Shame: The Layers Beneath

Repression & Revolt

In Shame, Rushdie suggests that in Pakistan democracy and polytheism have been repressed by authoritarianism and puritanism. The mix of political and religious repression -- most evident in Raza's control over the country -- creates an invisible, underground realm, a bizarre collective unconscious seething with frustration and anger. A demonic monster then rises from this subterranean world to scourge the militarism and puritanism which created it.  

The way that Raza’s repression leads to the Beast’s vengeance is subtle, yet not as subtle as the way Rushdie builds up to this by laying an underground foundation from which the Beast erupts. The surname “Harappa” and the estate names “Mohenjo” and “Daro” signal the ancient layer -- in geography and in time -- when the Harappan culture flourished in the Indus Valley. Iskander’s first name refers to President Major-General Iskander Mirza (1956-58) as well as to the famous Greek general Alexander, and thus also hints backward in time. The tectonics of the novel depend partly on the fact that Islam isn’t the indigenous religion or sensibility; before it were the Harappans, and for many centuries the polytheism of Vedic and other gods held sway. 

From The Victoria and Albert Museum, London (photos RYC)

From The Victoria and Albert Museum, London (photos RYC)

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Rushdie suggests an almost Freudian scenario of the id eruting into the world of the ego. Beneath the geo-political landscape of Pakistan lies a mix of pagan and other repressed forces: sexual and democratic impulses denied by puritans and authoritarians; the anger of marginalized women (Rani banished to Mohenjo, Bilquis banished to Daro, and Sufiya chained à la Jean Rhys’ madwoman in Raza’s attic); Hinduism and its powerful gods and goddesses; Baluchistan’s subterranean angels kept down by Raza’s centralized State; and a nebulous host of underground and peripheral forces feared by Omar. The undercurrents and pressures in this realm build up over the course of the novel. At the end, they find their outlet in the marginalized, pagan, polytheistic, demonized, female, angry, figure of the possessed Sufiya. 

Rushdie’s use of "shame’s avatar" and “disorder’s avatar” to describe the possessed Sufiya is important, for the term avatar derives from Hinduism, which of course dates way back. Yet in the minds of the novel’s Pakistanis, Hinduism is a current threat -- partly because it's associated with the Indian immigrant -- the “mohajir ancestry” (S 254) held against Raza. The problems of the mohajir date largely from Partition, when Pakistan gained 7.2 million refugees from India. Most settled in the cities and towns of the south. The muhajir from East Punjab “sought the establishment of an Islamic state and a state-managed economy” while the other more urbanized mujahir from a variety of Indian locations “believed in relatively ‘secular’ politics and laissez-faire economics.” *

Retaining vague Hindu notions from his Indian homeland, Raza hopes to father a reincarnation or avatar of his first still-born son. It may be important to note that an avatar refers to the freely-willed descent of a deity into human or animal form, whereas reincarnation or samsara refers to the rebirth of a soul from one body to the next. Rushdie uses avatar rather loosely, perhaps in order to suggest that his Muslims don’t grasp the distinction between it and samsara, or perhaps in order to accommodate the later descent of the deity Kali into Sufiya. Another possible explanation may be that Raza invents such a spectacular fictional life for his still-born son (S 83) that this son’s spirit might be seen as godlike, descending into Sufiya’s body. When Bilquis has a second child the shame of giving birth to a dead baby is replaced by the shame of giving birth to a female baby. Thus Sufiya is at once an avatar of the still-born child and of the shame associated with the female replacement. 

Ironically, it’s the same Raza who once believed in the Hindu notion of avatars who imposes Islamic law onto Pakistani life. Raza thus exacerbates the Pakistani tendency to deny “that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface” of Pakistan (S 87). In depicting a revolt against such denial, and against the repression of polyvocality in religious, cultural and political forms, Rushdie creates the composite figure of the Beast/Kali. This figure takes on satanic and Hindu associations, which makes sense given that it revolts against a centralized, monotheistic, patriarchal power that’s at once Mosque and State. One might also see the Beast/Kali as an avatar in that the spirit of Sufiya (and the innocence and sympathy she represents) is repressed, dies and then comes back from the dead. This spirit of vengeance comes back in a destructive form to destroy those who kept Sufiya's spirit down and snuffed it out. As I will discuss later, Sufiya's name is also relevant in another way here: she also represents the repression of the more poetic or metaphoric interpretation of religion characteristic of Sufism.

