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Ariana Luburi (Novi Sad)


ABSTRACT East and West in Rushdies Short Stories is a paper which deals with Rushdies single collection of stories, East, West. The collection is an attempt to explore the vast spaces of two very different (although in some respects also very similar) civilizations and cultures, to understand them, bring them together and reconcile them. This paper aims at shedding light on the models of the eastern and western civilizations offered by the author. It explores the different aspects of their collision and fusion, and the objectivity/subjectivity of their representations. KEY WORDS: story, east, west, India, England, narrator, author, life, people

Reading East, West, Salman Rushdies single collection of short stories, is very much like a magic carpet ride (or perhaps more like what we imagine it to be) over the exotic, sometimes familiar, sometimes strange landscapes of what can best be described as Rushdieland. The collection is an attempt to explore the vast spaces of two very different (although in some respects also very similar) civilizations and cultures, to understand them, bring them together and reconcile them. The deeper we reach into the world of these stories the more we understand that the objective images of east and west are coloured by the subjective views of the authors nostalgic heart, pulled by the ropes of his two homes and troubled by the sense of unbelonging. The three parts of the collection (East, West, and East/West), each containing three stories, talk about the east and west of Rushdies cosmopolitan land, touching upon some of the most prominent features, or problems, of both. These stories offer glimpses of different aspects of life in these ever-opposed sides of the world. By setting them one against the other the author makes us see more clearly the opposition which is not only geographical or political, but also cultural, social and personal. It is an opposition between two different philosophies and ways of life that engender different problems and ways of dealing with them. A more personal facet of the opposition is emphasized in the last part of the collection which tells a story of several generations of expatriates from India living in the UK, most of them torn between the east of their childhood and the west of their adulthood. The stories cover a wide variety of themes emigration, birth control, religious fanaticism, idolization, morality, homesickness, search for ones identity, etc. some more typical of the east or west, others more universal. The themes and plots, full of hidden meanings, mysterious twists

and magic, so characteristic of Rushdies narration, are matched by an equally protean style. In the stories about the east the author employs a simpler style and language, which largely conforms to the tradition of old Indian story-telling and reflects a view of life that seems far simpler than that of the western civilizations. As we get to the part about the west, the style and language change and become more complicated and typical of western narrative traditions. The last three stories represent a fusion, a blending of both themes and styles. These, however, are only more general changes, and even more interesting is the fact that each story is marked by a style and language of its own. The author switches from the ancient tradition of a story told by a village elder to a science fiction comment on future ethics, from a dark, mysterious tale of religious fanaticism and morality to a humorous alternative version of Hamlet. * * The setting of the first set of stories is India, with the spicy, exotic atmosphere of its crowded streets, featuring ayahs, rickshaw-wallahs, children of rich money-lenders and criminals as protagonists. These are stories about life in a poverty-stricken country, where people are made to stand in lines veiled by dust-clouds in front of the British Consulate, where marriages are fixed by parents and religious fanaticism endangers morality and ruins peace at home. Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, the first of the stories dealing with the east, is a simple story about the complex problem of emigration and the difficult position of women in a patriarchal world, with an underlying comment on the political situation in India and the countrys relationship with its former colonialist. The simplicity of plot, style and characters evokes the simple, and yet profound wisdom of ancient story-telling. Although the author discusses serious problems, the air of optimism dominates, especially towards the end. This third-person narrative tells a story about a beautiful young woman, trying to emigrate to England, where her fianc is waiting for her. In front of the British Consulate, where Tuesday women (Rushdie, p. 5) are already waiting for the sahibs inside to finish their breakfast and let them in, she meets an old advice expert who specialized in advising the most vulnerable-looking of these weekly supplicants. (Rushdie, p. 6) At first attracted by her beauty and later disarmed by her simplicity and innocence, he offers her the British passport, which she refuses, and tries to make her save her dignity by not entering the Consulate, where they will ask her all sorts of even the most intimate questions and try to elicit indispensable pieces of information like your mans mothers third cousins aunts step-daughters middle name, and if you make one mistake, you are finished. (Rushdie, p. 10) She goes there in spite of his advice. When she comes out, she tells him the story of her life, of her fixed marriage, arranged when she was nine years old, to a twenty years older stranger, and it is the only time bitterness infects her smile. (Rushdie, p. 15) Seeing her *

