The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses

Surreally cynical, flamingly controversial, and surprisingly touching, Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" is a work of art. Structuring a frame narrative around the intersecting paths of two Indian actors as they flit between London and Bombay, Rushdie made me laugh, frown, ponder, and reflect as he told of Gibreel and Saladin's magical adventures of self-discovery. In its magical realism, opposing angelic protagonists, critique of religion and society, irrepressible rascality, and tender cleverness, Rushdie's book resembles Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens". "The Satanic Verses" actually precedes Gaiman's book by just two years (published in 1988). It seems like there must have been something in the air in London in the late 80's...

I immediately saw why the Iranians had issued a fatwa on Rushdie - he has an extremely cynical view of Islam (and organized religion in general) and depicts Mohammed and his wives with unabashed coarseness. But throughout the various levels story, Rushdie explores deeper questions about the nature of faith and its relationship to rationality and science. On one level, Rushdie meditates on the classic East/West divide as his characters travel between Bombay and London. And within each individual story, we can find examples of the reason/faith argument:

Mirza Saeed, worn-out and filthy, was in a state of deep frustration on account of his failure to convince more than a handful of the pilgrims that it was better to put one’s trust in reason than in miracles. Miracles had been doing pretty well for them, the Titlipur villagers pointed out, reasonably enough. ‘Those blasted butterflies,’ Saeed muttered to the Sarpanch. ‘Without them, we’d have a chance.’ ‘But they have been with us from the start,’ the Sarpanch replied with a shrug.

The sheer range of Rushdie's talents staggers me. Throughout the story, he jerks us around between humor and wonder, between absurdities and moments of touching sadness. I was particularly moved by the final chapter of Saladin with his father - and surprised that Rushdie could pull off such a scene of gentle emotional resonance.

This was a complex, difficult read that relied on a pre-existing knowledge of some early Islamic history (I'd recommend "After the Prophet") to fully appreciate. In fact, I'm not sure I quite fully appreciated the book this first time through - there are so many layers and intricacies to the story that it's difficult to know which parts are symbolic and which parts are just extraneous detail. But it's certainly worth a re-read at some point. If nothing else, there were a few sections (like Saladin's rhyming taunts: "I like coffee, I like tea, I like things you do with me") that had me laughing until I cried.

My favorite highlights below:

Part 1

How does newness come into the world? How is it born? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made? How does it survive, extreme and dangerous as it is? What compromises, what deals, what betrayals of its secret nature must it make to stave off the wrecking crew, the exterminating angel, the guillotine? Is birth always a fall? Do angels have wings? Can men fly?

The avalanche of sex in which Gibreel Farishta was trapped managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ.

The distance between cities is always small; a villager, travelling a hundred miles to town, traverses emptier, darker, more terrifying space.

William the Conqueror, it is said, began by eating a mouthful of English sand.

Saladin had been seized by the melancholy notion that the garden had been a better place before he knew its names, that something had been lost which he would never be able to regain.

A man who invents himself needs someone to believe in him, to prove he’s managed it.

When the progenitor, the creator is revealed as satanic, the child will frequently grow prim.

‘You say I should be ashamed,’ Chamcha said bitterly to Zeenat. ‘You, who are without shame. As a matter of fact, this may be a national characteristic. I begin to suspect that Indians lack the necessary moral refinement for a true sense of tragedy, and therefore cannot really understand the idea of shame.’

What did they want? Nothing new. An independent homeland, religious freedom, release of political detainees, justice, ransom money, a safe-conduct to a country of their choice. Many of the passengers came to sympathize with them, even though they were under constant threat of execution. If you live in the twentieth century you do not find it hard to see yourself in those, more desperate than yourself, who seek to shape it to their will.

Part 2

Question: What is the opposite of faith? Not disbelief. Too final, certain, closed. Itself a kind of belief. Doubt.

In this city, the businessman-turned-prophet, Mahound, is founding one of the world’s great religions; and has arrived, on this day, his birthday, at the crisis of his life. There is a voice whispering in his ear: What kind of idea are you? Man-or-mouse? We know that voice. We’ve heard it once before.

From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable. He moves in mysterious ways: men say. Small wonder, then, that women have turned to me.

