Timeline A: 2500 BC - 1300 AD

Timeline A: 2500 BC--1300 AD and Timeline B: 1300--2020 provide brief notes on some of the ways culture and history enter into Rushdie's fiction. Green hyperlinks refer to pages that examine the novels in greater detail. 

Rushdie's 'Early' (20th C.) Novels: Grimus 1975 - Midnight's Children 1981 - Shame 1983 - The Satanic Verses (Verses) 1988 - Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Haroun) 1990 - The Moor’s Last Sigh (Moor) 1995 - The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Ground) 1999

Rushdie's 'Later' (21st C.) Novels: Fury - 2001 Shalimar the Clown 2005 - The Enchantress of Florence 2008 - Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights 2015 - Luka and the Fire of Life (Luka) 2010 - The Golden House 2017

2500 - 1700 BC  

Harappa: civilization located in the Indus Valley, including the cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa; their script remains a mystery; Ali Bhutto’s family estates are near Harappa sites

Shame: Rani and Bilquis are exiled to the estates of Mohenjo and Daro by their husbands; the shawls knit by Rani are like coded scripts condemning her husband, the authoritarian Iskander Harappa (a fictional version of Ali Bhutto). The novel’s version of Pakistan has at least two layers, which have historical yet also religious and political aspects: 1) The ancient past, comprising the Harappan and later Hindu civilizations. This is the forgotten layer, which Rushdie suggests is suppressed like the id in Freudian psychology. This layer covers at least 3,000 years, and provides a sub-stratum from which emerge the dark underground forces of Kali and the Beast. 2) The Medieval and Modern Islamic world, dominated by authoritarian and puritanical figures (Bhutto and Zia). By suppressing human rights, these figures create an uncontrollable monster that is part Kali (who belongs to the Ancient Hindu past) and part Devil (who belongs to the Modern Islamic and Christian present). See The Layers Beneath.

Ruins in Dholavira, photo by Ranjith Kumar Inbasekaran (Wikimedia Commons)

Ruins in Dholavira, photo by Ranjith Kumar Inbasekaran (Wikimedia Commons)

Mohenjo-daro: "Regularity of streets and buildings suggests the influence of ancient urban planning in Mohenjo-daro's construction" -- photo by Gaffer772, Wikimedia Commons

Mohenjo-daro: "Regularity of streets and buildings suggests the influence of ancient urban planning in Mohenjo-daro's construction" -- photo by Gaffer772, Wikimedia Commons

1600 - 1500 BC  

Aryans, an Eastern branch of Indo-European peoples, invade India and bring with them the early myth and poetry of the Sanskrit Vedas; similar invasions from the north occur in Persia and Greece; Ground: The Parsi anglophile Sir Darius revels in the parallels between Hindu and Greek myth; his fascination echoes that of Orientalists such as Sir William Jones, who in 1786 first proposed a common root between Sanskrit and European languages

Vishnu on his mount Garuda, flanked by monsters, from Angkor, 9th C. (Guimet Museum, photo RYC)

Vishnu on his mount Garuda, flanked by monsters, from Angkor, 9th C. (Guimet Museum, photo RYC)

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Buddha, from the Turin Museum of Oriental Art (photo RYC)

Buddha, from the Turin Museum of Oriental Art (photo RYC)

500 BC  

Buddha: enlightenment under a bodhi (peepul) tree near Benares. Buddha's nirvana is a snuffing out of selfish desire; Midnight's Children: Saleem enters a degraded, thoughtless buddhahood under a bodhi tree; in this state he becomes a dog of war for the Pakistani generals. As a result, his self is almost snuffed out in a meaningless nirvana

400 BC - 400 AD  

Sanskrit Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana; Mahabharata: world’s longest poem about the battle between two Northern Indian families; it contains within it the core story of Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna (an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu) gives advice to Arjuna on the battlefield; Ramayana: the poem follows the relation between Rama (another incarnation of Vishnu) and Sita; Sita is captured by the demon king Ravana and rescued with the help of the monkey king Hanuman; Midnight's Children: Saleem learns his family’s stories from Mary, who sees contemporary events in terms of the battles of the Mahabharata; Ahmed is extorted by the Ravana gang; in a reversal of Hindu myth, a monkey called Hanuman scatters his pay-off; in order to make Christianity more acceptable to Hindus, a priest tells Mary that Jesus was blue like Krishna; Shame: Raza sees his child Sufiya as an avatar of his dead first son; Verses: Gibreel’s confused state of mind partly results from the stories about the Hindu gods his mother told him as a child; Gibreel stars in a film about a debauched Rama

42 - 8 BC  

Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses both include the story of how the musician Orpheus journeys to Hell and tries to bring back his beloved Eurydice; Ground: after the death of his beloved Vina, the rock star Ormus tries to find her in his psychological underworld of music and drugs

