I mentioned Salman Rushdie’s latest “Victory City” a couple of times. First impressions here, and again once I’d got into reading it here.
I noted in that last post that there were already lots of real-life philosophical applications and that the clever narrative tricks in the trajectory of the 250 year first-person story were providing an inspiration to my own story writing.
Well, I’ve completed it.
Although it is essentially fantasy fiction, there are an intriguing number of historical and literary acknowledgements in the end papers (*) – so god only knows how much actual reality is in there? Pretty tough going for this anglophone – so many “foreign” names and multiple familial / patronymic / gendered / local variations of these, but the style is unmistakable. Flowery classical – ancient & mediaeval Indian – poetry, punctuated with 21st C Anglo-Saxon punchlines and laugh-out-loud wit. Plenty of birth, death and marriage too, especially death and disfiguration as one might expect from 250 years of imperial dynastic family saga, but mostly humanity seasoned with love and wisdom, not to mention more than a little magic and the gods in their rightful places
I never did make notes of the early philosophical gems and it may be some time before I can give it the attention of a full re-read, but I did note a later passage that nicely illustrates the style I had in mind:
[After PK having been banished by the king from visiting her own statue and forbidden from ever publishing her own words and with MA having claimed he had committed a copy to memory anyway.]
‘That’s fine,’ said [PK] ‘My history will not be written in stone.’
Once the king had gone, she turned to [MA]. ‘What you said wasn’t true,’ she said. ‘You risked your life for a lie.’
‘There are times when a lie matters more than a life,’ he replied. ‘This was such a time.’
‘Sometimes I hate men,’ [TD] said when [MA] had gone.
‘I had a daughter that thought that way,’ [PK] told her. ‘She preferred the company of women and was happiest in [the] enchanted forest. And if by “men” you mean our recent royal visitor, that is understandable. But [MA] is a good man surely. And what about your husband?’
‘[He] is all plots and conspiracies,’ [TD] answered. ‘He’s all secrets and schemes. The court is full of factions and he knows how to set one group against another to balance [his interests].’
‘Tell me this,’ [PK] said.’I know princesses are imprisoned by their crowns and find it hard to choose their own path, but in your heart, what do you want from life?’
‘Nobody ever asked me that,’ [TD] said. ‘Not even my mother. Duty, duty, et cetera. Writing down your verses is the only thing that fills my heart.’
‘But for yourself, what?’
[TD] took a breath. ‘In the street of foreigners,’ she said, ‘I get envious. They just come and go, no ties, no duties, no limits. They have stories from everywhere and I’m sure that when they go somewhere else we become the stories they tell people there. They even tell us stories about ourselves and we believe them even if they get everything upside down. It’s like they have the right to tell the whole world the story of the whole world, and then just … move on. So. Here’s my stupid idea. I want to be a foreigner. I’m sorry to be so foolish,’
‘I had a daughter like that too,’ [PK] said. ‘And you know what? She became a foreigner and I think she was happy.’
‘Can I ask you the same question you asked me?’ [TD] said. [-]
[PK] smiled. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘But my time of desiring is over. Now everything I want is in my words, and the words are all I need.’
“There are times when
a lie matters more than a life.
This was such a time.”
(*) Fascinating coincidence the day after finishing the book, BBC aired an In Our Time episode on the Sanskrit epic the “Ramayana“. Fascinating because the “Ramayana” arose in the axial age, 500-400 BCE whereas Rushdie’s “Viyanagar” empire sources are writings and retellings from 1000-1500 AD/CE and yet so many of the same elements. Human governance, individual and social morality in the wider cosmos. Divine monkeys in the forest. ‘Twas ever thus.