Known for his unrestrained and melodramatic style of prose, Salman Rushdie&’s emblematic novels deeply examine historical and philosophical issues through surreal characters and a brooding humour. His treatment of sensitive religious and political subjects, on the other hand, not only made him a controversial figure but even years after The Satanic Verses, readers and critics alike waited to explore his world of “magical realism”, which, coupled with “historical fiction”, is perhaps closest to defining his genre and style of writing. Most of Rushdie&’s stories centre on the Indian subcontinent and mostly contain themes like migrations to and from the East and West and the incidents occurring in between. His latest offering, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, is, however, set in New York City of the near future when a “no ordinary storm” strikes.

   The novel is dominated by jinns, creatures made of smokeless fire. More precisely, it is the story of Dunia, “a great princess of the jinn, known as the Lightening Princess on account of her mastery over the thunderbolt”. Dunia had an erotic love affair with philosopher Ibn Rushd (supposed to be one of the finest Aristotelian philosophers) in the 12th century. The similarity between Rushd and Rushdie is no mere coincidence — the author has revealed that his father took the family surname from the philosopher, known to be the originator of Islamic secularism (in the West, he&’s often referred to as Averroës). After 2008, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is Rushdie&’s first adult novel and he seems to seduce his readers with adult content. He implies that jinns are not known for their family lives. “But they do have sex.  They have it all the time. There are jinn mothers or fathers, but the generations of the jinn are so long that the ties between the generations often erode… Love is rare in the jinn world. (But sex is incessant.) The jinn, we believe, are capable of the lower emotions — anger, resentment, vindictiveness, possessiveness, lust (especially lust) — and even, perhaps, some forms of affection…”

   In the two years, eight months and 28 nights that followed, Dunia was pregnant three times and on each occasion produced many broods of children. She was the joy of Ibn Rushd&’s old age and would often say, “Doesn’t matter how many nights in a row. Me, I’m always horny, I can go on forever, I have no stopping point.” But the level of energy that Dunia demanded was seldom possible for Rushd to maintain. And after the death of her lover, “she turned sideways and slipped through a slit in the world and returned to Peristan, the other reality, the world of dreams, where jinn periodically emerge to trouble and bless mankind”, leaving her offspring behind her.

   The other skeleton in the story — the main plot — revolves around Rushd, the rationalist, and Ghazali, of the clergy of Iran, who was honoured as the “proof of Islam” and regarded God above all earthly causes and effects. When Rushd challenged Ghazali, he was disgraced and exiled. The choices are presented in the simplest of forms — in comic book style — allowing the reader to choose between good and the evil. Rushdie mentions, “You will see, as time goes by, that in the end it will be religion that will make men turn away from God. The godly are God&’s worst advocates. It may take a thousand and one years but in the end religion will shrivel away and only then will we begin to live in God&’s truth.”

   There are several strong male figures, Mr Geronimo, a gardener, certainly being the strongest among them. He&’s a vividly-portrayed character — of strength and modesty and a longing for the city of his childhood, Mumbai. He is deeply grieved by a “December and January of communal rioting during which 900 people died, mostly Muslims and Hindus, but, according to the official count, there were also 45 ‘unknown’ and five ‘others’”.

   Rushdie travels back to India through Mr Geronimo and pities the city that “once prided itself on being above communal troubles” and mentions that it was above them no longer. “Bombay was gone… All that remained was the new, uglier Mumbai.”

   Rushdie&’s female characters here are equally strong. We come across a mayor and a lady philosopher but they are short-lived, passing too soon to be taken seriously. Of course, the protagonist Dunia is female too. Portrayed as strong and “demanding”, she is a fairy princess but even though Rushdie seduces his readers with her obsession for sex and how she produced many broods of children, there is no mention of several important facets. How did she look after so many children, for instance, or did she ever long for them after she turned sideways and slipped through a slit in the world and returned to Peristan?   While Rushdie has elaborated on her physical front, there is a strong dearth of the human touch in her character that more often than not comes across as superficial and shallow. Of course, Dunia is a jinn and may not necessarily possess several of these human virtues (read, except sex). It is strange that she returns to earth after 1,000 years to defend “her children” — an ancestry she calls “Duniyat”.