Leda and the swan (the swan is Zeus in disguise); Cerberus (or the 'hound of hell'), both from the Archeological Museum in Heraklion, Crete (photos RYC)

Leda and the swan (the swan is Zeus in disguise); Cerberus (or the 'hound of hell'), both from the Archeological Museum in Heraklion, Crete (photos RYC)

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4 BC - 30 AD  

Jesus Christ, son of Joseph and Mary: to Christians, Jesus is the son of God who died on the cross and saved the world from sin; Ahmadiyya Muslims believe Christ escaped from the cross and traveled to Kashmir; Midnight's Children: to impress the left-wing Joseph, Mary puts the poor baby (Saleem) in the place of the rich baby (Shiva); Mary also offers refuge and a grace of sorts to a world-weary Saleem; the drunken boatman Tai claims to have seen a bald and gluttonous Christ in Kashmir

1. This Greek painting contains some of the main aspects of Christianity: angels, the holy dove (the Holy Ghost), God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Book (the Bible). 2. Mary, and her iconography in the Orthodox and Roman churches, is a key feminine element in Christianity. Heraklion (photo RYC).

1. This Greek painting contains some of the main aspects of Christianity: angels, the holy dove (the Holy Ghost), God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Book (the Bible). 2. Mary, and her iconography in the Orthodox and Roman churches, is a key feminine element in Christianity. Heraklion (photo RYC).

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400 - 1000  

Hindu myth: Puranas: 18 major collections of stories about the lives of the gods; Shiva: the erotic-ascetic god of destruction and creation; ithyphallic, he dances the dance of death and rebirth; Oppenheimer likened the nuclear bomb to the work of Shiva; Vishnu: god of preservation, Krishna: an incarnation of Vishnu, he is beloved for his childhood pranks, taste for butter, and flirtation with milkmaids; Kali: an often terrifying form of the Divine Mother, she scourges the world’s evil and wears a necklace of skulls; Grimus: Eagle’s sexual intercourse with Media on Mount Calf reworks that of Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailasa; as Shiva, Eagle destroys the novel’s setting and replaces it with another; Midnight's Children: Saleem sees his story as another Purana; General Shiva procreates wildly and violently, signaling the nation’s overpopulation and nuclear capacity; in frenzied devotion, Shiva worshippers topple land reclamation tetrapods and inadvertently kill the pro-birth control gynecologist Dr Narlikar; Shame: the possessed Sufiya acts like Kali by scourging Pakistan and beheading her victims; Moor: the Hindu fundamentalist Mainduck is seen in terms of a violent Vishnu or “Battering Ram”

570 - 632  

Muhammad: founder, exemplar and prophet of Islam; his life and practices are described in ‘Reports’ called Hadith; Verses: Gibreel has serial dreams which supply an irreverent account of Muhammad’s life, including the ‘satanic verses incident’ mentioned in some Hadith

610  

Koran: first revelation to Muhammad of the 114 surahs  or chapters (arranged from longest to shortest); Muslims believe the Koran is the word of God revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel; the Koran doesn’t directly mention the ‘satanic verses incident’; Midnight's Children: Ahmed dreams of reorganizing the Koran; Saleem hears what he thinks are angelic voices; Verses: Chapter 2 reworks the incident in which Satan tricks Muhammad into thinking that his words are those of Gabriel; Muhammad then repudiates these ‘satanic verses’

622  

Hegira: Muhammad escapes Mecca and finds safety in Medina; his power increases and he returns triumphantly to Mecca; the Hegiran calendar starts with the flight to Medina; Verses: ‘Mahound’ leaves Jahilia (Mecca) in Chapter 2 and returns from Yathrib (Medina) in Chapter 6; Shame: Rushdie titles the penultimate chapter, In the Fifteenth Century, according to the Hegiran calendar

800 - 1100  

The Edda: stories about Norse gods such as Lokki and Odin; they include the story of the apocalypse of Ragnarök, in which Lokki and his monstrous crew set fire to heaven and earth, and Odin sacrifices himself beneath Yggdrasil (the giant ash tree which is shaken by the eagle and which harbours the primordial couple); Grimus: Deggle renames himself Lokki prior to the destruction of Grimus’ realm; Grimus sees himself as a mystical Odinic figure, and sacrifices himself under his own giant ash tree; Eagle destroys Grimus’ realm; Eagle and the prostitute Media become the primordial couple who appears to survive the apocalypse

"Thor und die Midgardsschlange . A scene from Ragnarök, the final battle between Thor and Jörmungandr," by Emil Doepler, c.1905 (Wikimedia Commons)