 

The Double-bill of Mahmoud’s Destruction

While Rushdie initially lends a degree of humour to the insults Pakistanis hurl at Hindus and the muhajir, he eventually makes it clear that the violence behind these insults is anything but funny.  Highlighting the ludicrous degree to which religion divides the citizens of pre-Partition Delhi, he remarks that “going to the pictures had become a political act. The one-godly went to these cinemas and the washers of stone gods to those; movie-fans had been partitioned already.” Bilquis’ father, Mahmoud, revolts against this division by playing a Hindu-Muslim double-bill, that is, by playing a film in which cows are set free along with another film in which cows are eaten (the “non-vegetarian Westerns”). In Midnight’s Children, Aadam Aziz’s “optimism disease” amounted to the belief in a tolerant, united subcontinent. Here it takes the form of Mahmoud’s “mad logic of romanticism” and of a “fatal personality flaw, namely tolerance” (S 62). Aadam’s heroic status in Amritsar and Agra also anticipates Mahmoud’s celestial status. When Mahmoud’s theatre explodes in a “hot firewind of apocalypse,” Bilquis hears “a sound like the beating wings of an angel” (S 62-63). Rushdie’s imagery suggests that Mahmoud’s death isn’t merely a worldly event, but partakes in the divinity associated with angels. In giving the name Mahmoud to his anti-communalist crusader, Rushdie may also be borrowing from the Sufi depiction of Mahmud of Ghazni, whose love of his slave Ayez represents a love so great that it crosses the otherwise impenetrable boundaries of status, rank, and heterosexual mores. In the novel Mahmoud crosses the all-too fortified boundary between Muslims and Hindus, and he thus attains a sort of angelic status. *

Visions of the Hereafter: Ascent to Heaven , Hieronymus Bosch, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice (photo RYC)

Visions of the Hereafter: Ascent to Heaven, Hieronymus Bosch, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice (photo RYC)

The zealotry which results in 'the double-bill of Mahmoud’s destruction' resurfaces when Bariamma assails Raza and Bilquis for importing the notion of reincarnation into her Muslim country. The matriarch learns that they think God has “consented to send them a free substitute for the damaged goods” - a new child for their stillborn child: “Bariamma, who found out everything, clicked her tongue noisily over this reincarnation nonsense, aware that it was something they had imported, like a germ, from that land of idolaters they had left.” Iskander also uses Raza’s Indian background against him when he reminds people (during his trial) that the pro-Islamic Raza once believed in avatars. Iskander’s supporters then mutter that there’s “evidence of a Hindu great-grandmother on his father’s side,” and that “those ungodly philosophies had long ago infected his blood.” While these comments are somewhat humorous because they are ridiculous in the extreme, the humour evaporates when Bariamma calls Bilquis “a fugitive from that godless country over there” and when she yells at Raza’s wife, “Come on, mohajir! Immigrant! Pack up double-quick and be off to what gutter you choose” (S 83-5).

In Shame the association between the Other and the demonic pertains mostly to Muslim demonization of Hindus, yet Rushdie’s Pakistanis demonize the West as well. Given Rushdie's love of rock and roll and his far from puritan morality, one can imagine the delight he takes in parodying the view that there’s a “demonic quality” in “Western-style dance music” (S 16) and that products from the West are “Foreign devilments,” “Devil things from abroad” and “items from hell” (S 99).  He also has fun describing the “wild lovers” copulating “in the aisle of the vegetation-covered house of the Christian God” (S 55) and the international hotels “where the naked white women go” (S 97). Rushdie’s account of bias against Westerners is of course more damning to Pakistanis than to Westerners, especially when his Pakistanis relish thinking about the shameful acts they attribute to Westerners and Christians. For instance, speculating on the relationship between Rodrigues and his student Farah, the “good people of Q. hit upon the most shameful, scandalous explanation of all” (S 48). 