‘It was the Devil,’ he says aloud to the empty air, making it true by giving it voice. ‘The last time, it was Shaitan.’ This is what he has heard in his listening, that he has been tricked, that the Devil came to him in the guise of the archangel, so that the verses he memorized, the ones he recited in the poetry tent, were not the real thing but its diabolic opposite, not godly, but satanic. He returns to the city as quickly as he can, to expunge the foul verses that reek of brimstone and sulphur, to strike them from the record for ever and ever, so that they will survive in just one or two unreliable collections of old traditions and orthodox interpreters will try and unwrite their story, but Gibreel, hovering-watching from his highest camera angle, knows one small detail, just one tiny thing that’s a bit of a problem here, namely that it was me both times, baba, me first and second also me. From my mouth, both the statement and the repudiation, verses and converses, universes and reverses, the whole thing, and we all know how my mouth got worked. ‘First it was the Devil,’ Mahound mutters as he rushes to Jahilia. ‘But this time, the angel, no question. He wrestled me to the ground.’

Khalid the water-carrier hangs back and the hollow-eyed Prophet waits for him to speak. Awkwardly, he says: ‘Messenger, I doubted you. But you were wiser than we knew. First we said, Mahound will never compromise, and you compromised. Then we said, Mahound has betrayed us, but you were bringing us a deeper truth. You brought us the Devil himself, so that we could witness the workings of the Evil One, and his overthrow by the Right. You have enriched our faith. I am sorry for what I thought.’ Mahound moves away from the sunlight falling through the window. ‘Yes.’ Bitterness, cynicism. ‘It was a wonderful thing I did. Deeper truth. Bringing you the Devil. Yes, that sounds like me.’

Part 3

We strive for the heights but our natures betray us, Chamcha thought; clowns in search of crowns.

Something was badly amiss with the spiritual life of the planet, thought Gibreel Farishta. Too many demons inside people claiming to believe in God.

Part 4

Who is he? An exile. Which must not be confused with, allowed to run into, all the other words that people throw around: émigré, expatriate, refugee, immigrant, silence, cunning. Exile is a dream of glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back.

History is the blood-wine that must no longer be drunk. History the intoxicant, the creation and possession of the Devil, of the great Shaitan, the greatest of the lies – progress, science, rights – against which the Imam has set his face. History is a deviation from the Path, knowledge is a delusion, because the sum of knowledge was complete on the day Al-Lah finished his revelation to Mahound.

They even told her their dreams, although few of them dreamed more than once a month on account of being too poor to afford such luxuries.

Part 5

What a man: all the answers, but you couldn’t get him to give you a decent fight.

Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.

A dead lover deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The universe was a place of wonders, and only habituation, the anaesthesia of the everyday, dulled our sight.

Why had the scientists been wrong? ‘Prejudice, mostly,’ Allie said, lying curled around Gibreel beneath parachute silk. ‘They can’t quantify the will, so they leave it out of their calculations. But it’s will that gets you up Everest, will and anger, and it can bend any law of nature you care to mention, at least in the short term, gravity not excluded. If you don’t push your luck, anyway.’

‘This’s what I learned in the revolution,’ she went on. ‘This thing: information got abolished sometime in the twentieth century, can’t say just when; stands to reason, that’s part of the information that got abolsh, abolished. Since then we’ve been living in a fairy-story. Got me? Everything happens by magic. Us fairies haven’t a fucking notion what’s going on. So how do we know if it’s right or wrong? We don’t even know what it is. So what I thought was, you can either break your heart trying to work it all out, or you can go sit on a mountain, because that’s where all the truth went, believe it or not, it just upped and ran away from these cities where even the stuff under our feet is all made up, a lie, and it hid up there in the thin thin air where the liars don’t dare come after it in case their brains explode. It’s up there all right. I’ve been there. Ask me.’

He saw now that the choice was simple: the infernal love of the daughters of men, or the celestial adoration of God. He had found it possible to choose the latter; in the nick of time.

Then how unconfident of Itself this Deity was, Who didn’t want Its finest creations to know right from wrong; and Who reigned by terror, insisting upon the unqualified submission of even Its closest associates, packing off all dissidents to Its blazing Siberias, the gulag-infernos of Hell... he checked himself. These were satanic thoughts, put into his head by Iblis-Beelzebub-Shaitan.

