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Salman Rushdie: The Migrant in the Metropolis
Rukmini Bhaya Nair; Rimli Bhattacharya
To cite this Article Nair, Rukmini Bhaya and Bhattacharya, Rimli(1990) 'Salman Rushdie: The Migrant in the Metropolis',
Third Text, 4: 11, 17 — 30
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09528829008576260 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09528829008576260
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. the first by a contemporary but anonymous Indian and the second by Cafavy. 'I'll go to another country. one of the earliest and most famous of Greek modernist poets. Now that you've wasted your life here. of course. reconstitutes himself in a new place. in this small corner. an obvious sense in which the migrant plays God. o amar mind ... go to another shore1 Find another city better than this one... there tuas a banyan tree We used to sit under it. VIII 'The Parting of the Arabian Sea' (SV 473-507) and the final 'far horizon' passage (SV 546-7). river used to flow under.. In the interests of pithiness. You've destroyed it everywhere in the world. See also Ch.. we shall describe the former theme as nostalgia and the latter as nemesis. Don't hope for things elsewhere. Cow used to come and wander. CAFAVY (circa 1900) 1 Rushdie's own work repeats this image of 'a portioned shore' (SV 4).17 Salman Rushdie The Migrant in the Metropolis Rukmini Bhaya Nair and Rimli Bhattacharya Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 INTRODUCTION We begin with a song and a poem.. There is.. ANON (circa 1970) You said. The city. In my native village. What 1 have left behind. because together they suggest two trends that constantly recur in representations of exile... for he re-creates himself in a new life..' You won't find a new country. won't find another shore. This city will always pursue you. You'll always end up in this city.
Rushdie paradoxically guarantees his own status as a controller of discourses. he 'knows' that there are no privileged representations of reality.4 It is also without doubt a period when the media has inescapably entered our lives. the master-trope of the immigrant. and at another in himself as author and as a (media) personality. whose child Rushdie has so often identified himself as. In this essay. 3 Salman Rushdie. In particular. as an immigrant. is the most 'natural' setting for this process. The Satanic Verses. However.he (Omar Khayyam Shakil) grew up between twin eternities. a Superself. but the larger empire within which Rushdie's glittering principality falls. This second fact in conjunction with the first entails that most representations of the phenomenon of migration are currently being formed by specific interventions 4 Meenakshi Mukherjee.. THE MEDIA This century has been the century of mass movements. and that. The aerial fall from grace with which The Satanic Verses* (SV) begins very clearly marks the migrant's passage to a fraught. as well as political identity is governed by the linguistic zone he inhabits. no matter which world we inhabit.their presence heightened his feeling of being a person apart. embodied at one level in all three of his heroes. for Omar Khayyam. not really forgotten. that has to be (at)tested in the metropolitan wilderness of Mahavilayat. interconnected but never identical metaphors and myths. that such headstandings have effects harder to measure than earthquakes.3 Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 2 Salman Rushdie. Rupa Paperback. that this past is not really dead. human 'freedom'. in his experience. is one in which multiple meanings. certainly seems to involve the 'feeling of being a person apart'. we hope to show that Rushdie's own temporal. of dislocations and relocations on a scale that had not been possible before. is under 'angelic pressure'. 'The Exile of the Mind' in Bruce Bennett's (ed. in it he is monarch. the ultimate in both unfamiliarity and seduction. 1988. . Paradise below. Less apparently in Shame (S) the hero of the novel. like the earth itself. for what inventor has patented a seismograph of the soul?. Nostalgia for the lost prelapsarian gardens of a 'native' past thus coexists in the immigrant consciousness with an equally acute sense of nemesis. Shame. is problematised in all of his three books through uses of language that appear designed to upset most claims of a coherent and stable subjective consciousness. For Rushdie. Viking. is the empire of the media. The Centre for Studies in Australian literature. and that at any time the God left behind may visit retribution on the deserters from Eden who now crowd the neonlit capitals of the world.18 perhaps the greatest tangible symbol of human inventiveness. Hell above. have become an inalienable part of the belief systems of its intelligentsia. as well as some of the attractions. only by stressing that. London. 1982. this rather general and seemingly common notion of individuality. New Delhi. precisely inverted.. we argue. precisely because it is a centre of artifice. Babylondon. The twentieth century. in one of Rushdie's favoured puns.. The following sections explore some of the dangers. the twentieth century has been characterised as "a period of extraordinary literary migrations". 1988. spatial.) A Sense of Exile. of this alliance for a literary migrant whose marvellous dexterity can only be displayed in the foremost language of the 'first' world. . no single tongue in which 'truth' may confidently be asserted.. whose conventional order was. This territory has been intrepidly marked out by him.