smiling, though, the old advice expert mistakenly assumes that she has managed to get the papers, but in the end, and much to his surprise, he realizes that she has not. That there is some bitterness in the life of Ali, the fake expert, we learn from a single revealing sentence. Her last smilewas the happiest thing he had ever seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving life. (Rushdie, p. 16) The story is interwoven with Alis (or the authors) comments on India, where people are poor and ignorant, and they completely refuse to learn (Rushdie, p. 12), and England, a great nation full of the coldest fish in the world. (Rushdie, p. 8), with an abundance of details saying a lot about not only both these countries (India, for instance, is a country, where people eat pakoras from newspaper packets, sing tunes from movie soundtracks, and are humiliated by the indifferent English clerks), but also about the authors attitude to them. The second among the East stories, The Free Radio, is yet another glimpse on Indian life. It is a sad tale of self-delusion and optimism which conquers futility, all embodied in the character of Ramani, a nave young rickshaw-wallah, who marries a ten years older widow with five children, and undergoes vasectomy for her sake. The narrator is a retired old teacher, not without importance in the town (Rushdie, p. 23), with a rather traditional and conservative view of life, who feels bad about young Ramanis fate, from which he once tried to save him, but it was no go (Rushdie, p. 19) His character and story-telling is what makes this story Rushdies most traditional one. It begins with the narrators introductory comment on Ramanis fate, which brings about the atmosphere of old oral narration. What follows is his account of what happened to the young man the story of how Ramani and the widow get together and how the old man tries to save him, of Ramanis vasectomy and his nave dream of a free radio given as compensation. Realizing there is no compensation, he sells his rickshaw and goes to Bombay, replacing his dream of the free radio with one of becoming a famous movie star. From his letters to the old teacher we learn of his success, but, whether the success is real or imagined remains obscure. Underlying this story is the authors comment on the ignorance of simple people, who believe that governments are nice enough to give free radios to people who are so keen on popular music (Rushdie, p. 25). It is also a comment on birth control, an issue of national interest in India, and, perhaps, the old mans view of sterilization as the boys deprivation of his manhood and a crime against his own body reflects the authors own attitude to it. Unlike the first two stories, which represent everyday scenes from life in India, the third one, The Prophets Hair is a dark tale, full of magic and mystery, and optimism is far from a good word to describe what wins in the end. The story opens on a winter night. A rich young man enters the most wretched and disreputable part of the city (Rushdie, p. 35), looking for a professional burglar, but is robbed,

beaten within an inch of his life (Rushdie, p. 35) and left on a deserted embankment of a nearby canal. He remains in a coma until the end. His sister bravely attempts the same and manages to hire the most desperate and notorious of criminals to steal the famous relic of the Prophet Muhammad, a single strand of his hair, from their house. She begins telling her story of how their father, a rich money-lender, came across the relic. We learn about the money-lenders decision to keep the stolen relic to himself, out of what seems his collectors mania. (Rushdie, p. 43) and about a ghastly change of atmosphere in the rich mans household upon his decision. After an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of the relic, we witness the further worsening of circumstances and the siblings, sure of the hairs strange powers, believe it is persecuting them and has come back to finish the job. The Thief of Thieves (Rushdie, p. 52) agrees to steal it, goes to the house, and, just when he is on the verge of succeeding, under the dark spell of the prophets hair everything goes wrong. The son dies, the father accidentally kills the daughter, and the thief manages to escape. The relic safely finds its way to the Hazratbal mosque and we learn of the further miracles and misfortunate effects the relic has on the thiefs family, and the one stroke of good luck it brings to the thiefs wife. Full of strange twists and inexplicable turns of events, with sombre consequences, caused by the relics strange effect on people, the storys plot and atmosphere evoke the spirit of the gothic tradition, and Rushdie proves to be the master of tension and suspense. By means of such an atmosphere he manages to explore the darkest alleys of religious fanaticism and morality. * * Unlike the first part of the collection, where the three stories discuss different aspects and problems of Indian life, the first two being especially similar in structure and the rather traditional kind of narration the author uses, the three stories that compose West are not so closely connected, which makes this part less consistent than East. The stories differ from one another to such an extent that, at first sight, it makes the connection between them barely discernible, except in the fact that they all deal with the western world and they belong to western narrative traditions. The first of these stories, Yorick, is the authors humorous attempt to present Hamlet from a completely different perspective and create a mock-version of the play. This time the narrator is the author himself, assuming the role of the traditional English bard, who uses the style and language typical of Shakespearean plays. He changes the original plot almost to the very last detail, constantly trying to persuade us that his is the real version and is even angry with the reader who, supposedly, disagrees. The focus of the story is not, however, Hamlet, or the authors play with the form, but the character of the witty narrator, who resembles Shakespeares clever, ironic fools. He is intelligent, *