 

Covering Up History

Rushdie contends that to build Pakistan “it was necessary to cover up Indian history, to deny that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface.” He sees “the subsequent history of Pakistan as a duel between two layers of time” (S 87), and he quite decidedly champions the Indian layer of time. He invests the hidden layer with a variety of cosmic forces, and creates an effective dichotomy between marginalized rebellious forces and centralized conservative forces by having Omar’s younger brother Babar join the subterranean angels of the Baluchis (an ethnic group marginalized and repressed by the central government) and by having Omar, who keeps close to the centre of power, fear the type of rebellious mythic force suggested by these underground angels. While Rushdie doesn’t make it clear that the Beast (as fallen angel) rallies the subterranean angels, he clearly uses Omar’s fears of peripheral and underground forces to create a foreboding backdrop for the Beast/Kali, who surfaces right in front of Omar’s terrified eyes.

Whereas Omar moves from “Q” (Quetta, near the border with Afghanistan) to Karachi, Babar drifts from Q to the furthest hinterland of the country, that is, to the camps of the Baluchi rebels in the mountains surrounding Q. Babar’s move to the hinterland is initially an “act of separatism” against his three mothers and their idealization of Omar (S 131), yet his subsequent revolt is against the central government and the control it exerts through its military strongman Raza. (At this point in the story Raza is Iskander’s general. It’s Raza who quells the Baluchi revolt in Needle Valley and who leads the party which shoots Babar.) The suppression of the Baluchis has a long history in the subcontinent, for the five million Baluchis in Pakistan speak an Indo-Iranian language and they have never been well integrated with “British India” or the rest of Pakistan. After attempting to subdue them, the British “accorded” them an autonomous region in 1876. 

On the partition of India [in] 1947 the khan of Khalat [the large central region south of the regional capital, Quetta] declared Baluchistan independent; the insurrection was crushed by the new Pakistani army after eight months. *

Early in the Bhutto era, opposition governments in Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier [home to the Pathans] suffered open discrimination; their leaders were frequently criticized for being unpatriotic. Finally, on February 12, 1974, the Baluchistan government was dismissed on the charge of inciting the people of that province to rebel against the central authorities.” *

Since the creation of Pakistan, there have been three rebellions, the last being from 1973 to 1977 (roughly corresponding to the Bhutto era), when 3,300 Pakistani soldiers and some 6,000 Baluchi were killed. *

Babar writes in his notebook that Baluchi separatists believe their desire for freedom is supported by “golden angels” who are trapped beneath the surface of the earth (presumably by an unjust “God” or by such a God’s stand-in, a despot such as Raza): “their belief that the golden angels were on their side gave the guerrillas an unshakable certainty of the justice of their cause, and made it easy for them to die for it. ‘Separatism,’ Babar wrote, ‘is the belief that you are good enough to escape from the clutches of hell’” (S 130). When Babar dies for this cause he finds Heaven below rather than above the earth: he soars “lucent and winged into the eternity of the mountains” and he’s “received into the elysian bosom of the earth” (S 132). 

Given that this account is imagined by the three mothers, one can’t ascribe it a straightforward meaning. While the three sisters first idolize Omar and then Babar, their initial idolization and their subsequent hatred of Omar isn’t inconsistent. Omar is initially a product and symbol of their revolt against marriage (they conceive and raise him out of wedlock), yet he eventually leaves the three mothers and befriends Raza, who not only kills their only other son, but also promotes the patriarchal religious standards they vehemently reject. One could also argue that their idolization of Omar serves to torture Babar, who, once dead, is in turn idolized (or “angelized”) so as to make Omar feel guilty. Whatever the case, the story of the three mothers suggests that when forces of resistance are defeated they join other forces of resistance, other angels trapped beneath the earth. The rise of Sufiya as Beast makes sense in this context, for the Devil is a fallen and, to some degree, a trapped angel who would find it in his interest to rally all rebellious powers.