to discover in their sense of exile new treasure hoards of language. appears therefore in a relatively marginalized powerless position to speak for the migrant. summarising work by Sullivan. It is for these migrants that the attention and influence of the media may be crucial. unless s/he has access to media at some institutional. for example via categorisations of immigrant peoples such as the Vietnamese as 'boat people' or the Central Americans as 'cheap labour'." (Preface. whom Bennett. . What makes Rushdie special is that he belongs to a very select subgroup of "Third World'** immigrant * We wish to avoid essentialising the media. As a result. Kashmir. Conversely. ** See Timothy Brennan's description of the 'cosmopolitan intellectual' as 'spokesperson for a kind of permanent immigration' (p 35). collective or personal level. for instance. In addition to migrations which occur as exporting/importing of cheap labour or a result of a spillover of wars fought elsewhere in the margins. mutually affected and affecting. From the first meetings of Nehru and Nasser in the 1950's until the era of the 'Non-aligned Nations'. AISSF) reduce very different movements to the same common denominator. what longitude or latitude it occupies. Brennan writes: "I share the views of Aijaz Ahmad and others who argue that it has no theoretical content whatsoever. their gift is to subvert conventional narrative patterns. Larger decisions of policy are thus 'simply and effectively' presented to the consumer.19 of the media. are read in terms of easily assimilable phrases such as 'foreign hand' or 'Muslim fundamentalists'. it does seem to us that the professionalisation of world media has meant that the constitution of news has become largely a matter of 'naming'. It has a political not a sociological meaning. To use the title Salman Rushdie and the Third World for this book is then not only to place Rushdie in it but to suggest his antagonistic relationship to it. It is also necessary to situate the trajectories marked/mapped out by individual characters within the larger site of the producing. what size its GNP — than what it does. As he (Ahmad) says. JKLF. However. the gifted individual who has links with the media is transformed from being powerless to being a creature with tremendous political potential. it is not enough to merely look at this or that character as a part of a 'textual enactment' of the 'migrant's condition'. op cit. collocations like 'scooter-borne terrorists'. 'hard-core militants' and 'anti-social elements' and convenient but dehumanising acronyms (LTTE. which we use in much the same sense in our paper.. xiii-xiv) Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 5 Bruce Bennett (ed. [those] who have 'mastery of metaphor and insight' may be the 'gifted victims'.P. described in the following words: . In many ways Rushdie himself is fighting this corporate effect of the media. which itself comprises several interest groups. and thus attendant moral responsibility.. but we discuss more fully the implications of his strategies in the body of our essay. however talented or committed. Obviously the term has less to do with what a country essentially is — what colour its native's skins. the phenomenon of migrations from 'disturbed areas'.5 In the case of a writer like Rushdie who has been as it were 'thrice displaced'. ABSU. publishing and consuming world whose boundaries have long dissolved from the purely 'literary' to the messily 'political' — the as yet unresolved trail that the publication of SV marks. 'labelling' and 'slotting'.in post colonial sodeties. 'we do not live in three worlds but in one'. Rushdie typifies this genius with a moral burden. A Sense of Exile. 'Third World' has meant simply those countries decolonising from what E.). Brennan's explication of his use of the term "Third World'. is relevant here. Thompson once called 'Natopolis'. or any other cause. there is a more elitist class of migrants who in pursuit of higher education or professional degrees flock to the Western urban centres.* Any individual. In India. but who is eventually producing texts in a metropolitan language (filtered through a colonial sieve) from a metropolis for an essentially metropolitan readership.
there floated the debris of the soul. This metaphor is once again devastatingly used in SV as the means of revenge and betrayal adopted by Saladin Chamcha "the Man of a Thousand Voices". The Saleem/Shiva.* The original accident (rather than the original sin) of a class position ultimately means the deconstruction of the 'All India Radio' metaphor in Midnight's Children6 (MC) where Saleem with his magic powers can both tune in to and broadcast to all the other midnight's children. Rushdie's lament in the opening pages of SV (p 4) where as omniscient author he describes "the migrants aboard the disintegrating aircraft". Gibreel/Saladin split as epitomised in MC and SV is actually played out by Rushdie at a global level. Although they come from a multilingual country. Midnight's Children. . but more specifically the speech of elite liberals like Rushdie himself. 1982. we contend. whom Rushdie most closely identifies with. from capitals. bring as their baggage the problem of many conflicting tongues. in CAPITALS. between immigrant linguistic anxieties and other dangers which threaten not so much immigrants' speech. even though she understands it. losing his languages in homogenizing Western cities). transmutes this conundrum of Babel coming to Babylon. Pan Books. Among the characters in SV. however..7 Subcontinental migrants. ** See for example. focussing on the English language as the terrain within which Rushdie is situated for reasons of history and which he then uses to contest what he perceives as encroachments on issues of 'freedom'. Rushdie. Rushdie translates this central question of identity to the problem of racism and fundamentalism which can then assume truly global proportions in SV. equally fragmented. equally absurd. then speaks for all other migrant groups. they are also members of a post-colonial elite who regard English as one of their languages. but rather that it could have problematic political implications. broken memories. her refusal to speak her mother Hind's tongue. * We have elaborated on that relationship in this essay. We discern several semi-permeable layers of appropriation here. Rushdie's strength and vulnerability arise from this somewhat quixotic relationship he has with a primary language of the 'First World'. Rushdie. While the loss of language is indeed equated with loss of identity for many of the characters. we will suggest something like the following pattern of slippages: The Media.20 writers who write in English. severed mothertongues. The importance given to language as a constituent of identity. who is predominantly monolingual in English. Mishal proves an interesting exception. which articulates metropolitan culture. into a somewhat different object. Although much oversimplification is inherent in an analysis of this sort which attempts to sort into categories the complexities of the immigrant's situation. "mingling with the remnants of the plane. His position as a Third World cosmopolitan makes it possible for him both to record the reality of the present historical situation (mass movements to the multi-national composite metropoles) and to represent it as an extended mirroring of his personal dilemma. In SV. The problem of India is the problem of Babel.** it is the immediacy of Rushdie's authorial 6 Salman Rushdie. is actually a factor in ensuring her active participation in the new world. with his acute linguistic sensibility. and also as their primary language. a point discussed in the final section of our essay.. (or the Third World migrant. perhaps too easily.". London. sloughed-off selves. the elite cosmopolitan. Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 7 We do not suggest that this is a transgression of authorial privilege. claims Rushdie. Rushdie's concern with racism and world wide fundamentalism seems to involve a licence to transit. carries a particular relevance for Rushdie which it does not for many of the characters in SV.
