Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jottings Slice of life - 109 ( Salman Rushdie - my muse)

Jottings Slice of life - 109 ( Salman Rushdie - my muse)
There are only few contemporary novelists who can match the torrential and luxurious prose style of Salman Rushdie. Perhaps a Mark Helprin, Julian barnes, a Kazuo Ishiguro or an Ian McEwan can sometimes write few paragraphs that transcend normal semantics of writing, but no one, in my opinion can consistently, page after page, sentence after sentence, pour into a novel so much lingual virtuosity, elegance of phrase, clarity of thought, audacious flights of imagination and characterization, spell binding story telling; and a seamless narrative gathering itself like a river in spate all that it encounters into one magical climax without , even for a minute, losing track of the central thread, the axle of the story being told. Reading Rushdie is losing oneself in a world only pure geniuses can create, where imagination is everything, and inhabiting that magical world of imagination is a rich profusion of ancient and mythical symbolism, whose meaning becomes clear to a perceptive reader, in solitary moments of enchantment with the written word. It is magical realism at its very best.
Over the last two months, I have been re-reading Rushdie. I personally believe to pass subjective opinion on a seasoned writer, one must read all their works in the chronological order it was written. An author is, after all, an evolving person, and each book invariably reflects the subtle changes of thought patterns, ideologies, understanding of human nature, linguistic maturity, command over the medium itself, and many a time a complete revision of outlook on life. Rarely would you find in literature, a novelist whose entire work is consistent and outstanding at the same time. Even great Dickens or Austen were not exceptions. There will be always early attempts reflecting immaturity, over confident efforts at something beyond oneself, but if there is within the seed to write, in conjunction with sufficient opportunity and commitment; they are able to bring their ideas and its expression into focussed prose quite naturally and rapidly. During that period of flowering, a writer goes through a purple patch when anything they chose to write is flawless. Not a word, not a paragraph or punctuation can go wrong in that phase. The intensity of genius will dictate the length of this creative period. And after this explosion of talent, follows the menopause of creativity - a period of decline, repetition when they run out of ideas, and begin to rehash old thoughts and themes into new formulations. This is when as a reader, you know, that your beloved writer is past his prime and is slipping into history as an iconic figure to be cherished and studied , with newer players now taking over the stage.
With Salman Rushdie, except for his first forgettable novel “Grimus” written in 1975 - a pseudo attempt at science fiction, every other work which has flowed from his pen starting with “Midnights children” in 1981 to “Two years eight months and twenty eight days” in 2015 are masterpieces of syntactical craftsmanship and transcendental story telling. Even “Satanic Verses” which bought him international recognition for wrong reasons is a book of great depth and structure, if one can to read it for its beautiful prose, satire and allegorical references to a system of beliefs. In “Shalimar” and “Moors last sigh”, written in the 90’s and early 2000, one can feel Rushdie settling down to a pattern, his language more controlled, his fertile imagination still able to spin out multiple internal universes within half a thousand pages. Rushdie could write short stories as well. In “Haroun and sea of stories” ( not stories of the sea , note the difference) , Rushdie chiseled short stories from his mythological raw material. In the tradition of old bards, Salman begins his tales with “Once upon a time…”, and as readers we are swept in its tidal flow into a journey that takes us back to our cocooned childhood days when fantasy was everything and reality a gross violation of life.
It is not my intention in the short essay to critique Rushdie’s works, not am I even capable of attempting it. But I do share and participate in the ecstasy of simply enjoying his books. For a writer who has been in exile for most of his creative life, with a threat of death hanging perilously like a Damocles sword even today, Rushdie’s talent and genius has flowed unabated despite the vicissitudes of his living conditions. Lesser writers would have succumbed to the tremendous psychological burden of living constantly in insecurity, but Rushdie seemed to have thrived and grown on it. Married and divorced four times, sticking to his beliefs, and open as ever in his opinions and criticisms, he has not allowed his creative sap to be wrenched dry. 2017 still expects a book of him. And I am certain it will be worth reading. The nobel committee has several times over the last decade come close to honoring Rushdie, but has shied away from it for reasons best known to them. However, the Booker awards have been more generous and acknowledging of his literary brilliance. Oftentimes, during casual conversation with friends, the question comes up about who is the more accomplished of the English writers of Indian origin: VS Naipaul or Ahmad Salman Rushdie? Both are wonderful writers and both have sustained their creativity for decades. But personally, for sheer pleasure of reading prose, I would prefer Rushdie to Naipaul, but if stories have the necessity to be grounded in reality then Naipaul’s books remain truer.
French writer Francine Prose in the introduction to her book “Reading like a writer” mentions how she need to be enveloped with great books whenever she writes. Sometimes in order to write, one needs to dip into sources of inspiration. Somebody to ease you over an internal hurdle. And once in a while, reading a book makes you write one yourself. Francine writes: “Reading a masterpiece in a language for which you need a dictionary is in itself a course in reading word by word. And as I puzzled out the gorgeous, labyrinthine sentences, I discovered how reading a book can make you write one.”
Salman Rushdie’s books have been my muse for many years now. When I find my creative sap going dry, I dip into few chapters of “Midnights children” or “Shame” or “The moor's last sigh”, and somehow, mysteriously, the roots gets watered again, and my pen moves with much more confidence and poise than before. To me, that is the lasting quality of any writer - The ability of their words and sentences to transform ones energy and thinking into something much more than what we are normally capable of.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

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