self-assured, ironic, even quarrelsome at times, humorous and amusing. He mocks not only the famous play, but also the style of writing popular in Shakespeares time, in general. He turns everything up-side-down, giving us proof that what he is saying is what has really happened. When he has finished with the play, he makes an interesting revelation concerning both the story he has been telling us and himself as a story-teller. Yoricks child survives, and leaves the scene of his familys tragedy; wanders the world, sowing his seed in far-off lands, from west to east and back again; and multicoloured generations follow, ending (Ill now reveal) in this present, humble AUTHOR; whose ancestry may be proved by this, which he holds in common with the whole sorry line of the family, that his chief weakness is for the telling of a particular species of Tale, which learned men have termed chanticleric, and also taurean. - And just such a COCK-AND-BULL story is by this last confession brought quite to its conclusion. (Rushdie, p. 83) When he has finished playing with Hamlet, Rushdie decides to skip several centuries and present us with a sci-fi account of an auction, where the biddersbear little resemblance to your usual saleroom crowd. (Rushdie, p. 87) At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, which can make your dreams come true, there are movie stars with movie-star auras, developed in collaboration with masters of Applied Physics, platinum, golden, silver, bronze (Rushdie, p. 88), memorabilia junkies, people wearing costumes from The Wizard of Oz, exiles, displaced persons of all sorts, homeless tramps, political refugees, orphans, and even imaginary beings. We learn that the narrator himself is a member of this unlikely crowd. When the auction is about to begin, he inserts a digression about his cousin Gale and their relationship to explain why he is one of the bidders. However, near the end Gale loses her hold over me in the crucible of the auction I drop out of the bidding, go home, and fall asleep. When I awake I feel refreshed, and free. (Rushdie, p. 102) The story of the futuristic auction, written in the manner of postmodern fiction, with nonlinear time, gives plenty of room for the narrator, that is, author, to comment on the present and future state of ethics in the modern (western) world. Most of us nowadays are sick. (Rushdie, p. 87) This world, with its emphasis on power and money, on movie-stars and idolizing objects, is not unlike the world described in The Prophets Hair, a world which suffers from the same kind of idolization and a different kind of fanaticism. All the bidders suffer from the same delusion we believe they can make us invulnerable to witches (and there are so many sorcerers pursuing us nowadays); because of their powers of reverse metamorphosis, their

affirmation of a lost state of normalcy in which we have almost ceased to believe and to which the slippers promise us we can return (Rushdie, p. 92), but the author is aware of the fact that perhaps we are asking, hoping for, too much (Rushdie, p. 93), because Home has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present travails. There is so much to yearn for. There are so few rainbows any more. How hard can we expect even a pair of magic shoes to work? (Rushdie, p. 93) There is also an underlying comment on the place of love in such a world, in which we may mortgage our homes, sell our children, to have whatever it is we crave. (Rushdie, p. 102) What follows is yet another alternative version, this time not of a play, but of the events leading to one of the most significant discoveries in history. The unusually long title, Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship (Santa Fe, AD 1492), suggests a sexual relationship, although in the story itself there is nothing of the sort, apart from a few vague attempts on Columbus part (for the sole purpose of achieving his aims). The story deals with the relationship between the two of them, which is not in the least the romanticized relationship we are familiar with. We follow the development of the situation from Columbus arrival at her court until he gets what he wants. First we see him follow her from day to day, proud, yet supplicant, the head held high, but the knee bent (Rushdie, p. 107), while the Queen plays with Columbus. (Rushdie, p. 109) The author presents her as an omnipotent tyrant with an insatiable desire for conquest and ecstasy. Columbus gives up hope and goes away. He dreams of compensation in the form of revenge, of Isabella desperately calling him to come back, and in his dream he refuses it. Bitch! Bitch! How do you like it now?, Columbus sneers. (Rushdie, p. 117) Back in reality, when her heralds find him He opens his mouth, and what almost spills out is the bitter refusal: no. Yes, he tells the heralds. Yes, Ill come. (Rushdie, p. 119) Columbus is a man in pursuit of his dream, and, to make it come true, he accepts everything, knowing that without it his life would be meaningless. His ideas that the search for money and patronage is not so different from the quest for love. (Rushdie, p. 112), and The loss of money and patronage is as bitter as unrequited love. (Rushdie, p. 115) are, perhaps, the authors more universal comments which can be applied to the modern world. The Queen, too, is, perhaps, a character that is more universal than it might seem, embodying the ever-growing and never-ending search for power. By presenting us with such an account, the author dismisses the romanticized version of Columbus way to achievement. He puts down what he sees as a possible, more realistic, one. He