economic factors determining the movements of labour. the novel" and.10 8 Salman Rushdie. The Times of India. is itself transformed to the periphery. London. The Country and the City. Language. It is also the means of fighting fundamentalism and racism (the twin faces of bigotry. repressive regimes...21 crisis which works as the real spine of this epic of immigration.. to which arena we next turn our attention. given Rushdie's situation as mediating and mediated Third World immigrant. those creators of the most freakish. of the imagination. A Feb 1990. 10 See Raymond Williams. and it is also the metropolis which. metamorphosis. and return of the prodigal son. as with the eternal forces of religion. pp 279-288.. literary discourse as a whole. films. or more specifically.. 'In Good Faith'.. is a perceived movement originating in the 'periphery' and culminating in the 'centre'. The Independent on Sunday." * Rushdie appears to have anticipated this charge of 'secular fundamentalism' by both naming it and laying it at the door of 'apologists of religion' in his Herbert Read Memorial Lecture. In Rushdie's case. as Rushdie has consistently maintained since the Satanic affair). 'In Good Faith'.where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society. 'Agenda'. but which draws like a magnet huge proportions of rural migrants as well as other non-working class sections from small towns. closed world of the seamless discourse generated by TV. 1990. Bombay functions at the national level as the metropolitan centre which is composed not only of the local Maharashtrian population.. but to write the new testament of the twentieth century — the postmodernist hybrid novel. and is seen but also challenged as a model of the world. as with Hong Kong. It's his word [Khomeini's] against mine.. .the truth of the tale.8 the acclaimed lecture delivered from exile.* Rushdie's response to his own language sickness is not like Saladin Chamcha's to return 'home'. SV is a clash of faiths. In yet another defence. allegory) is Rushdie's means of combatting the smooth. does however make Rushdie's warnings about "not becoming what we oppose" a little suspect. to conquer without self consciousness. industrial and technological changes. a narrative strategy which foregrounds language (puns. hybrid and metamorphic of forms. I have tried to fill up the hole with literature. must inevitably be fought in the metropolitan field. parody. Rushdie's position is close to an evangelist writer's. or like Saleem and Omar Khayyam to disintegrate. which records the misadventures.there I hope to find. of the heart. civil and internecine.. and recently even. THE METROPOLES A singular defining characteristic of immigration.. revolutions.. states explicitly in a non-fictional form what has constantly underlined Rushdie's ideology of the practice of fiction. seen in relation to what Raymond Williams called the 'metropolitan country'. Rushdie offers a similar explication of his position: Unable to accept the unarguable absolutes of religion. empire and colony: "Thus the model of city and country. has gone beyond the boundaries of the nation-state. 27 Jan 1989. for connections between the metropolis and hinterland. Baal.. The philosophy of literature attributed to Rushdie's surrogate self. newspapers and popular magazines with their persuasive and seductive powers and their illusion of choice. which is as much Rushdie's struggle with his own internal demons. Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 9 Salman Rushdie. by extension. "The Metropolis'.. in SV (p 370) reflects the self-same tendency to place the writer (read novelist) in the sacrosant position of Caesar's wife. whatever the initial cause (wars. or like Gibreel.or more precisely it's a clash of languages. in economic and political " relationships.9 This linguistic battle.. except that his faith is literature and his Holy Book the novel. the expiry of a lease). The valorisation of "novelists .
Like most 'structural' depictions. yet the issues remain interconnected. His movie list included Potemkin. diverse problems in the city. it is intended only to serve as a point of departure for further exegesis. in relationship to each other. S and SV a movement from lament to a possible celebration of rebirth. The Seven Samurai. Raža Hyder and Mahound on the other are indicative of a balancing act that the author. The Metropolis. as we have suggested earlier. other worlds and times. must constantly perform in order to practice his own faith in the real world. London and Jahilia merges with Gibreel's conquest of London in a make-believe Dickensian studio-set. takes farthest and most seriously. real and constructed. the last in the serialisation of the migrant's adventures. MC. The by now familiar configuations and confrontations of the eclectic selves of Saleem. even at the risk of being morally as well as linguistically facile. This is most explicit in the connections we draw later in this essay between the locale of each of these texts and the respective closures in each. Thus. Bombay. One may trace in his three celebrated texts. finally. their protagonists and alter egos. which cannot speak of London or Bombay without invoking other cities. epic (pun intended) Religion Rel. the motivations/ motifs of religion in SV. Tai. Alphaville etc. SV. . Otto e Mezzo. Affect Hist. however.22 Rushdie's creative response to the various aspects of these phenomena has been both to lament and celebrate the rootlessness of the migrant and link it to what he calls his "postmodernist. the task of interconnecting different worlds. Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 THE IMMIGRANT empyrean (AIRWAYS) the ^ immigrant's movement is between these vertical poles >U morass (EARTH) History Descends from Above is NOSTALGIC for Eden Rises from Below is pursued by NEMESIS CrnES exemplify lateral distances BOMBAY/DELHI migrant (site-pavement) Saleem Shiva LONDON/BOMBAY immigrant (site-restaurant) Shaitan Saladin icon vs. Kane. and the fundamentalist types like Shiva. Babylon. Rushdie textually anticipates the charge of a fragile cosmopolitan consciousness in a passage in SV (p 439) where "Chamcha offers conventional cosmopolitan answers. ISLAMABAD/LAHORE mohajir (site-cantonment) Omar Khayyam (epicurean/ iconoclast) Affect Religion epicurean iconoclast History Affect The apex of the triangle alters as Rushdie explores the emotion of shame in the novel of that name. is an indictment of Saladin's list and by extension of Rushdie's own narrative strategy. The following schema places Rushdie's three novels. the list of Alphaville." Gibreel's retort "You've been brainwashed" and his own list of ten Indian 'hits'. post godless" stance. as well as their metropolitan anchors. the nationalist allegory in MC and. Omar Khayyam and Saladin and Baal. popular films. Rushdie. on the one hand.