   Our ancestors of the next millenium (after war), we observe towards the end of the novel, have resorted to peace as a means for permanent settlement. Having given up on war, conflict, tension, hatred and malice, they now (in the next millenium) peacefully cultivate and look after their gardens and fields. Rushdie makes his conclusion clear, stating, “In the end, rage, no matter how profoundly justified, destroys the enraged.” But there is a tale hidden in his conclusion. Even though they take pride in saying that they have become reasonable people and have understood that “conflict was for a long time the defining narrative of our species” and have now changed that narrative, in the end “the nights pass dumbly… like an army of ghosts, their footsteps noiseless, marching invisibly through the darkness, unheard, unseen, as we live and grow older and die”. They are happy, they find joy in all things and their lives are good but they “sometimes wish for the(ir) dreams to return”.

   Rushdie has dared to imagine a civilisation of contented people but the price they paid for “peace, prosperity, understanding, wisdom, goodness and truth” was taming the wildness in us that sleep unleashes. In simple words, Rushdie makes a clear implication: that human imagination cannot exist without hatred, competition, malice, anger and aggressiveness. His peaceful conclusion of an era, where people walk hand-in-hand towards a reservoir as the birds circle in the sky and all of it, “the birds, the reservoir, the walking, the hand held by hand, all brings us joy” is at the cost of human imagination and dreams.

   A paradoxical conclusion indeed, for had there truly been no imagination they would not wish for their dreams to return when their “dream factories are closed”.

The reviewer is a sub-editor-cum-reporter, the statesman, new delhi.End of war, conflict and tension-but at the cost of dreams?

This is a highly lucid offering that unveils stories within stories and characters within characters, with Rushdie introducing us to a world of jinns, a stormy war and the price for peace. A review by saket suman

KNOWN for his unrestrained and melodramatic style of prose, Salman Rushdie&’s emblematic novels deeply examine historical and philosophical issues through surreal characters and a brooding humour. His treatment of sensitive religious and political subjects, on the other hand, not only made him a controversial figure but even years after The Satanic Verses, readers and critics alike waited to explore his world of “magical realism”, which, coupled with “historical fiction”, is perhaps closest to defining his genre and style of writing. Most of Rushdie&’s stories centre on the Indian subcontinent and mostly contain themes like migrations to and from the East and West and the incidents occurring in between. His latest offering, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, is, however, set in New York City of the near future when a “no ordinary storm” strikes.

   The novel is dominated by jinns, creatures made of smokeless fire. More precisely, it is the story of Dunia, “a great princess of the jinn, known as the Lightening Princess on account of her mastery over the thunderbolt”. Dunia had an erotic love affair with philosopher Ibn Rushd (supposed to be one of the finest Aristotelian philosophers) in the 12th century. The similarity between Rushd and Rushdie is no mere coincidence — the author has revealed that his father took the family surname from the philosopher, known to be the originator of Islamic secularism (in the West, he&’s often referred to as Averroës). After 2008, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is Rushdie&’s first adult novel and he seems to seduce his readers with adult content. He implies that jinns are not known for their family lives. “But they do have sex.  They have it all the time. There are jinn mothers or fathers, but the generations of the jinn are so long that the ties between the generations often erode… Love is rare in the jinn world. (But sex is incessant.) The jinn, we believe, are capable of the lower emotions — anger, resentment, vindictiveness, possessiveness, lust (especially lust) — and even, perhaps, some forms of affection…”

   In the two years, eight months and 28 nights that followed, Dunia was pregnant three times and on each occasion produced many broods of children. She was the joy of Ibn Rushd&’s old age and would often say, “Doesn’t matter how many nights in a row. Me, I’m always horny, I can go on forever, I have no stopping point.” But the level of energy that Dunia demanded was seldom possible for Rushd to maintain. And after the death of her lover, “she turned sideways and slipped through a slit in the world and returned to Peristan, the other reality, the world of dreams, where jinn periodically emerge to trouble and bless mankind”, leaving her offspring behind her.