This was in truth a people who had forgotten how to see. And because the relationship between men and angels is an ambiguous one – in which the angels, or mala’ikah, are both the controllers of nature and the intermediaries between the Deity and the human race; but at the same time, as the Quran clearly states, we said unto the angels, be submissive unto Adam, the point being to symbolize man’s ability to master, through knowledge, the forces of nature which the angels represented – there really wasn’t much that the ignored and infuriated malak Gibreel could do about it. Archangels could only speak when men chose to listen.

Gibreel had been literally fasting to death during his ‘angel period’, and the medical opinion was that starvation had contributed in no small degree to his hallucinations.

‘At your age,’ Allie wept, ‘you ought to be ashamed.’ – ‘Well, I’m not,’ the future Mrs Boniek rejoined. ‘A professor, and in Stanford, California, so he brings the sunshine also. I intend to spend many hours working on my tan.’

Gibreel enumerated the benefits of the proposed metamorphosis of London into a tropical city: increased moral definition, institution of a national siesta, development of vivid and expansive patterns of behaviour among the populace, higher-quality popular music, new birds in the trees (macaws, peacocks, cockatoos), new trees under the birds (coco-palms, tamarind, banyans with hanging beards). Improved street-life, outrageously coloured flowers (magenta, vermilion, neon-green), spider-monkeys in the oaks. A new mass market for domestic air-conditioning units, ceiling fans, anti-mosquito coils and sprays. A coir and copra industry. Increased appeal of London as a centre for conferences, etc.; better cricketers; higher emphasis on ball-control among professional footballers, the traditional and soulless English commitment to ‘high workrate’ having been rendered obsolete by the heat. Religious fervour, political ferment, renewal of interest in the intelligentsia. No more British reserve; hot-water bottles to be banished forever, replaced in the foetid nights by the making of slow and odorous love. Emergence of new social values: friends to commence dropping in on one another without making appointments, closure of old folks’ homes, emphasis on the extended family. Spicier food; the use of water as well as paper in English toilets; the joy of running fully dressed through the first rains of the monsoon. Disadvantages: cholera, typhoid, legionnaires’ disease, cockroaches, dust, noise, a culture of excess. Standing upon the horizon, spreading his arms to fill the sky, Gibreel cried: ‘Let it be.’

Part 6

Amid the palm-trees of the oasis Gibreel appeared to the Prophet and found himself spouting rules, rules, rules, until the faithful could scarcely bear the prospect of any more revelation, Salman said, rules about every damn thing, if a man farts let him turn his face to the wind, a rule about which hand to use for the purpose of cleaning one’s behind. It was as if no aspect of human existence was to be left unregulated, free.

And Gibreel the archangel specified the manner in which a man should be buried, and how his property should be divided, so that Salman the Persian got to wondering what manner of God this was that sounded so much like a businessman. This was when he had the idea that destroyed his faith, because he recalled that of course Mahound himself had been a businessman, and a damned successful one at that, a person to whom organization and rules came naturally, so how excessively convenient it was that he should have come up with such a very businesslike archangel, who handed down the management decisions of this highly corporate, if non-corporeal, God.

Listen, I’m no gossip, Salman drunkenly confided, but after his wife’s death Mahound was no angel, you understand my meaning. But in Yathrib he almost met his match. Those women up there: they turned his beard half-white in a year. The point about our Prophet, my dear Baal, is that he didn’t like his women to answer back, he went for mothers and daughters, think of his first wife and then Ayesha: too old and too young, his two loves. He didn’t like to pick on someone his own size.

After that, when he sat at the Prophet’s feet, writing down rules rules rules, he began, surreptitiously, to change things. ‘Little things at first. If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as all-hearing, all-knowing, I would write, all-knowing, all-wise. Here’s the point: Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God’s own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of the divine poetry? Look, I swear, I was shaken to my soul.

But it didn’t happen; and now I was writing the Revelation and nobody was noticing, and I didn’t have the courage to own up. I was scared silly, I can tell you. Also: I was sadder than I have ever been.