and therefore perhaps his commitment to his own position. the immigrant is never wholly safe." In this context. He attacks with elan and his triumphs are greatly applauded by all those (few or many?) who feel a sneaky or substantial empathy with the outsider. * Brennan (p 145) rightly emphasizes the need to "locate the class resentments that are simmering beneath the surface of an affair that has persistently been seen in religious terms alone. this sort of fictional pluralism supports Rushdie's avowed genealogy in a 'polyglot tree'. however sympathetically portrayed in fiction and media. was in fact a means to make the book an issue. turns out to be very much more complicated than simple confrontations between 'fundamentalism' and 'democracy' as Rushdie. as constructs of the mind. must be negotiated through a reliance on the human self as the supreme arbiter of destiny. the world of the book becomes the immigrant writer's home. but I had thought better of India. both media and authorial will seem to collude to present Rushdie himself as that superior being. His superb mastery of the discourse of displacement has ensured that. 1988). on examination. italics ours)]. (and in this reading we are certainly to an extent guided by the media). However. cannot but result in the politics of retaliation. living by his wits. Almost. The Guardian) This strategy of representation allows Rushdie. as the real-life drama of the fatwa shows. not to be in absolute control.. Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 12 The blurbs of Rushdie's books offer a representative range of affirmations: "India has produced a glittering novelist — one with startling imaginative and intellectual resources. because his control over.a roller coaster ride over a vast landscape. The immigrant author must think in terms of skirmishes and guerilla warfare on the citadels of power.. October 8. though he may well make use of the sabre-rattling rhetoric of an all-out war ["Mishal had developed the habit of talking about the street as if it was a mythological battle-ground" (SV 283. However.23 11 The phrase 'polyglot tree' is Rushdie's own. would have it." (V. 'The Indian Writers in England'. which the immigrant's position almost always involves." (The Indian Express. See p 83.11 since it makes for authentic cosmopolitanism... is shaky. thus erasing to some extent the detailed histories that he also attempts to record. a matter of perpetual storytelling. Here the asymmetries of power. M. The city is a place of laterally defined distances.extraordinary contemporary novel. MacMillan.* However clever. in Maggie Butcher's (ed. different worlds. whose voice as a spokesman for Indian Muslims was itself a subject of some controversy. rather than in terms of a battle. simply because the redefinition of power. The ban called on by Shahabuddin ostensibly to preclude offense to Muslims." (Angela Carter.) The Eye of the Beholder: Indian Writing in English. (General Elections in India were held in September 1989). the spatial locus of many far-flung outposts. in the tradition of Calvino's Invisible Cities.. Among those who have made a resounding success of a space not theirs by the conventions of history. The initial source of information was apparently just a standard book review (Madhu Jain in India Today) which was then used by Syed Shahabuddin. his destiny.S. It appears to be his role. His post-lapsarian world is always informed by threat. The valorization of doubt over many other conditions as symptomatic of the human condition is not by any means accidental in Rushdie's oeuvre. Pritchett in The New Yorker). Rushdie's attitude towards the production and packaging of his texts reveals something of this strategic inclination. as the world has startlingly witnessed. the immigrant remains a dose cousin of the outcast(e). " A n exhilarating. However. and many others of a liberal persuasion. [India should] "abandon the pretence of being a civilised free country if it allowed the ban. overwhelming.. Rushdie's immediate and righteous response seems an exceedingly naive assessment of the pre-electoral scenario in India: "I am deeply shocked." Rushdie then goes on to declare: The question is democracy itself.. The politics of retaliation. . it is instructive to situate the banning of SV with the realpolitik of Indian electoral trading. 1989. to suggest the fictionality of all cities. many First World voices12 inform us that Rushdie is prima inter pares. but his losses can be.P. in this setting. Shame was banned in Pakistan. he has succeeded in outwitting the immigrant's nemesis.
