Monday, October 26, 2015

An Intersection of East and West in Rushdie's Novel

True to form, Salman Rushdie adheres to his habit of creating anthologies of interweaving stories that demonstrate a crisis of identity as it relates to the concept of homelands. The novel begins with the story of Ms. Rehana, a betrothed woman looking to pass a test in order to obtain a permit to London. She has been sent for by her betrothed, Mustafa Dar, and once at the Consulate, a kindly employee, Mustafa Ali, offers Rehana a simple way to pass the test due to his immediate attraction to her. Instead of accepting his advice, Rehana decides to take the test on her own terms. In a twist of fate for which Rushdie is known for, it is revealed that Rehana lied on all of the questions because she sincerely wished to remain in Lahore. For Ms. Rehana, a geographical region is home, not a man. It is at the end of this story that Rehana fully develops her sense of identity. She knows what she wants, and is completely unafraid to go after it. Ironically, the story is entitled Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies, and yet Rehana rejects the good advice offered to her. 

The second story, entitled The Free Radio, also takes place in the East and essentially revolves around government attempts to regulate birth rates and family planning. Again, we see a crisis of identity in a homeland; the government wishes to regulate a basic human right and it leads to a deep questioning of society. The old man watches events unfold between a thief, Ram, and an unsavory widow who Ram eventually takes as his wife. At the conclusion of the story, the old man remarks sadly that, as a direct consequence of his old age, his views and opinions are largely ignored: "Yes, I know, I'm an old man, my ideas are wrinkled with age, and these days they tell me sterilisation and God knows what is necessary, and maybe I'm wrong to blame the widow as well - why not? Maybe all the views of the old can be discounted now, and if that's so, let it be" (Rushdie 30). Again, Rushdie is exploring a crisis of identity. The old man sees what is happening to Ram and he listens to the government's plan for regulating human population, but he no longer has a voice in his own home. His age has rendered him useless in his mind, and he is therefore paralyzed.

The stories from the West weave in multiple pop culture references, including an allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet and his court jester, Yorick. The second story from the West, entitled At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, contains yet another reference to a Western pop culture icon. An interesting fact contained in this story is that in the written version of The Wizard of Oz, the slippers were silver. However, in the movie adaptation, the slippers are ruby. The last story from the West is entitled Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship and is again a direct reference to an important Western occurrence as it signifies the beginning of one of the most powerful empires the Western world has ever known. 

Finally, Rushdie concludes his anthology with an intersection of stories from both the East and West, bringing the stories full circle. The Harmony of the Spheres, Chekov and Zulu, and The Courter all weave together cultural differences and provide a sense of home different from what we have encountered thus far. The Courter is especially intriguing because it tells the story of a young boy raised by an Indian woman in London, and she consistently mispronounces the name of the "porter" and instead calls him a courter. It is a brilliant example of the struggle to assimilate into a different culture, and Rushdie drives his point home through the example of a woman trying to do right by this boy, but still making mistakes along the way. 

Overall, I enjoyed this anthology as I found that it related to the cultural melting pot present in America today. Cultures are merging all over the world, and my worldview is admittedly limited to my observations in the U.S., but everywhere I see cultures and ethnic groups mixing and assimilating. I can only imagine how difficult the process must be to leave the comforts of home in search of a different life, and I think Rushdie does a fantastic job of illustrating the differences, but also the similarities, between Eastern and Western cultures. 

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