The Curtain, Hijab, was the name of the most popular brothel in Jahilia, an enormous palazzo of date-palms in water-tinkling courtyards, surrounded by chambers that interlocked in bewildering mosaic patterns, permeated by labyrinthine corridors which had been deliberately decorated to look alike, each of them bearing the same calligraphic invocations to Love, each carpeted with identical rugs, each with a large stone urn positioned against a wall.

So it was that faded, fading Baal learned in his bitterness that no imperium is absolute, no victory complete. And, slowly, the criticisms of Mahound began.

Where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy.

All customers of The Curtain were issued with masks, and Baal, watching the circling masked figures from a high balcony, was satisfied. There were more ways than one of refusing to Submit.

His cynicism and despair had been burnished by the sun. ‘People write to tell lies,’ he said, drinking quickly. ‘So a professional liar makes an excellent living. My love letters and business correspondence became famous as the best in town because of my gift for inventing beautiful falsehoods that involved only the tiniest departure from the facts.

Ayesha returned after relieving herself to find herself alone, and who knows what might have befallen her if a young man, a certain Safwan, had not chanced to pass by on his camel... Safwan brought Ayesha back to Yathrib safe and sound; at which point tongues began to wag, not least in the harem, where opportunities to weaken Ayesha’s power were eagerly seized by her opponents. The two young people had been alone in the desert for many hours, and it was hinted, more and more loudly, that Safwan was a dashingly handsome fellow, and the Prophet was much older than the young woman, after all, and might she not therefore have been attracted to someone closer to her own age? ‘Quite a scandal,’ Salman commented, happily. ‘What will Mahound do?’ Baal wanted to know. ‘O, he’s done it,’ Salman replied. ‘Same as ever. He saw his pet, the archangel, and then informed one and all that Gibreel had exonerated Ayesha.’ Salman spread his arms in worldly resignation. ‘And this time, mister, the lady didn’t complain about the convenience of the verses.’

Two days after the arrests, the jail was bursting with prostitutes and pimps, whose numbers had increased considerably during the two years in which Submission had introduced sexual segregation to Jahilia.

Baal said, ‘I’ve finished. Do what you want.’ So he was sentenced to be beheaded, within the hour, and as soldiers manhandled him out of the tent towards the killing ground, he shouted over his shoulder: ‘Whores and writers, Mahound. We are the people you can’t forgive.’ Mahound replied, ‘Writers and whores. I see no difference here.’

Part 7

Of the things of the mind, he had most loved the protean, inexhaustible culture of the English-speaking peoples; had said, when courting Pamela, that Othello, ‘just that one play’, was worth the total output of any other dramatist in any other language, and though he was conscious of hyperbole, he didn’t think the exaggeration very great.

He had been striving, like the Bengali writer, Nirad Chaudhuri, before him – though without any of that impish, colonial intelligence’s urge to be seen as an enfant terrible – to be worthy of the challenge represented by the phrase Civis Britannicus sum. Empire was no more, but still he knew ‘all that was good and living within him’ to have been ‘made, shaped and quickened’ by his encounter with this islet of sensibility, surrounded by the cool sense of the sea.

On the street corner the usual neighbourhood kids, with whom his relations had never been good, were bouncing a football off a lamp-post. One of them, an evil-looking piggy-eyed lout of nine or ten, pointed an imaginary video remote control at Chamcha and yelled: ‘Fast forward!’ His was a generation that believed in skipping life’s boring, troublesome, unlikable bits, going fast-forward from one action-packed climax to the next. Welcome home, Saladin thought, and rang the doorbell.

And other monsters, too, no less real than the tabloid fiends: money, power, sex, death, love. Angels and devils – who needed them? ‘Why demons, when man himself is a demon?’ the Nobel Laureate Singer’s ‘last demon’ asked from his attic in Tishevitz. To which Chamcha’s sense of balance, his much-to-be-said-for-and-against reflex, wished to add: ‘And why angels, when man is angelic too?’ (If this wasn’t true, how to explain, for instance, the Leonardo Cartoon? Was Mozart really Beelzebub in a powdered wig?) – But, it had to be conceded, and this was his original point, that the circumstances of the age required no diabolic explanations.