His instability is thus once again fictionally established as both the source of the immigrant's discursive strength (most amazingly exemplified in Rushdie himself) and his political weakness. if in extremely diverse ways. stake out the immigrant as a site of resistance to the homogenhation which overtakes many metropolitan cultures. see pp 186 and 281 in SV as well as Brennan's chapters discussing this narrative strategy. not to mention other tastes. The demonology Rushdie invokes is cleverly fashioned to this end. less glaringly apparent. the immigrant may speak the language of the dominant community but he speaks it always with a difference. wear the mask of the immigrant wanderer. so Rushdie challenges received ideas about 'correct' English usage. etc. without contradiction. . makes a special strength of questioning the basic linguistic premises of his society. emigre Poles. Yet this brings in its wake the now well documented 'failure' to fully integrate that is typical of immigrant groups Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 13 On 'reclaiming metaphors'. belonging. including sub-groups whose interests Rushdie foregrounds in SV (immigrant Bangladeshis. they can afford the luxury of 'bad' taste in a way that locals simply cannot. and the figure of the unsure immigrant as a controller of (specifically urban) environments. the presence of the outsider.. his twilight professions. The irony of a media star such as Rushdie assigning himself. 'peripheral'. the place of an immigrant. the anti-hero of the nationalist allegory. and the empathetic author may all. expatriate Parsees). doubt. Both the immigrant and the authorial self created by Rushdie are described iteratively as 'marginal'. Just as the immigrant disturbs the smooth surfaces of settled community living. The specificities of the immigrant group. Farishtas and Shaitans openly flaunt other traditions. His visible differences. Sartre. home" (SV 4). are always more obvious than those of the home-bound nation. Rushdie's genius has been to show that the numerically significant intrusion of Third World immigrants into previously well-defined metropolitan centres. in food. "in that metropolis of tropes and whispers" (SV 106). by documenting their efforts to reclaim the verbal as well as virtual treasures that were 'stolen' from them in a colonial past. steeped in doubt as Rushdie claims he is. has qualitatively changed notions of community in the West. and being assigned. and may indeed be a manifestation of the same phenomenon. his own) lack of a corresponding inhibition in the use of the English language. By focussing on the 'exit-tentialism' of Third World immigrants in search of "the forgotten meaning of hollow booming words.13 Rushdie brilliantly interrogates the notion of community in a contemporary urban context. It has introduced visible cracks and fissures. 'iconoclastic'. His Khayyams. Borges). The religious outcast. have deeply engaged major Western novelists of the twentieth century (Camus. is at least as telling as the irony of an author signing his own death warrant in his 'prophetic' fiction. Moreover. Rushdie gives this constant theme a vigorous post-colonial turn. transatlantic Americans. displacement. A great deal of Rushdie's linguistic energy is in fact expended on a textual demonstration of the immigrant's (in this case. The immigrant. in dress. in music. again in a manner that just may not strike the bona-fide insider. Yet fictional as well as publishing strategies place centre stage these avowedly decentred figures. Alienation. his b(l)ack streets. to use Rushdie's own apt phrase. land. where earlier dichotomies of class were maybe better hidden. 'outcast'. As Rushdie has shown.24 THE MIGRANT The preceding argument allows us to posit certain consonances between the figure of the doubting author as a controller of (specifically novelistic) discourses.
as exemplified in Zeenie who is a professional surgeon. however. While 'educating' Saladin she offers a scathing indictment of the earlier representation of Bombay provided by the narrator in MC: What do you know of Bombay? Your own city. is the dilemma of the immigrant community. unlike the 'Indian translated into English-medium' that is characteristic of Saladin and his language." (The Times of India. facts and fiction as a narrative technique are partly an attempt to see the subcontinent's history in footnotes. Never-Never. But Saladin's reconciliation with his dying father and the beginning of a new. only it never was. Peristan. SV is a novel about migrants or globe hoppers in general and one that tries to map the travels and travails of the Indian immigrant in particular. the opposite is true of his initial . to question cosmopolitanism in both the metropoles of the novel. but more importantly. It is. In the novel. p 163. Oz. That was Wonderland. and an activist and an uninhibited single woman. The strong woman at the other end is Mishal who succeeds in reclaiming a portion of Brixhall because she has no 'long suppressed locutions' to contend with.14 In our brief textual exegeis we consider the two pairs of subcontinental survivors — Mishal-Hanif and Saladin-Zeenie in their respective contexts. the dream city. darling. There is. is savvy.. (SV 55) 14 As Rushdie himself has repeatedly asserted: "SV is not an anti-religious novel. avowedly more involved life with Zeeni Vakil in Bombay is embarrassingly close to the happy ending of too many Hindi films of the 60s and the 70s. SV. his subsequent acquisition/possession of that city. and it is one which Rushdie's latest novel. about which a critic remarks: "Rushdie comes [in this novel] to terms for the first time with escapism of his earlier work". To you. Much of the nostalgic. although never really from below. she knows her city. Resistance or integration? This. Growing up on Scandal Point is like living on the moon. Salman Rushdie and the Third World. which after all is in many ways the mirror of the dominant community.an attempt to write about migration. a distinct shift of vision and view in SV.25 everywhere.. as the text underscores. films which form the staple of Rushdie's parodies. return to the years of belonging in Bombay is established through the childhood world of Saleem Sinai in MC. attempts to resolve — however tentatively. She is projected as someone who has worked out the karma of class and gender and is therefore a proper mentor to the still stumbling/fumbling Saladin.. his valorization of Vilayet. 27 January 1989) Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 15 Timothy Brennan. at its crudest. its stresses and transformations from the point of view of migrants from the Indian subcontinent to Britain.. The one difference here is the 'new' Indian woman. While his final return to the 'radical chic' in the dhabas of Bombay still situates him in the periphery. Saleem's version of the language riots. with their binary worlds of 'Purab aur Paschim'. and because she can fight with equal success the skinheads on the streets as well as the faceless Insurance Company which forms part of the same system. Zeenie Vakil. but also pessimistic. his genuine dismay and inability to comprehend religious/political events and the deliberate collage of dreams and memories. Saladin's guide to Bombay. We begin with Bombay. She and her group of activists are at home both in the city and in 'their kind' of English. wife and career and his consquent transformation into Shaitan make it possible for Rushdie not only to explore the many worlds and lifetimes that Chamcha has travelled. to which city Rushdie attributes his (and his heroes') cosmopolitan and 'lackadaisical' attitudes. it's a dream of childhood.. Did Shiv Sena elements come there make communal trouble? That wasn't Bombay..15 Saladin's unloved childhood.. Saladin's betrayal of/and by his first wife and his subsequent hesitation between Mishal and Zeenie are thus stops in this complicated route to belonging.