Omar aligns himself with the central powers in the land (Iskander and then Raza) and he fears the peripheral, repressed, destabilizing powers joined by Babar. Omar’s friendship with Iskander gives him momentary relief from his recurrent psychological and spiritual fear of the periphery, a fear which makes him dream that he’s

falling off the world’s end. … It should be said that his professional success, and his friendship with Iskander Harappa, have had the effect of reducing the frequency of these giddy spells, of keeping our hero’s feet on the ground. But still the dizziness comes, now and then, to remind him how close he is, will always be, to the edge. (S 127) 

Whereas Babar gains glory when he joins the periphery and is defeated by the centre, Omar loses both body and soul when he’s devoured by the force which stalks the central powers in the land. The punishment of Omar may seem harsh, yet one should remember three points. First, Omar is punished by the Beast and the three mothers. One can’t expect lenient or gentle justice from such vindictive and evil figures, despite the fact that they act as the necessary scourge of Raza’s tyranny. One can’t expect even-handed justice from Madame Guillotine or Kali, both of whom are used to describe the possessed Sufiya. Second, Omar is punished largely for the company he keeps, for his friendship and compliance with the autocratic Iskander and Raza. Third, Omar isn’t merely an innocent bystander. As the “top man” in Karachi’s leading hospital, he hypnotizes women so that he and Iskander can have “some highly charged sex,” after which he rationalizes his abuse of power by saying that it’s impossible “to persuade a subject to do anything she is unwilling to do” (S 128). Omar’s sexual abuses and shamelessness, combined with the many other instances where women are marginalized and repressed in the novel, make it easy to see why the agent of revolt and retribution takes a female body, and why this agent bears a striking resemblance to the goddess Kali and to “old Madame Guillotine with her basket of heads” (S 240).

 

Cosmic Horror

Rushdie skillfully conflates cosmology and psychology in Omar’s escalating fear of the dark forces lurking in the depths of outer space, in the mountains of Baluchistan and in the subterranean “mountains” of Nishapur. He sees the mountains surrounding Quetta as the last barrier between humanity and a fearsome, meaningless cosmos inhabited by “silicon creatures or gas monsters”:

the child Omar Khayyam surveyed the emptiness of the landscape around Q, which convinced him that he must be near the very Rim of Things, and that beyond the Impossible Mountains on the horizon must lie the great nothing into which, in his nightmares, he had begun to tumble with monotonous regularity. (S 22, 23) 

Omar’s fear of unseen cosmic forces multiplies when he explores the depths of Nishapur, where a terrifying abyss yawns beneath:

he discovered ruined staircases made impassable by longago earthquakes which had caused them to heave up into tooth-sharp mountains and also to fall away to reveal dark abysses of fear ... in the silence of the night and the first sounds of dawn he explored beyond history into what seemed the positively archaeological antiquity of ‘Nishapur.’ (S 31) 

This passage differs tellingly from an earlier description of the Impossible Mountains, in which readers find the image of “crumpled ochre slopes,” as well as a skillfully placed ellipsis between “stonemasonry” and “divine dream-temples” (S 23). In place of such imagery, readers now find “tooth-sharp mountains,” as well as an ellipsis between “dark abyss of fear” and “silence of the night.” Omar appears to see the “mountains” beneath Nishapur in terms of a tradition not emphasized by Attar, one in which “the chief abode of the Jinn is in the mountains of Qaf, which are supposed to encompass the whole of our earth.” * This possibility is enhanced when the three mothers appear to fly to these Impossible Mountains at the end of the novel.  Such a flight suggests that they are returning to their homeland of mischievous spirits.

