The Satanic Verses
The author suspends readers between idealist illusion and tangibility, a universe of nightmares, hung between secular ethos and religious ethics, both intertwined with Western sophistication; where, Islamic faith is contested by skepticism aroused in an awakening to tenet banality.
Successful thespians, both steeped in Indian culture and invested with Islamic religiosity, our protagonist duo board a flight in India, destined for England, eagerly anticipating the life promised in protean dissolution; notwithstanding, character dissipation entailed only a translation from brown-skinned to white-skinned perversions. Inopportunely redirected in mid-flight, their England destination is postponed by plane hijackers who take the passengers on a harrowing adventure, culminated when hijackers explode a body-bomb at high altitude. The plane disintegrates and dumps survivors into the English Channel; which Channel water miraculously coughs the actors ashore, the only survivors and never to be the same. Thereafter parted, except for brief interludes, Gibreel and Salahuddin pursue an existence half in actuality and half in fantasy. The reader is often taxed to discover which quintessence the protagonists perceive themselves: certainty or delusion.
Gibreel assumes angel-Gabriel identity; thusly spiritualized, he can recall Mahound’s unwholesome enterprise, along with fearsome ambience in Jahilia (Mecca): Hagar and Ishmael at the spring, Mohammed’s cave, scribes editing Mohammed utterances, the dust, richness, poverty, Kaa’ba, brothels, fairs, cruelty; it is all there in suffocating repression, exhilaration, subservience, fear, destitution, prostitution, polygamy, lust, Idolatry, monotheism, and devotion to the different god and goddess creations. Half in and half out of materiality, we intercept Gibreel’s nemesis: “<I>. . . his archangelic other self began to seem as tangible as the shifting realities he inhabits while he’s awake . . . . that he truly was nothing less than an archangel in human form, and not just any archangel, but the Angel of the Recitation, the most exalted (now that Shaitan had fallen) of them all</i>.” And Rushdie’s tribute to Mohammed’s intercourse with Gabriel, thus the bounty on his head, evolving into a quotidian reference to Mohammed’s personal habits and business expertise – this, then, the idea that destroyed his faith. Here, he refers to Mohammed’s materialistic disposition and preoccupation with profit and pleasure.
Dichotomous to Gibreel characterization, Saladin metamorphoses into a Satyr-like creature, hairy of limb, pseudo-hoofed, erotically disposed, and embarrassingly horned. Which metamorphosed monstrosity encapsulated United States lifestyle in prosaic disapproval, with the observation: ‘O Proper London! Truly, dull would be the soul who did not prefer the faded splendors and hot certainties of a transatlantic New Rome, with its Nazified architectural gigantism, and which employs sizable oppressions to make its human occupants feel like worms. Reunited with Gibreel, after misadventures in their respective worlds of schizophrenic transposition, Saladin is dragged into the night; he feels the return of hatred as it fills him bottom-to-top with fresh green bile.’ Thus, diametrically opposed in psychological impression, the two become differentiated in developed existentialisms. And at last, in the window of childhood, looking out to the Arabian Sea, they contemplate the complexities of life and attraction of death.
Tragically, life reaps its due harvest from the emptiness accumulated, from vocation permissiveness, from Islam induced schizophrenia and cultural disenfranchisement; the duo, who left India with such high hopes, find themselves reunited in genesis roots, to entropy, to a confrontation with life and death, and to a shrunken universe.
Idealism and reality butt heads as Rushdie’s protagonists escape a world of poverty and metaphysical dependency and compromise lifelong indoctrination with the realities of capitalism and indifference to their former draconian existentialism.