Panjwani observes: "This sense of dislocation is perhaps more drastic in them than in us. Rushdie deconstructs with great sensitivity the homogenized identity imposed by the whites and often 'assumed' by the non-whites. the Shiv Sena-BJP (arguably one of India's strongest fundamentalist combinations) won an overwhelming majority in (Greater) Bombay — "the nation's most potent symbol of cosmopolitanism".26 metamorphosis in London. It is here that the Hinduttva call fills a cultural vacuum symptomatic of the fragility of the tree of cosmopolitanism". "Only when the Shaandaar was ready to reopen under her [Mishal's] management did Hind Sufyan's ghost agree that it was time to be off to the after-life. Or: from Indianness to Englishness. because they rose Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 16 Narendra Panjwani. I've spent half my life trying to get away from you. fundamentalist). The real centre of Rushdie's text (as indeed of the new map of London) is the Shaandaar Cafe. as if a city or its culture was either cosmopolitan (liberal. Instead of the disintegrating or monster-like protagonists of the earlier texts and their funtoosh endings. the author muses: How far did they fly? Five and a half thousand as the crow. not very far at all. Saladin's 'gratefulness' is recorded in the following protest: "I'm not your kind". . smelly component. 17 Ibid. The article goes on to consider the rise in "sons-of-the-soil" movements in India from the point of view of the "dislocated urban poor" in Indian metropoles who experience "homelessness on settling down in the city". eclectic. he said distinctly into the night. Sufyan. does not. We digress somewhat in order to explicate this position. As the first of the paired prototypes of successful individuals. Once alone in his attic cell. Describing Saladin's first flight to England. When Saladin is offered sanctuary in this cafe of the flotsam and jetsam. seem to us equally plausible in terms of contemporary social-cultural problems. whereupon Mishal telephoned Hanif and asked him to marry her. while Saladin. 25 March 1990." (SV 515) Saladin's own belated acknowledgement of familial roots in Bombay. "You're not my people. he (Saladin) is after all "one of their kind". Or. hybrid) or provincial (chauvinistic. gender. language. the other half. the search for one's 'kind' appears at least to be partially successful. his argument being that however monstrous. seemingly two irreducible categories. In the recent Assembly elections. however. the Bangladeshi proprietor of the Shaandaar insists on offering Saladin refuge. The Times of India. of all immigrants simply on the basis of a common country of origin. although Rushdie does indicate his awareness of the 'gap' in an early narrative aside. 'Saffron vs Spectrum'. Both the survivor pairs represent 'new blood' after the failure of 'a dying generation'.16 The extreme juxtaposition suggested by Panjwani is not just catchy journalism. despite a world of difference in class. SV ends on a note of redemption and regeneration.17 The 'happy ending' of SV does not cover this space between 'Hinduttva' and 'cosmopolitanism'. its temporary (illegal) inmates and permanent (legal) intimates marking an intersection of the immigrant community and their disparate crises. Gibreel functions as peripheral 'voice'. an immediate distance." (SV 253) In both cities. there is a violent bringing together of two classes of immigrants who have always lived in two different worlds in the same city. intellectual or economic status. but a fairly representative instance of contrastive exclusion. is the visible. as we have already stated.
travelling a hundred miles to town. the intelligentsia of both the Third and First Worlds. and for." The highlighting of certain indisputable facts by turning them into descriptive epithets is an effective way of both claiming the reader's attention and controlling his/her response. whom the reporter introduces as "Salman Rushdie. a villager. focussing mainly on the Kashmir problem". Political commitment and courage are not the same as authorial vision and understanding. or the Indian policy in Kashmir. Sharma (The Times of India. The specificities of incidents. What. The article is also indicative of the kind of newspaper space granted to Rushdie. as displayed for instance in his relentless pronouncements against the Thatcherite regime. May 6. Rushdie's hard-hitting critique of Indian secularism (specifically. because he identifies this crisis of the 'Indian' state as primarily a political. L. As an author whose strategy is to foreclose the gap between himself and his beleaguered fictional heroes. Rushdie's perspective has a validity that many on-the-spot reports do not have. history has taught us that it is certainly a mistake to conflate * See for example.* Yet. Rushdie has often and sincerely lamented the fact that the very people — immigrants in Britain — to whom SV was addressed. as "The controversial author. then. that uneasy ambition18 which enables him to belong to the very establishment whose existence he purportedly threatens. traverses emptier. "the failure of Indian secularist policies in Kashmir") which has forced the Kashmiri people "to choose between tanks and mosques" exposes quite 'correctly' the flaws in the BJP 'nationlist' rhetoric on Indian 'democracy' and unity 'at any cost'. can we make of the claim that Rushdie speaks to. he would not be satisfied until he won again. Rushdie. rather than a religious/pragmatic one.27 from one great city. Rushdie has achieved a unique success in bringing before a world audience 'the compleat immigrant'. stands in the bright limelight. linguistically and culturally alienated peoples who will not understand Rushdie's speech/speeches. would immediately recognise.K. movements and peoples are swept aside in the fictive celebration of a return. bitterly reject his work. even from limbo. (SV 55) Unfortunately the urge to universalize the immigrant experience proves stronger than such reflective and cautionary asides. Rushdie's views on "the issue of self-determination. there is something of a question-mark that hangs over the audience to whom he addresses himself. Rushdie is superbly accomplished as a commentator. His audience is the glitterati. the writer-in-hiding" and a little later. In this case. darker more terrifying space. and the embattled. this strife-torn community? Little empathy exists between Rushdie. Rushdie's on-record utterances are politically correct to a T. The distance between cities is always small. who commands a high fee. The incipient query has to be given voice — Has he then been co-opted? Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 THE MORAL MINORITY 18 The Times magazine quoted Rushdie's publisher and friend as having remarked that had the author of SV won the Nobel Prize once. but his words have strayed to places where verbal dexterity alone cannot rescue an author. whose left-wing views any intellectual educated in the 'Western' political tradition. His brilliant representations of the soft underbelly of culture are important and liberating as 'art'. He himself possesses the immigrant drive par excellence. 1990) who quotes from The Independent. . despite his incarceration. fell to another.