   The other skeleton in the story — the main plot — revolves around Rushd, the rationalist, and Ghazali, of the clergy of Iran, who was honoured as the “proof of Islam” and regarded God above all earthly causes and effects. When Rushd challenged Ghazali, he was disgraced and exiled. The choices are presented in the simplest of forms — in comic book style — allowing the reader to choose between good and the evil. Rushdie mentions, “You will see, as time goes by, that in the end it will be religion that will make men turn away from God. The godly are God&’s worst advocates. It may take a thousand and one years but in the end religion will shrivel away and only then will we begin to live in God&’s truth.”

   There are several strong male figures, Mr Geronimo, a gardener, certainly being the strongest among them. He&’s a vividly-portrayed character — of strength and modesty and a longing for the city of his childhood, Mumbai. He is deeply grieved by a “December and January of communal rioting during which 900 people died, mostly Muslims and Hindus, but, according to the official count, there were also 45 ‘unknown’ and five ‘others’”.

   Rushdie travels back to India through Mr Geronimo and pities the city that “once prided itself on being above communal troubles” and mentions that it was above them no longer. “Bombay was gone… All that remained was the new, uglier Mumbai.”

   Rushdie&’s female characters here are equally strong. We come across a mayor and a lady philosopher but they are short-lived, passing too soon to be taken seriously. Of course, the protagonist Dunia is female too. Portrayed as strong and “demanding”, she is a fairy princess but even though Rushdie seduces his readers with her obsession for sex and how she produced many broods of children, there is no mention of several important facets. How did she look after so many children, for instance, or did she ever long for them after she turned sideways and slipped through a slit in the world and returned to Peristan?   While Rushdie has elaborated on her physical front, there is a strong dearth of the human touch in her character that more often than not comes across as superficial and shallow. Of course, Dunia is a jinn and may not necessarily possess several of these human virtues (read, except sex). It is strange that she returns to earth after 1,000 years to defend “her children” — an ancestry she calls “Duniyat”.

   Our ancestors of the next millenium (after war), we observe towards the end of the novel, have resorted to peace as a means for permanent settlement. Having given up on war, conflict, tension, hatred and malice, they now (in the next millenium) peacefully cultivate and look after their gardens and fields. Rushdie makes his conclusion clear, stating, “In the end, rage, no matter how profoundly justified, destroys the enraged.” But there is a tale hidden in his conclusion. Even though they take pride in saying that they have become reasonable people and have understood that “conflict was for a long time the defining narrative of our species” and have now changed that narrative, in the end “the nights pass dumbly… like an army of ghosts, their footsteps noiseless, marching invisibly through the darkness, unheard, unseen, as we live and grow older and die”. They are happy, they find joy in all things and their lives are good but they “sometimes wish for the(ir) dreams to return”.

   Rushdie has dared to imagine a civilisation of contented people but the price they paid for “peace, prosperity, understanding, wisdom, goodness and truth” was taming the wildness in us that sleep unleashes. In simple words, Rushdie makes a clear implication: that human imagination cannot exist without hatred, competition, malice, anger and aggressiveness. His peaceful conclusion of an era, where people walk hand-in-hand towards a reservoir as the birds circle in the sky and all of it, “the birds, the reservoir, the walking, the hand held by hand, all brings us joy” is at the cost of human imagination and dreams.

   A paradoxical conclusion indeed, for had there truly been no imagination they would not wish for their dreams to return when their “dream factories are closed”.

(The reviewer is a sub-editor-cum-reporter, The Statesman, New Delhi.)