The imagery of “stonemasonry” and “divine dream-temples” is given its most harrowing and its most overtly psychological twist when Omar returns to Nishapur at the end of the novel. Here he hallucinates that the destabilizing forces under the mountains, the angelic pressures which make the dream-temples rise and fall (S 23), have descended upon the rest of the country:

The world was an earthquake, abysses yawned, dream-temples rose and fell, the logic of the Impossible Mountains had come down to infect the plains. In his delirium, however, in the burning clutches of the sickness and the foetid atmosphere of the house, only endings seemed possible. He could feel things caving in within him, landslips, heaves, the patter of crumbling masonry in his chest, cog-wheels breaking, a false note in the engine’s hum. (S 274) 

Rushdie combines earlier images of tectonic shifting with Omar’s mental and anatomical breakdown. He gives all of these a cosmic and apocalyptic tone, suggesting that Omar’s universe turns out to be as dark and destructive as the portentous nightmares of his childhood.

Visions of the Hereafter: Hell , Hieronymus Bosch, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice (photo RYC)

Visions of the Hereafter: Hell, Hieronymus Bosch, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice (photo RYC)

Much of Omar’s terror can be attributed to the influence of his three witch-like mothers, who actively discourage their son from exploring the consolations of science, philosophy and mysticism. When Omar sets out “the most elegant proofs of Euclidian theorems” and “expatiate[s] eloquently on the Platonic image of the Cave,” Munnee responds, “Who is to understand the brains of those crazy types? … They read books from left to right” (S 36). The three sisters quickly reject Greek ideas, which can be associated with the poet Omar Khayyam. They also reject the mystical symbolism developed by that other famous twelfth-century resident of Nishapur, Fariduddin Attar:

And one day the three mothers sent a servant into the study to remove from their lives an exquisitely carved walnut screen on which was portrayed the mythical circular mountain of Qaf, complete with the thirty birds playing God thereupon.” (S 33) 

While Omar goes on to study the “arcane science” of hypnotism and the medical science of immunology, he doesn’t pursue the mystical ideas suggested by the screen or by its curious association with Hashmat Bibi’s mystical death. After the three sisters’ removal of the screen, after the “flight of the bird-parliament,” Omar uses hypnotism to give Hashmat Bibi “glimpses of non-being.”  Hashmat Bibi then “apparently will[s] herself into death” (S 33-34). Whereas Omar’s grandfather old Mr Shakil dies cursing himself and other people to Hell (S 12, 14), Hashmat Bibi dies with whispers of Heaven and God on her lips: “at the very end she had been heard muttering, ‘...deeper and deeper into the heart of the rosy cloud’” (S 34). Her somewhat comic “mystical death” (her name suggests a flight into oblivion on a carpet or matof hashish) echoes that of old Aziz sahib in Midnight’s Children. Yet in Shame Attar’s notion of mystical annihilation doesn’t recur as it does in Midnight’s Children to suggest ideals of conference, unity, divine song or a meaning which transcends death. Rather, the three sisters seem to have succeeded in expunging Attar and his mystical flight from the mansion and metaphoric city of Omar’s birth.

The three mothers’ dismissal of science and mysticism make Nishapur a “third world that was neither material nor spiritual, but a sort of concentrated decrepitude made up of the decomposing remnants of those two more familiar types of cosmos” (S 30). Instead of encouraging the best of twelfth-century Nishapur, the three mothers have the effect of the Mongol hordes who sacked the city in 1229. Most disturbing is the notion that one’s own parents can be evil, can play the part of Khayyam’s malicious wheel of heaven or Attar’s “hundred monsters loosed from hell.” Rushdie's Omar finds what the author of the Ruba’iyat findsa cosmos in which humans exist “beneath unscrupulous stars” and in which the wheel of heaven “is a thousand times more helpless than you.” *

Rushdie’s use here of Khayyam and Attar reflects two sides of his sensibility: the hedonist and the mystic. The dichotomy may not be an unbridgeable one given the dual nature of Khayyam’s Ruba’iyat, for some people feel that it can be read as a literal text in which the love of wine and women signifies a love of physical pleasure and as an allegorical text in which drunkenness stands for the intoxication of divine ecstasy and sexual union signifies the bliss of union with God (the Beloved, the Friend). 