give him much needed stability in a hostile * Compare the cases of Yeats and Pound. Rushdie posits 'doubt' as one of the most attractive features of the immigrant mind-set. does need to exercise caution over his appropriation of reasoning ability. The concerned writer. in the nineteenth century verse from Tennyson we quote below: There lives more faith in honest doubt. Memory thus becomes indistinguishable from creativity in the novelist's art. but not necessarily so in the actual immigrant's mind. . In the orchestrated movements between empyrean and morass that we have postulated in Rushdie's work. In a TV show called 'Conversations with Writers' in the aftermath of the publication of TheJaguarSmile: A Nicaraguan Journey. from his 'own tradition'. Although he has handled political material in his novels. developed by communities over time. Rushdie is not a Che. but evident in Romantic writing and encapsulated. especially one of Rushdie's humanity and stature. Fragments of religious faith. thereby drawing on a European literary repertoire.* Notwithstanding his image in the media. than in half the creeds. Believe me. methods of selfpreservation. 'creates' and 'frees' himself in terms of historical possibilities. Greatness as a writer does not. in this talk with Charlotte Cornwell. the immigrant 'discovers'. and therefore often dismissed.28 the two. unfortunately. like the liberal segments of the First World academia to which he broadly belongs. and these materials have turned out to be explosive. As Bhikhu Parekh has pointed out. One may not criticise a writer. Rushdie also emphasizes. might encode ideas about 'freedom' not easily accessed. he remarks that England did not always have "a quietist tradition" of writing and then cites the case. typical of this century. Rushdie himself has consistently identified his writing with his politics.19 The immigrants who in another famous inscription were so ambiguously described as "the huddled masses yearning to be free. (In Memoriam xcvi) Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 19 Although the relativism implied by this position may be questioned. by those who stand outside the systems they 'rightly' criticise. guarantee correctness in one's political views. 'shore' up his existence. however 'medieval' certain of these opinions may soundto a sophisticated intelligence like his own. as a political agent Rushdie's position is far less invulnerable. a Mandela or Chedi Jaggan. it does not follow that he must be granted political safe conduct. traditional/conservative beliefs help the immigrant re-position himself. a 'troublesome' form of the novel that they do not appreciate and emotions that they do not feel in quite the tone that Rushdie describes them. the wretched refuse of your teeming shores" may reserve the right to be mortally suspicious of a language they do not share. Rushdie himself could be seen as encroaching upon the freedom of other people to voice their own opinions. it is certainly one which a 'humanist' writer like Rushdie needs to take account in his radical criticisms of other. Ways of reasoning. that he had "always conceived of writers as being concerned about public affairs as well as private". Rushdie's fulminations against fundamentalism in religion. conservatism in politics. nationalism in the state are comfortably positioned vis-a-vis other left intellectuals like himself. wellmeaning though this intervention may be. This literary elevation of doubt to the status of a 'creed' seems to influence unduly Rushdie's portrayal of the immigrant mentality in the pages of his novels (and perhaps outside them as well). However. for not writing a different book. of Faiz Ahmed Faiz who "wrote brilliant political poetry and lyrical love poetry". more conservative points of view. for instance. For example. where a degree of political conservatism could coexist with the most sublime and 'truthful' poetry.
