and draw from the golden house. What is golden, who can but say it? To joke, make fun of is the specialty of Salman Rushdie.
What is golden about The Golden House? Is it about the presidential candidature yet to come in the years? Is it about the power of wealth or the power of politics making way to and how the end? Nationality, nationhood, citizenship, loyalty, lust of power and pelf, immigration and the quest for identity how to deal with? Who is from where and where one's own house, how to say it, who can but say it?
A house, what can it be, how can it be in the absence of a house-keeper? Is money and assets all, power and glory, gala and glitz? How to cope up with global grandeur and modernity, immigration and internationalism? Where is peace really? Is peace not a state of mind, of being complacent? Is life a study in eccentricity?
The Ground Beneath Her Feet, whose love story, where is he tagging, I don’t know, where is he Rushdie going, from Hindu India to Orpheus’ Greece to America and with his what Calibanism? How is Othello’s love for Desdemona? How the hocus-pocus, the black box and the mantra of Salman Rushdie the magician of narratives?
Imaginary Homelands, where will he take to, what will he discuss, none can say it about, what it in his mind and heart, a writer colonial-postcolonial, transgressing the boundaries of nationality and nationhood an internationalist is he constructing and deconstructing the things, taking it all in his stride, racial pride and prejudice, immigration and refugee influx, modernity and modernism, urbanity and dislocation, myth and busting of it, classicism and classics, trend and tradition, fiction and fictional stuffs, their mind-set, behavior and mannerism to see it all in the mirror of time as passing things, the whole in a flux of generational consideration and re-consideration, review and purview. A collection of diasporic writings, it is about location and disconnection, connection and disconnection and resettlement, the essays and critical pieces are but his random reflections on the present state of things and the creative pursuits going worldwide.
Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism is a collection of essays and writings, tidbits and chitchats, reviews, thoughts and opinions with regard to the midnight children of freedom, the sub-continental division and intra-rivalry and fracas, taking into consideration together with border skirmishes, narrow allegiances to faith and loyalties which but it all discusses he here in this work. imaginary Homelands is but about the imaginary people imagining about their homes in their own way, taking British India, Muslim India, Hindu India and it all into discussion, whatever there is to be extracted jocularly with a tinge of Hindustani English used by Kipling and Furtado. The lands are settled, not purchased, as the deeds reflect it over the passage of time and the records from the land registration office say it. Just the mutation is done. So, what to say it more?
Joseph Anton: A Memoir is a recollection, a reminiscence of the days spent in hiding, days not, years escaping the fatwa hanging over and he in order to avoid it changing locations and identity and the present book is the result of that escape and refuge for having uttered the controversial things, for doing blasphemy and for which he must bear with the capital punishment. But Salman under the disguise, pseudonym of Joseph Anton means Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov kept hiding to make a living somehow just like the hard times to give a test to and to pass through the ordeal. Joseph Anton himself living in the company of police men, security staff, intelligence men and detectives turns into a high profile boss whose movement lies it restricted. But apart from the fear of life risk, terror attack and hatred spilling into malign the self of the writer.
Who is this Joseph Anton, it is none but Rushdie himself writing under the pseudonym of and that too during the hiding time, moving from place to place, house to house in search of a safe haven, security and shelter, taking the name of Joseph from Joseph Conrad and Anton from Anton Chekhov to deal with the time of crisis and its management avoiding public gaze and averting the fatwa issued by, escorted by the security staff, detectives and intelligence men and all that anonymously. But this too could not deter him from writing, opening his mind and thoughts, as such was his guts and personality. Joseph Anton is a memoir of that period of crisis and tackling of the situation and his personality to shrug off what it came on the way to freedom of speech and expression.
The Moor’s Last Sigh, what has he to do with India, a king of Granada looking back for the last time when expelled from? Is it connected with his own exile and alienation from Bombay? Is it Babar’s looking over or that of the Hindu chauvinists’ indicative of nationalism? Whatever be that, it is a book of India, Bombay, Cochin, Granada, Goa and Pondicherry wherever the merchant ships used to land from foreign in the hoary days of the past. It is a looking, re-looking on our relationships, the bonds of history working and disenchanted with and misinterpreted. What did it happen after the demolition of the Babri mosque? The Bombay riots, the terrorist activities carried out with bombings, he thinks in the aftermath of all that, how to forge the alliances even if un-negotiable?
