God Knows It happens: revelation. Like this: Mahound, still in his notsleep, becomes rigid, veins bulge in his neck, he clutches at his centre. No, no, nothing like an . epileptic fit, it can’t be explained away that easily; what epileptic fit ever caused day to turn to night, caused clouds to mass overhead, caused the air to thicken into soup while an angel hung, scared silly, in the sky above the sufferer, held up like a kite on a golden thread? The dragging again the dragging and now the miracle starts in his my our guts, he is straining with all his might at something, forcing something, and Gibreel begins to feel that strength that force, here it is at my own jaw working it, opening shutting; and the power, starting within Mahound, reaching up to my vocal cords and the voice comes. Not my voice I’d never know such words I’m no classy speaker never was never will be but this isn’t my voice it’s a Voice. Mahound’s eyes open wide, he’s seeing some kind of vision, staring at it, oh, that’s right, Gibreel remembers, me. He’s seeing me.. My lips moving, being moved by. What, whom? Don’t know, can’t say. Nevertheless, here they are, coming out of my mouth, up my throat, past my teeth: the Words. Being God’s postman is no fun, yaar. Butbutbut: God isn’t in this picture. God knows whose postman I’ve been. from The Satanic Verses ablutions of his followers, making them water-brothers in a castle of sand symbols of the coming cultural cataclysm which will inevitably overtake Jahilia. The city’s Grandee is Karim Abu Simbel, husband of the “ferocious, beautiful Hind,” priestess of the three female goddesses given temporary authority in the Satanic verses. Later, Hind faces Mahound and says, “Between Allah and the Three there can be no peace. I don’t want it. I want the fight. TO the death; that is the kind of idea I am. What kind are you?” Mahound replies, “You are sand and I am water. Water washes sand away.” Hind seems to have the final word: “And the desert soaks up water.” But in the end, it is Mahound’s singularity, codiciled almost to death by his businessman’s sense of practicality, which prevails. IN A LETTER to Rajiv Gandhi, Indian Minister of Finance, the official responsible for the banning of The Satanic Verses in India, Rushdie wrote: “The section of the book in question \(and let’s remember that the book is not about Islam, but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and in a highly fantastical city made of sand. . . . Moreover, this entire sequence happens in a dream, the fictional dream of a fictional character, an Indian movie star, and one who is losing his mind, at that. How much further from history could one get?” If the intent were not to offend, one could indeed get a great deal much “further from history.” One would have to. But if the intent of literature were limited by such an intent, literature as we know it would not exist. Of course Muslims will find this offensive, whether or not they have read it. Many Christians found The Last Temptation of Christ offensive. It is in the nature of fundamentalist beliefs of any stripe to be offended by any variation from what is regarded as divine truth, no matter what the context. It cannot be argued, however, that Salman Rushdie was unaware of just how deeply he was offending the world’s 900 million Muslims. Most of them will be just that offended. A very small number will probably make it their life’s work to seek him out in hopes of assassinating him. It makes one wonder if the Ayatollah Khomeini is not the reincarnation of Hassani-Sabbah, the 11th century Islamic leader whose hashish-inspired Assassins were the international terrorists of their day. In a purely literary discussion, the role of the secondary character, Saladin Chamcha, would bear a weight equal to that of Gibreel. The politics of the moment however, will undoubtedly postpone adequate consideration of this worthy character’s role. Born Salahuddin Chamchawala, son of a Bombay fertilizer magnate, Saladin has been living in England for the last 15 years. To the very great chagrin of his father, Saladin has become the man of a thousand voices on British radio and television. He thinks he has done with his past, his father, and with India. But as Rushdie reminds us: “A man who sets out to make himself up is taking on the Creator’s role, according to one way of seeing things; he’s unnatural, a blasphemer, an abomination of abominations.” After his fall from the Bostan literally a fall from grace since Bostan is the name of one of the Gardens of Paradise Saladin finds himself mutating into a horned, cloven-hooved, spitting image of the Devil himself. His presence in England creates meteorological and cultural chaos, and contemporary references from the Sixties and early Seventies burble up into the narrative: “Pleasechu meechu, the radios sang, hopeyu guessma nayym . . .” Gibreel, meanwhile, is walking around England sporting a halo, popping in and out of time, and impinging upon the realities of all he meets. He realizes at last, “that he had to get away, because the universe of his nightmares had begun to leak into his waking life.” And into the lives of others as well: “Fictions were walking around wherever he went . . . fictions masquerading as real human beings.” Both characters are aware, in real time, that their altered states are not natural. As Gibreel tells himself, “It’s a straight choice. . . . It’s A, I’m off my head, or B, baba, somebody went and changed the rules.” But this is post-modernist fiction. Even the characters have read their Kafka. The question, “What kind of idea are you?” occurs quite often in the book reinforcing the notion that these are both human characters and the raw forces of history which Rushdie is describing. Of course, they are symbols as well: The word-oriented the process. If we carry the syllogism to its conclusion, Rushdie seems to prophesy in The Satanic Verses the ultimate death of the mystical East. When Rushdie himself appears momentarily in the now-almost-mandatory authorial intrusion into the narrative, he casts himself in the god-name as well: “Falling like that out of the sky: did they imagine there would be no side-effects? Higher powers had taken an interest, it should have been obvious to them both, and such Powers \(I am, of course, speaking of attitude to tumbling flies. And another thing, let’s be clear: great falls change people. You think they fell a long way? In the matter of tumbles, I yield pride of place to no personage, whether mortal or im-.” Since post-modernist technique has crept into the discussion, some mention must be made of the intertextual character of The Satanic Verses, as well as its use of temporal dislocation, both sine qua non elements of the genre. The novel is, in fact, something of an intertextual mine field. There are echoes throughout of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other magical realists, of halo Calvino and Milan Kundera. Argentinian unreality peeps in through some not-so-oblique references to the works of W. H. Hudson and Jorge Luis Borges, including a major subplot. They find echoes both in Gibreel’s vision of Jahalia and in a deathwatch Gibreel keeps in the house of a Dover eccentric. The eccentric herself is yet another literary echo, this one less obvious, of Miss Betsey Trotwood. who being, .David Copperfield. Then there is the multiplicity of learned puns and parallel names. A girl named Ayesha, for example, pops out of a 20th century realistic sequence to lead a band of THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17 11114.1111 \\ V
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