seems somewhat at odds with his role as a political spokesman for immigrant. apologists. . he therefore leaves himself quite open to the criticism that he acted 'irresponsibly' in a context where the forces of religious fundamentalism have so much power of life and death over people. nor his absolute grace as a writer. are both governed in the global metropolitan context by the media. simply because its impenetrability made it the ideal material for exploitation by the mullahs. once it was called for by Shahabuddin and others. newspapers. then he stands indicted of carelessness and callousness. always under professional/political pressure to create. It renders activism meaningless. did his work matter to them? Yes. from without it. and if he did 'know' his work would cause a furore. As an avowed apostate his mandate for change has not been from within the Islamic fold. a search Rushdie cannot but support. promote and advertise news. The neuroses of nemesis replace the certainties of nostalgia. panic results. When that stability is blown to bits by an author as well ensconsed and integrated as Rushdie. radio. the business of the media is as much to formulate as to inform. magazines and journals. This could be called a post-hoc view. and an outsider among outcasts. then surely he was out of touch with and ignorant of the Islam he sought to liberate. the author. Indian. could be and would be used by Islamic fundamentalists to strengthen their own grip. The dangers of circulating in the media a text which remains unread are paralleled in academia by arcane over-readings. CONCLUSION This essay has suggested that the immigrant and his self-appointed representative. still claim that Rushdie has set back the cause of a less conservative interpretation of Islam by a hundred years simply by being heedless of (geo)political realities. The people who died for Rushdie's book in Bhendi Bazaar were outcasts of a different sort from Rushdie himself. which spreads the word. but for a political activist. nor could the 'intermediaries' who 'interpreted' Rushdie for them. who have no quarrel with artistic choices exercised by an individual writer. he needs interpreters. immigrant. he simply failed to gauge the intricacies of situation and complexities of mood in various camps — Islamic. but it was what prevented many Indian intellectuals from resisting the ban on the novel.20 Thus many moderate Muslims. Opinions in the metropolis are generally articulated in two main centres — media and academia. Paradoxically. what has perhaps made many uncomfortable is his naivete. isolation is a tragedy. Rushdie is no simple writer of tracts. If Rushdie wrote for neither of these groups. With whom does he then truly stand? To be alone is part of the myth of both writer and immigrant. They were outcasts because they could never read or evaluate what Rushdie had written. Nowhere are possibilities of collusive interaction between these two spheres more evident than in the case of the mega-star Rushdie — an urban(e) writer of elite Third Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 20 The consequent movement towards an affiliation with a global Muslim brotherhood is to be understood not merely in terms of the dogmatic language of 'fundamentalism' but in terms of a genuine search for 'brotherhood' among the dispossessed.29 environment. If Rushdie did not 'know' that his passages about Mahound taken out of context. In this sense. Much of the escalation which led to Rushdie's present absence can be laid directly at the door of television. At the current time. The sincerity of Rushdie's views was never in question. Islamic or Third World rights. Rushdie seems to be an immigrant from the immigrant community. Rushdie's role as a great writer and intellectual. whether it is Rushdie's or Khomeini's. critics.
For this reason. Repeatedly. modernist as well as classical. the manner in which an 'infection' such as Deconstruction can spread across disciplines. we fail also in our quest for a third Rushdie — one not wholly formed/framed by either media or academia.21 It seems unnecessary to plead the case for 'voices'. The experience convinced us that the virus of word-play was particularly endemic in circumstances where the plaisirs du texte literally preclude any sustained interest in the political issues Rushdie himself raises. any treatment which simply mimics receptions of Rushdie in the West by essentially evaluating him in terms of his linguistic legerdemain appears to us pedagogically and professionally unsatisfactory. but continuously invite readers to 'perform' in similar ways themselves. it is fashionable in critical theory today to speak of the hazards of contamination. we recognize that Rushdie's texts not only consciously deconstruct themselves. academic quoteries etc. is a valuable contribution to this enterprise. In the process of writing this particular essay. we simply wish to demonstrate that. Rushdie's much vaunted espousal of the immigrant's 'native' multilingualism and multiculturalism falls on deaf ears. is amply and ironically evident in assessments such as the one we have cited above. La(w)hore. puns (acamedia. Gibreel.30 21 Clark Blaise. Brennan's exposé of the 'myth of the nation'24 as it is worked out in Rushdie's writings. given an extensive and insidious system of peer review and patronage. World origins. In India separatist movements. multiplicity/multiple cities. Perhaps one of the most stimulating responses to Rushdie in our context. a reaction which avoids the simplistic alternatives of rejection or reification as they have been posed for us in many sections fo the media. if we fail to examine the enigma of his arrival amongst us via the First World.22 The privileged academic and the elite immigrant thus draw on similar vocabularies. because his familiarity with critical discourse is so absolute. NEW York Review of Books. . 22 Mimi Mamoulian in SV actually announces that she "has read Finnegan's Wake and (is) conversant with postmodernist critiques of the West" (SV 261). where the English language and its literature are accorded such unnatural respect. for example. we found ourselves adopting a parodie mode. For academics in the subcontinent. To interpret Rushdie. from Western appreciations in their strategic use of his texts to understand our own collaborationist projects and practices within the post-colonial classroom. who has been gravely hailed as a whole "continent finding its voice".23 the somewhat disingenuous sentence with which the essay begins is itself a case in point. The powerlessness of his particular variety of linguistic subversion. 23 Uma Parameswaran's essay 'We-They Paradigm in Rushdie's The Satanic Verses' Downloaded At: 16:34 9 February 2011 offers another example of a critic who succumbs to the parodic temptation to use Rushdie's own narrative style in academic treatment of his work. As academic readers of Rushdie. communal and linguistic dissonances severely problematise Rushdie's representation of displacement. op. is to be controlled by those 'puppet-masters' strings' of the media that Rushdie so perspicaciously warns us against in SV. as an author whose professedly postmodern complexes/complexities are in fact universal. in the best traditions of the ivory tower. strings that are inevitably pulled from the faraway metropoles where his texts were first distributed and (ac)claimed. 24 Timothy Brennanm cit. as one of their own kind. but fashioned to appeal to the most elite coteries of First World academia. attributed to the immigrant.) suggested themselves to us constantly. metro-polis as the 'cinema city'. Subcontinental explorations of Rushdie could differ. is to articulate within academia the specifically political implications of Rushdie's texts. Literary academics read Rushdie. For example. even if somewhat unwillingly at times. In support of our particular argument. the nostalgia and nemesis that emigration engenders. Such a reduction of politics to a game of linguistic one-up-manship seems ultimately an exercise in trivialisation. Rushdie is a test-case. flourishing in India quite independent of both Rushdie and the English language.
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