Step Across This Line is a collection of columns, random reflections, tidbits, chit-chats, articles, reviews, thoughts and ideas and gossips of Salman Rushdie whose prose is but a medley of all intermixing history, nativity, politics, travel, journalism, comic, fun, caricature and humour and his conversations range from the freedom of the press to the freedom of speech and expression and he distort the things for his purpose. Allegory, phantasmagoria, caricature, laughter, jibe and joke are the chief properties of his.
His letters of freedom, everybody knows, but his love letters, we want to read them, how Saleem took them, the English and American loves rather than burkhawallis
“What is perfectly free person? Evidently a person who can do what he likes, when he likes and where he likes, or do nothing at all if he prefers it. Well there is no such person; and there never can be any such person. Whether we like it or not, we must all sleep for one-third of our lifetime; wash and dress and undress; we must spend a couple of hours eating and drinking; we must spend nearly as much in getting about from place to place. For half the day we are slaves to necessities which we cannot shirk, whether we are monarchs with a thousand servant or humble labourers with no servants but their wives. And the wives must undertake the additional heavy slavery of child-bearing if the world is still to be peopled. These natural jobs cannot be shirked. But they involve other jobs which can. ”
— George Bernard Shaw in Freedom
What is Salman Rushdie, I cannot say it, a writer so allegorical and phantasmagorical, so full of fancy and imagination, is he writing Kubla Khan of Coleridge or Sohrab and Rustum of Arnold? Who is who has contributed so much to the development of world thought and freedom of speech and expression, who has fought so much just as a battle commander of mankind? Hats, hats off to him, to him! The master of comedy in fiction so full of monologues and dream allegory; memoirs and remembrances, locating and re-locating the self. A historical narrativist, he is George Orwellian and George Bernard Shawian in his thought and content, spirit and emulation. The partition drama and the concept of azadi he regales it with his personal whims and reflections. If to see it otherwise, Salman Rushdie is but the John Dryden and Alexander Pope of satiric narratives and fiction of Indian-British writings. Is the last Moor the hero of the novel or the Indo-Portuguese man or the Rushdiean spokesman?
“Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium--
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. --
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!--
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sack'd;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!”
— Christopher Marlowe in Dr. Faustus
Salman Rushdie who was born in Bombay, but educated in London, one who gave the volumes of literature as such Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, The Moor’s Last Sigh and so on of fiction and non-fiction, inclusive of novels, stories, narratives, anecdotes, reviews, memoirs, recollections, columns, pen-portraits, remembrances, reminiscences, dealing with nationality, nationhood and nationalism, freedom, liberation and slavery, hypocrisy, mentality and prejudge, ego, pride and glory so psychological and sociological deeply rooted into our socio-economic nomenclature and protocol, a writer of the diaspora dais and dislocation, self-search and identity, he is one of the world level, inter-continental in appearance transgressing the boundaries and borders of mankind, drawing and deriving from phantasmagoria, magic realism, dream sequence and revelry, rarely to be met with and come across. He is a political satirist of the freedom of speech and expression. Just like a registrar of the land department, he knows it well that the lands are not measured, but settled and if India was partitioned it was but a foolish work and even if they quarrel, it will be very foolish to be engaged in for the burden of history, legacy of past, racial prejudices, religious differences. It will be better if deal with theory own problems, keeping in view the vikas mantra, the developmental agenda, eliminating poverty and illiteracy, reducing the job and employment opportunity. But rather than development, they still like to cling, stick to their old mind-set and ego.
Generally, bizarre people with strange pursuits and interests and flair for come to engage the canvas of Salman Rushdie like the opera men and women. Such is the protagonist of Fury, a Cambridge-educated millionaire from Bombay with intrinsic interest for miniatures leaves for to escape from, makes a name in the puppet miniature and then moves out to America leaving his wife and child in order to tame, rein in his furies overruling him. Where to escape from himself? Is the hero an escapist, a romantic and an artistic persona who cannot adjust with the grim realities of the world and life? Is he Lawrentine or Keatsian?