khayyam brit mus.jpg

One must also remember that Attar condemned Khayyam for his hedonism.  A curious parallel exists between the way Khayyam was rejected by Attar and the way Rushdie has been rejected by many Muslims. In his Introduction to Khayyam’s Ruba’iyat, Peter Avery notes that Attar imagines an afterlife for Khayyam in which the latter is “ashamed and confused on being rejected at God’s threshold.” Avery adds that Khayyam thus

stood condemned alike by the spiritually and intellectually tolerant Sufi poet, from whom, exceptionally, he received no compassion because he was so heinously a materialist, and by the Sufi schoolman, who abhorred him as a spurner of religion, lacking the grace to attain the Sufi’s gnostic beatitude. * 

Like Khayyam, Rushdie employs metaphors drawn from Sufism, and, like Khayyam, he has not been embraced by those who use such metaphors within a more orthodox framework of belief – for instance, one Ayatollah Khomeini, author of the Sufi poem which starts, “I’ve become possessed by the beauty mark above your lip, oh friend,” and ends, “I was awakened by the hand of the idol of the wine house.” *

 

Omar & the Weird Sisters

While the three science-hating, religion-hating sisters might initially seem heroic, even feminist, they are, as Haffenden observes, an “enjoyable but ultimately sinister complex.” * From the start, Rushdie associates them with the Satan who plots the downfall of Adam and Eve, for they sleep in “a huge mahogany four-poster [bed] around whose columns carved serpents coiled upwards to the brocade Eden of the canopy” (S 21). They reject religious customs by refusing to circumcise, shave or whisper to their newborn son, and by living apart from the Ummah or community which gives meaning to the social ideals of Islam. Their rejection of men and patriarchal authority is also suggested in their status as the three weird or lesbian sisters, for rumour had it that they “would indolently explore each other’s bodies during the languorous drowsiness of the afternoons, and, at night, would weave occult spells to hasten the moment of their father’s demise” (S 13). Their inseparability mocks the “three-in-oneness” of the Trinity (S 35), and their communal pregnancy, during which no one can identify the father or the mother, mocks the immaculate conception of Christ. Later they say, perhaps merely to spite Omar, that Babar’s father was an angel while Omar’s was a devil, yet the suggestion of a satanic conception isn’t, given what happens to Sufiya, out of the question. Rushdie suggests the three sisters’ antagonism to God and mysticism in a variety of ways, explicitly in Munnee’s assertion that “there is no God” (S 281) and more subtly when they discard the walnut screen of Qaf. 

Further evidence of the demonic nature of the three sisters can be found in the way their traits and actions complement those of the Beast. Three of the main forms of the possessed Sufiya - the Beast, Kali and Madame Guillotine - can be associated with the three Shakil sisters: the Beast can be seen in the triune mothers’ antagonism to God, in their vicious acts and in their refusal to perform Islamic rites; Madame Guillotine can be seen in their violent rejection of traditional hierarchy and in their body-shredding contraption which dispatches the tyrant Raza; Kali can be seen as a female revolt against the patriarchal and monotheistic power structure central to Islamic cosmology. Rushdie strengthens the link between the Beast and the three sisters when they all join forces in Nishapur, killing Raza and Omar and lifting themselves above the final gruesome scene: the Beast leaves Sufiya’s body and hovers ambiguously over Nishapur; the three sisters crumble, “perhaps, into powder under the rays of the sun,” or they grow wings and fly off “into the Impossible Mountains in the west” (S 285). In his interview with Scripsi, Rushdie says that he “was very pleased” with the way “the text sets up the expectation that The Beast, this nemesis figure, is coming to get the general and then she doesn’t. Somebody else gets the general.” This “somebody else” is the three sisters, who Rushdie calls the “sort of Macbeth-like witches [who] become the avengers at the end.”* On the level of plot, Rushdie makes a good point about the upsetting of expectations. Yet the final actions of the three weird sisters also fulfill literary expectations about the way these Macbeth-like witches work behind the scenes with the Devil to bring about the fall of those in power.