sees tyrants and their fools for what they are. Talking about dreams, he understands that the way to their fulfillment is far from being as easy as we would like it to be. * * Rushdies east is a world where you can find traces of the west in tunes from movie soundtracks, and in his west multicoloured generations (Rushdie, p. 83) of story-tellers share common ancestry with those from the east. A more profound and far-reaching fusion, however, takes place in part three, East, West, where the two worlds are brought together, contrasted and blended in the lives of Indian people in the UK. What these stories have in common is an overwhelming sense of double existence and unbelonging, which reflects the authors own feelings. The protagonists are emigrants of different generations, whose (wish for) adaptation varies a great deal. Their common ground is that they belong to both these worlds and to neither, and are torn between them. The Harmony of the Spheres is a story about this sense of unbelonging and a search for harmony, both personal and universal. It is told by a former Indian student at Cambridge, whose friend and a kind of guru in the matter of the occult suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and commits suicide at the very beginning of the story. Talking about his friends illness and their friendship, he reveals that he, too, was suffering from a disharmony of his personal spheres (Rushdie, p. 139) and adds in Eliots enormous, generously shared mental storehouse of the varieties of forbidden knowledge I thought Id found another way of making a bridge between hereand-there, between my two othernesses, my double unbelonging. In that world of magic and power there seemed to exist the kind of fusion of worldviews, European Amerindian Oriental Levantine, in which I desperately wanted to believe. (Rushdie, p. 141) Discussing the relationship with his wife Mala, a ninth-generation child of indentured labourers brought from India (Rushdie, p. 139), who felt like home, and Eliots wife Lucy, his childhood love, he presents us with a world in which adultery is seen as a simple biochemical imbalance. (Rushdie, p. 134) While searching through the books and papers of his dead friends unpublished mind (Rushdie, p. 143), trying to find something to pull into shape, he comes across pages of steamy sex involving his wife (Rushdie, p. 144), thinking they are fantasies. While talking about it with his wife, he suffers from the collapse of harmony, the demolition of the spheres of my heart. Those werent fantasies, she said. (Rushdie, p. 146) *

The focus is, again, on the narrator, who utters Rushdies views on the uneasy state of being an expatriate, especially in such a mixed-up world, in which restoring inner balance seems almost impossible. The atmosphere of the story is more western than eastern, and the characters are those who bring about a touch of the oriental world, which is a kind of preparation for the next story, or rather, the next two stories, where the East dominates. Chekov and Zulu is set in the weeks around Indira Gandhis assassination and is about Indian diplomats and revolutionaries in England. Chekov and Zulu, childhood friends, a diplomat and a soldier, collectors of Star Trek memorabilia, proudly bearing the names of their alter egos (Rushdie, p. 151), were educated and trained in England, a breeding ground for our revolutionaries. (Rushdie, p. 164) The reader enters the secret world of one of their missions, related to Mrs. Gandhis assassination, and the events following it. The two men, although very different in many respects, manage to maintain their friendship until the end. Zulu, a Sikh who reverted to tradition (Rushdie, p. 154), is a soldier fighting against terrorism. Chekov, on the other hand, in his public life the most urbane of men (Rushdie, p. 154), is a radical who loves London, but sees the English as thieves. Their museums are full of our treasures Their fortunes and cities, built on the loot they took One forgives, of course; that is our national nature. One need not forget. (Rushdie, p. 156) The differences between the two of them have always existed. However, they also have something in common. While talking about their Star Trek alter egos, Chekov explains they are not the leaders but the ultimate professional servants. (Rushdie, p. 151) Not only the two of them are servants, though. Likewise with the good ship Hindustan. We are servants also, you see We do not lead, but we enable. (Rushdie, p. 151) It is easy to suppose that such a view of the relationship between the West and the East is shared by the author, but whether it truly is remains uncertain. In Chekov and Zulu the author also discusses the world politics, in general, with its war against terrorism that continues to this very day. Unlike the westernized Indians from the previous story, the characters in Chekov and Zulu have much stronger ties to India, reflected in the way they dress, in the choice of their professions and the language they use, which is what makes them a kind of preparation for the characters of the last East, West story, The Courter. The coexistence of east and west, the fusion of these two worlds and cultures, although more or less present in all these stories, is the essence of The Courter. The themes of unbelonging,