"Thor und die Midgardsschlange. A scene from Ragnarök, the final battle between Thor and Jörmungandr," by Emil Doepler, c.1905 (Wikimedia Commons)

c. 1001

Approximate (and fanciful) date for Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nights; there are two authoritative collections of these varied, interconnected stories from the Middle East and India, both framed by the following story: betrayed by his wife, King Shahriyar decides to kill each morning the woman he spends the night with; Scheherazade tells the king such fascinating stories that after 1001 nights he marries her; Midnight's Children: Saleem sees himself as Scheherazade, writing in order to stave off death by meaninglessness; Ahmed’s gin bottles are full of lustful djinns à la Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp; Saleem communes telepathically with the 1001 magical children born in the first hour of Indian Independence; Haroun: Haroun and Rashid get their names from the Nights’ Haroun al-Rashid; Rashid’s stories save citizens on the moon and in Kashmir; the stories also unite Rashid and his estranged wife

"Aladdin, or, The wonderful lamp," by Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1821-1888). From Wikimedia Commons

"Aladdin, or, The wonderful lamp," by Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1821-1888). From Wikimedia Commons

"Cover scan of a Classics Comics book" (2008, Wikimedia Commons)

"Cover scan of a Classics Comics book" (2008, Wikimedia Commons)

c. 1077  

The Ocean of Story by the Sanskrit Kashmiri poet Somadeva: real and fantastic stories collected from earlier sources; there are 124 chapters or ‘waves’; the stories are intertwined and often tangential to the narrative line; Haroun: From Kashmir, Haroun and his father reach the moon, which contains a huge ocean of stories which flow into each other; they then stop the Cultmaster from plugging the source of stories and from poisoning the ocean; Moor: Bombay is seen as an ocean of human stories

c. 1100  

Ruba’iyat: a collection of four-line stanzas by the poet and astronomer Omar Khayyam from Nishapur in northeastern Persia; Khayyam ponders the uncertainty of human knowledge and fortunes; the hedonistic and Sufi elements may seem incongruous yet both suggest the desire to escape worldly suffering; Shame: the protagonist Omar Khayyam Shakil is raised in the mansion of Nishapur; he ponders the frightening and uncertain wonders of the cosmos, displaying a fearful interest in the depths of the stars; like his Persian namesake, Omar is a hedonist strongly influenced by scientific knowledge (he becomes a famous immunologist), yet unlike his namesake he is neither courageous nor poetic

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Illustrations for Khayyam's  Ruba'iyat , by Edmund Sullivan, 1913

Illustrations for Khayyam's Ruba'iyat, by Edmund Sullivan, 1913

1177  

The Conference of the Birds: a book-length poem by the Persian Fariduddin Attar; in it 30 (si) birds (murgh) are led by a bird-guide (the Hoopoe) to the Impossible Mountain of Qaf, where they hope to find the great king of birds, the Simurgh; at the summit they find that the king they sought lies within them; the birds attain mystical unity and annihilation; Grimus: the protagonist’s entire journey is modelled on Attar; the antagonist’s name, ‘Grimus,’ is an anagram for ‘Simurg,’ and suggests a twisted egocentric mysticism; Midnight's Children: old Aziz sahib dies happily after conversing with 30 species of birds; Aadam joins the doomed Free Islam Convocation in order to unify Muslims and Hindus; Saleem hopes to play the Hoopoe by uniting Indians in his Midnight’s Children’s Conference; Saleem reaches the age of 30 and writes 30 chapters; Shame: Omar’s mothers take away Omar’s screen of Qaf at the beginning, and fly away to the Impossible Mountains at the end; Verses: Allie longs to climb Everest and the impossible mountain of Gibreel’s love (at 29 thousand feet, Everest is just shy of 30); Haroun: two Hoopoes convey Haroun and Rashid to the moon, where they succeed in bringing unity and love to the divided inhabitants

From Wikimedia Commons: "The Concourse of the Birds." Folio from an illustrated manuscriptFolio 11r; source: The Met, at http://www.metmuseum. org/art/collection/search/451725

From Wikimedia Commons: "The Concourse of the Birds." Folio from an illustrated manuscriptFolio 11r; source: The Met, at http://www.metmuseum. org/art/collection/search/451725

1229  

Nishapur sacked by the Mongols; Nishapur is home to  the skeptic hedonist Khayyam and the idealistic mystic Attar; Shame: Omar Khayyam Shakil is born in the mansion of Nishapur, and is chased back to it in the novel’s final scene of cataclysmic destruction; Omar is trained in science yet witnesses the beauties and horrors of the mystic realm

"Picture taken by Zereshk from old manuscript of Qotbeddin Shirazi's treatise (13th century)" from Wikimedia Commons

"Picture taken by Zereshk from old manuscript of Qotbeddin Shirazi's treatise (13th century)" from Wikimedia Commons

Messenger of Genghis Khan to Nishapur, froom the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Division orientale. Source: Shams al-Dîn Kâshânî. From Wikimedia Commons.

Messenger of Genghis Khan to Nishapur, froom the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Division orientale. Source: Shams al-Dîn Kâshânî. From Wikimedia Commons.