The fear of metaphysical evil instilled in Omar during his childhood in the home of the three mothers gives him a sharp and intuitive awareness of the evil lurking in the universe. Observing the sulfurous “pricks of yellow light” in Sufiya’s eyes, Omar admits to himself that there are more things in the universe than can be explained by a scientific philosophy:

From the flickering points of light he began to learn that science was not enough, that even though he rejected possession-by-devils as a way of denying human responsibility for human actions, even though God had never meant much to him, still his reason could not erase the evidence of those eyes, could not blind him to that unearthly glow, the smouldering fire of the Beast.” (S 235) 

Having demonstrated considerable skill as a mesmerist, Omar is well qualified to recognize the “eyes of Hell, … the golden eyes of the most powerful mesmerist on earth” (S 236). Terrified, he turns instinctively to the only cosmic force able to counter the Beast: “‘God help us,’ said Omar Khayyam, in spite of his uncircumcised, unshaven, unwhispered-to beginnings. It was as though he had divined that it was time for the Almighty to step forward and take charge of events” (S 239).

Omar’s experience with the strange forces of the universe and the subconscious combine with his attraction to the young Sufiya to make him the ideal observer of the transformation of Sufiya into the Beast. Omar’s dreams about the pedophile Rodrigues were “prescient warnings against the dangers of falling in love with under-age females and then following them to the ends of the earth.”  For once one is at the edge of the world (presumably near “the Rim of Things”) the young girls “inevitably cast you aside” and “the blast of their rejection picks you up and hurls you out into the great starry nothingness beyond gravity and sense” (S 141). With his overactive imagination that fills the depths of space with “silicon creatures or gas monsters” (S 23), and his understanding that young females can cast older men into the void, Omar provides the reader with a unique vantage point from which to watch the rise of the Beast in Sufiya – a point Rushdie stresses by having the possessed Sufiya escape through a brick wall and by having Omar stare for “hours on end” at the “fantastic outline” of “his departed wife.”  Rushdie also signals Sufiya’s larger metaphysical dimensions when Omar’s “eyes, roving outwards through the attic window, seemed to be following someone, although there was nobody there” (S 243). Omar’s life has come full circle, since he is once again terrified by the haunted spaces of his childhood. This time, however, the cosmic force which haunts him doesn’t lurk beneath the precipices of mountainous staircases or hide in the depths of outer space. Rather, it appears right in front of his very eyes. Even more frightening, it disappears, and then tracks him all the way back to Nishapur.

 

Notes

laissez-faire economics - Shahid Burki in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, 203

angelic status - Helen Watson-Williams suggests that Rushdie’s Mahmoud alludes to the historical Mahmud of Ghazni. She observes that Mahmud was “the founder of the Ghaznawid dynasty” and that he led Islamic Turks “into Peshawar, crossed the Indus in 1005 A.D. and took Lahore in 1010” (“An Antique Land: Salman Rushdie’s Shame” 44). In this case, Rushdie may be applying the name “Mahmoud” ironically, given that the historical Mahmud was warlike and orthodox, and that the Mahmoud of the novel is a pacifist who confronts Muslims and Hindus alike with their prejudice. 

eight months - Hutchinson, The Hutchinson Encyclopedia, 97

central authorities - Burki, Cambridge Encyclopedia, 213

some 6,000 Baluchi were killed - Hutchinson 97

whole of our earth - Thomas Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, 136

Sufi’s gnostic beatitude - Avery in Khayyam, 17

idol of the wine house - See Abedi and Fischer, Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition, 451-4, for Khomeini’s poem, notes on it, and “The Counter Poem” which attacks it

ultimately sinister complex - Rushdie with Haffenden 256

avengers at the end - Rushdie with Scripsi 111, 110