Simba’s bull craziness is, you could say, a trouble in the family. What we have here is trouble with the Man.’ In other circumstances, Saladin would have had a good deal to say in response to such a statement. – He would have objected, for one thing, that a man’s record of violence could not be set aside so easily when he was accused of murder. – Also that he didn’t like the use of such American terms as ‘the Man’ in the very different British situation, where there was no history of slavery; it sounded like an attempt to borrow the glamour of other, more dangerous struggles, a thing he also felt about the organizers’ decision to punctuate the speeches with such meaning-loaded songs as We Shall Overcome, and even, for Pete’s sake, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. As if all causes were the same, all histories interchangeable. – But he said none of these things, because his head had begun to spin and his senses to reel, owing to his having been given, for the first time in his life, a stupefying premonition of his death.

Some scientist who got caught in that hijacking and lost the half of his tongue. American. They rebuilt it, he says, with flesh taken from his posterior, excuse my French. Wouldn’t fancy a mouthful of my own buttock meat myself but the poor bugger had no option did he. Funny bastard. Got some funny ideas. Eugene Dumsday on the radio discussed the gaps in the fossil record with his new, buttocky tongue. The Devil tried to silence me but the good Lord and American surgical techniques knew better.

Should we even say that these are two fundamentally different types of self? Might we not agree that Gibreel, for all his stage-name and performances; and in spite of born-again slogans, new beginnings, metamorphoses; – has wished to remain, to a large degree, continuous – that is, joined to and arising from his past; – that he chose neither near-fatal illness nor transmuting fall; that, in point of fact, he fears above all things the altered states in which his dreams leak into, and overwhelm, his waking self, making him that angelic Gibreel he has no desire to be; – so that his is still a self which, for our present purposes, we may describe as ‘true’...whereas Saladin Chamcha is a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention; his preferred revolt against history being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, ‘false’? And might we then not go on to say that it is this falsity of self that makes possible in Chamcha a worse and deeper falsity – call this ‘evil’ – and that this is the truth, the door, that was opened in him by his fall? – While Gibreel, to follow the logic of our established terminology, is to be considered ‘good’ by virtue of wishing to remain, for all his vicissitudes, at bottom an untranslated man.

Let’s rather say an even harder thing: that evil may not be as far beneath our surfaces as we like to say it is. – That, in fact, we fall towards it naturally, that is, not against our natures. – And that Saladin Chamcha set out to destroy Gibreel Farishta because, finally, it proved so easy to do; the true appeal of evil being the seductive ease with which one may embark upon that road. (And, let us add in conclusion, the later impossibility of return.)

If love is a yearning to be like (even to become) the beloved, then hatred, it must be said, can be engendered by the same ambition, when it cannot be fulfilled.

Study history, Alleluia. In this century history stopped paying attention to the old psychological orientation of reality. I mean, these days, character isn’t destiny any more. Economics is destiny. Ideology is destiny. Bombs are destiny. What does a famine, a gas chamber, a grenade care how you lived your life? Crisis comes, death comes, and your pathetic individual self doesn’t have a thing to do with it, only to suffer the effects.

(for the decision to do evil is never finally taken until the very instant of the deed; there is always a last chance to withdraw)

Captain Ahab drowned, he reminded himself; it was the trimmer, Ishmael, who survived.

There is the moment before evil; then the moment of; then the time after, when the step has been taken, and each subsequent stride becomes progressively easier.

But one voice stood out from the rest, the high soulful voice of a poet, one of the first voices Gibreel heard and the one that got deepest under his skin; a voice that spoke exclusively in rhyme, reciting doggerel verses of an understated naïvety, even innocence, which contrasted so greatly with the masturbatory coarseness of most of the other callers that Gibreel soon came to think of it as the most insidiously menacing of all. I like coffee, I like tea, I like things you do with me. Tell her that, the voice swooned, and rang off. Another day it returned with another jingle: I like butter, I like toast, You’re the one I love the most. Give her that message, too; if you’d be so kind. There was something demonic, Gibreel decided, something profoundly immoral about cloaking corruption in this greetings-card tum-ti-tum.

(I’m giving him no instructions. I, too, am interested in his choices – in the result of his wrestling match. Character vs destiny: a free-style bout. Two fadlls, two submissions or a knockout will decide.)