homesickness and ones ability or inability to adapt are all examined through the eyes of a narrator in search of his personal and national identity. He introduces the reader to several generations of Indians in England, whose adaptation varies from generation to generation, with the focus on an unusual love affair between two elderly expatriates, a porter and an ayah, and on the events that represent a crossroads in the life of the narrator in his adolescence. The story begins to unfold when the narrator, now a grown-up man, receives a message from his ayah. This message from an intimate stranger reached out to me in my enforced exile from the beloved country of my birth and moved me, stirring things that had been buried very deep. (Rushdie, p. 178) He focuses on the ayah, who moved to London together with his family, when he was a teenager studying in England. Her inability to adapt, or lack of wish for it, echoed by the difficulties she has with English (though she faces none using her mother tongue), amounts to such strong homesickness that she literally falls ill and recovers only when she gets back to India. The generation of the narrators parents is one step further on the way to adaptation, but obstacles are still too difficult to overcome. The next generation faces problems, as well, but for them, the process of adaptation is much faster and far less painful. Although in his schooldays India felt as far away as Paradise (Rushdie, p. 175) and the narrator has become a British citizen, one of the lucky ones (Rushdie, p. 210), he sees that over the years things have changed. Paradise now seems even further away, but India and Hell have come a good bit closer. (Rushdie, p. 175) Like Mary, whose heart, roped by two different loves, is being pulled both East and West (Rushdie, p. 209), the narrator realizes that he, too, has ropes around his neck, pulling him this way and that, East and West. His last statement is I refuse to choose. (Rushdie, p. 210) The most autobiographical of all characters in these stories, the narrator speaks for Rushdie himself and voices not only his torment, but the very curse of exile. * * This unique amalgam of narrative perspectives, techniques, and styles, where a language of the West is seasoned with one from the East, created to produce an extraordinary mixture of themes and moods, serious topics and their often humorous presentations, realism and fantasy, articulates some of Rushdies personal obsessions, together with more universal ideas. The stories feature such a wide variety of characters writers, ayahs, doctors, rickshaw-wallahs, diplomats, students, both rich and poor, living in the East and the West as to give a clear view of a social panorama that is not only Indian. These stories talk about life, seen from various angles, and present events, *

characters, atmosphere and ideas, all of which seem equally important as the keys to our understanding of Rushdies prolific world. By leading us first across the East and then the West, only to bring us to a hybrid, but very realistic, world of East, West, Rushdie ushers us into the universe of his imagination endowed with profound insight. Although the collection is not equally consistent in all parts, which is why some critics believe this is far from what he is capable of doing with his magic pen, there is one thing that the author managed to express with it. These stories are his attempt at defining, presenting and reconciling the opposites in his life and writing, his own inner east and west, that will, perhaps, remain opposed forever. LITERATURE: Bonheim, H. (1986). The Narrative Modes. Exeter: Short Run Press Ltd. Miall, D. (1989). Text and Affect: A model of Story Understanding. U: Hanson, C. ed. Rereading the Short Story. New York: St. Martins Press: 10-20. Hanson, C. (1989). Things out of Words: Towards a Poetics of Short Fiction. U: Hanson, C. ed. Re-reading the Short Story. New York: St. Martins Press: 22-33. Lohafer, S. (1983). Coming to Terms with the Short Story. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press.

Ariana Luburi) EAST AND WEST IN RUSHDIES SHORT STORIES Rsum East, West, Salman Rushdies single collection of short stories is an attempt to explore the vast spaces of two very different, but also very similar civilizations and cultures, to understand them, bring them together and reconcile them. The objective images of east and west are coloured by the subjective views of the authors nostalgic heart, pulled by the ropes of his two homes and troubled by the sense of unbelonging. The stories offer glimpses of different aspects of life in these ever-opposed sides of the world. By setting them one against the other the author makes us see more clearly the opposition which is not only geographical or political, but also cultural, social and personal. However, he also depicts their fusion. In Rushdies east you can find traces of the west in tunes from movie soundtracks, and in his west multicoloured generations of story-tellers share common ancestry with those from the east. A more profound and far-reaching fusion takes place in the last three stories, where the two worlds are brought together, contrasted and blended in the lives of Indian people in the UK, with an overwhelming sense of double existence. These stories are his attempt at defining, presenting and

reconciling the opposites in his life and writing, his own inner east and west, that will, perhaps, remain opposed forever.