Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Step Across this Line

Title: Step Across this Line
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publ: Random House

This is a collection of essays, columns and speech transcripts by Rushdie published or occurred at various points of time during 1992-2002. This is an exciting mix of widely varying topics, from fairy tales to Islamic extremism, and from Soccer games to International politics.

Even to an avid reader who has read all of the novels of Rushdie will get a new insight about him from this non-fiction collection. In fact, if someone has thought he/she has understood enough of Rushdie from his fictional works, he/she is utterly mistaken. His non-fictional writings show us the real person behind all those novels. While the themes and topics of all his novels, however serious they might be, finally acquire a comical form by the time they tumble down as words from his fingertips on the keyboard, travelling all the way from the vastness of the intellectual space inside his head,  present before our eyes a nihilistic and frivolous-looking baldy as their author, his works of non-fiction show us how deeply he feels for and is affected by the things going on around him and how thoughtful he is about matters that have serious implications for humanity. If you have not read Rushdie’s essays and columns, your knowledge about the author is imperfect and incomplete. I have also read one of his other similar collection Imaginary Homelands which was when I realized how different Rushdie is from what I have understood about him through his novels. This book is to be read by all those who have shouted out slogans to get him killed over his book The Satanic Verses, most of them without even reading the book. For it will give them a different picture of the human being that he is, who is disturbed  even by the suffering of Muslims themselves and the atrocities and denial of rights they face every day in different parts of the world as much as similar groups belonging to other communities.

The book starts with a piece on The Wizard of Oz, perhaps his first ever love among tales that has never lost its luster for him and has been an interesting topic that pops up now and then in his intellect even to the present day. He makes an in-depth analysis of this story that has been a source of inspiration and an object of love since the childhood of this teller of colourful tales.

He talks at length about his love for India, his first home, in a way that clearly shows how much it all means to him, with all its filth and starving bellies as well as its majesty and glory, sincerely lamenting one while taking pride in the other. He voices out his concern for the people of India and the hardships they face in their own land as well as in the international scenario. Perhaps there is no Indian author contemporary to Rushdie who talks so much for the cause of India, the country that was the first to ban his book. This is well conspicuous in Imaginary Homelands too. He also talks in this book about Babur, Baburnama, the Mughals and Indian history, not forgetting to put emphasis on Babri Masjid and the Ayodhya issue. 

He gives a fairly good account of his life in exile, living under cover during the fatwa issued on his head by late Ayatollah Khomeini following the publication of The Satanic Verses, and all the difficulties he has been facing in moving around since then. His piece on how he travelled to India to his old house, too nostalgic to him, after the fatwa had faded off more or less with the passage of a few years, with his teenage son, is a really touching one. He describes how he still travelled around various places in India in disguise, always trying to hide his face under the hat and wearing sunglasses etc. and how he was still spotted by the media persons. To him, it was a very special homecoming, more so with a father’s emotional attempt at introducing the land and places and its cultures that mean his life itself to his son Zafar. He is driven by memory to the scene of an earlier trip to the same land years before that he made with his western wife with the small sum he had received as advance for his first novel while he was hardly known and during which he stayed in cheap hotels and travelled by buses to make the most of the money in hand. 

The essays also show how an avid reader and an incurable movie buff he is. In fact, the entire book is littered with mentions of great titles and authors, movies and plays. His erudite discussions on the idea of the novel and generally about writing and writers are valuable to anyone who loves literature. We also discover that he is a fan of soccer and has sweet memories of the game. He reminisces the first time he watched a game when his father took him to a tournament between two of the greatest soccer clubs. Discussion on international politics is one of his interesting topics too. I have read elsewhere that he could never think about writing sans politics. 

The book also contains writings about topics which are about very personal matters of his, apparently unimportant or even silly to the reader, like the one titled On Being Photographed, which looks into the moments inside moments and stories inside stories. It is about the intricacies involved in his photo sessions and their photographers and how he feels about them all. 

The final pages try to find explanation and definitions for topics of borders and what it really means to cross them, alienage, exilehood, freedom and discovering oneself, all raising a load of burning, tumultuous questions in the minds of the readers as it has been for the author, a person in exile himself, all his life. He draws wonderful anecdotes from the Sufic works of Fariduddin Attar and Doris Lessing in the process. The book owes to this piece for the title.

I truly believe a book as this definitely adds value to my bookshelf.

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