A book is a product of a pact with the Devil that inverts the Faustian contract, he’d told Allie. Dr Faustus sacrificed eternity in return for two dozen years of power; the writer agrees to the ruination of his life, and gains (but only if he’s lucky) maybe not eternity, but posterity, at least. Either way (this was Jumpy’s point) it’s the Devil who wins.

And now, at last, Gibreel Farishta recognizes for the first time that the adversary has not simply adopted Chamcha’s features as a disguise; – nor is this any case of paranormal possession, of body-snatching by an invader up from Hell; that, in short, the evil is not external to Saladin, but springs from some recess of his own true nature, that it has been spreading through his selfhood like a cancer, erasing what was good in him, wiping out his spirit, – and doing so with many deceptive feints and dodges, seeming at times to recede; while, in fact, during the illusion of remission, under cover of it, so to speak, it continued perniciously to spread; – and now, no doubt, it has filled him up; now there is nothing left of Saladin but this, the dark fire of evil in his soul, consuming him as wholly as the other fire, multicoloured and engulfing, is devouring the screaming city. Truly these are ‘most horrid, malicious, bloody flames, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire’.

Part 8

Unwilling wholly to abandon the project for which his wife had died, unable to maintain any longer the absolute belief which the enterprise required, Muhammad Din entered the station wagon of scepticism. ‘My first convert,’ Mirza Saeed rejoiced.

‘Then tell me why your God is so anxious to destroy the innocent,’ Osman raged. ‘What’s he afraid of? Is he so unconfident that he needs us to die to prove our love?’

Mirza Saeed, worn-out and filthy, was in a state of deep frustration on account of his failure to convince more than a handful of the pilgrims that it was better to put one’s trust in reason than in miracles. Miracles had been doing pretty well for them, the Titlipur villagers pointed out, reasonably enough. ‘Those blasted butterflies,’ Saeed muttered to the Sarpanch. ‘Without them, we’d have a chance.’ ‘But they have been with us from the start,’ the Sarpanch replied with a shrug.

Part 9

he discovered to his surprise that after a lifetime of tangled relationships with his father, after long years of crossed wires and ‘irrevocable sunderings’, he was once again capable of an uncomplicated reaction. Simply, overwhelmingly, it was imperative that he reach Bombay before Changez left it for good.

(He had been as good as his word, flapping his arms wildly as Gulistan rushed down the runway, and afterwards settled back contentedly in his seat, beaming modestly. ‘Wowoworks every time.’

‘I want you to know,’ he said to his son, ‘that I have no problem about this thing at all. A man must die of something, and it is not as though I were dying young. I have no illusions; I know I am not going anywhere after this. It’s the end. That’s okay. The only thing I’m afraid of is pain, because when there is pain a man loses his dignity. I don’t want that to happen.’ Salahuddin was awestruck. First one falls in love with one’s father all over again, and then one learns to look up to him, too.

The young doctor murmuring: ‘It won’t be long now, so...’ At which, Salahuddin Chamchawala did a crass thing. He turned to Nasreen and Kasturba and said: ‘Come quickly now. Come and say goodbye.’ ‘For God’s sake!’ the doctor exploded... the women did not weep, but came up to Changez and took a hand each. Salahuddin blushed for shame. He would never know if his father heard the death-sentence dripping from the lips of his son. Now Salahuddin found better words, his Urdu returning to him after a long absence. We’re all beside you, Abba. We all love you very much. Changez could not speak, but that was, – was it not? – yes, it must have been – a little nod of recognition. He heard me. Then all of a sudden Changez Chamchawala left his face; he was still alive, but he had gone somewhere else, had turned inwards to look at whatever there was to see. He is teaching me how to die, Salahuddin thought. He does not avert his eyes, but looks death right in the face. At no point in his dying did Changez Chamchawala speak the name of God.

What did he see? Salahuddin kept thinking. Why the horror? And, whence that final smile?

Salahuddin recalled the only other time in his life when he’d seen his physically demure father naked: he’d been nine years old, blundering into a bathroom where Changez was taking a shower, and the sight of his father’s penis was a shock he’d never forgotten. That thick squat organ, like a club. O the power of it; and the insignificance of his own

The world, somebody wrote, is the place we prove real by dying in it.

Yes, this looked like the start of a new phase, in which the world would be solid and real, and in which there was no longer the broad figure of a parent standing between himself and the inevitability of the grave.