The Shoat Statements

Random musings by the multiple voices inside my head.

I was first introduced to him when I was in Class 6.

Once a week during one of the double English lessons, Mr. Marshall did something fun with us. During the latter part of Class 6, he started reading a specific book to us. And with that book, I was entranced. I didn't know what magical realism was at the time; for me, it was as if someone had written a book from the land of manga and anime that I loved so much.

But the school year finished before the reading lessons did, and I was determined to find out how the story ended (I didn't remember what the book was called at this point). So as Class 7 rolled out and a new English teacher rolled in, I walked up to Mr. Marshall during recess, and asked him if I could borrow the book he used to read to us. I must admit that I wasn't quite prepared for the ensuing question.

Would my parents mind my reading such an author, Mr. Marshall wanted to know. Parents?? I was so confused, but I very confidently assured him that my parents had no objections whatsoever in my expanding my horizons by reading. Not quite convinced (I'm sure), Mr.Marshall lent me the book anyway, after much pestering by me.

The book? Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The author? Salman Rushdie.

That was the first Salman Rushdie book I read, and it got me hooked for life.

Before I write about how I read each of his books, I'd like to say a little something about his writing. Salman Rushdie's writing is funny. As in, laugh-out-loud-that-was- so-funny funny. Also, funny as in that-was-so-brilliantly-sarcastic funny. The humour and witticisms go hand in hand, and he is a very lively author. You are never bored. There is always magic and mystery and surrealism and you get sucked into it and it just seems so natural. He makes the incred
ible believable. I'm not saying anything much about the individual stories, because hopefully, someone else who reads this blog will read his books so I don't want to give anything away.


Haroun and the Sea of Stories was the first book Rushdie wrote after he went into hiding. On the face of it, it reads like a light hearted children's story, but there is so much more to it than that, and, in today's political context in Sri Lanka, perhaps a very apt book to read. To be very honest though, what got me hooked on it was the magic, and how effortlessly Rushdie weaved it into the story. The reader became Haroun, and the journey to the sea of stories is one journey that you'll never forget.

After reading the book, I asked my father who Salman Rushdie was. And he very patiently told me. That was when I realized that there was a depth to the story that I had not even begun to comprehend on the first reading. I was determined to read The Satanic Verses after that.

A good 8 years later, my parents asked me what I wanted from London. My request? The Satanic Verses. And they bought it for me. That was the firs
t Salman Rushdie book I owned. My aunt was so horrified that I would read such a book that she tore a page off a calendar and made a cover for the book so that no one could see the title!

The Satanic Verses will remain, I'm sure, my favourite Rushdie novel. It starts with two men falling out of a plane, mid-air, singing an old Hindi film song. And it only gets better from there.

I have read it countless number of times, and each time, I find something new. And, at least for me, I end up questioning what I believed to be true from the previous reading. There is religion, there is the question of faith (not just religious), there is the question of good versus evil and the bonds of friendship and that of love, politics, racism...and one brilliantly written story. A political education later, I was also able to see the critique of Thatcherism that I had missed earlier on.

But you don't need to know any history or any deep rooted knowledge of Islam or England or Iran or India to appreciate the book. There is a story at the centre of it, and a deeply compelling one at that. And a style of writing that, in my opinion, is sheer brilliance.

The next book I owned was Haroun and the Sea of Stories. My aunt wanted to know what I wanted for my birthday, and I told her. I didn't expect her to find it, but she did. My adult reading of the book did not diminish any of the charm the book held for me as a kid. I still loved it. I could see the undertones of the book, and I appreciated how Rushdie kept the essence of the story intact. A book I would recommend to anyone!

The Moor's Last Sigh was a birthday gift. My number two Salman Rushdie book. I love everything about the book! It is, in my opinion, a simpler read than The Satanic Verses, but just as rich. I loved the story, and perhaps cursory knowledge of the Indian political landscape made the book even more interesting. I think I began to appreciate his writing style more though, in this book. It is a regular on my night stand, and will remain a firm favourite!

Midnight's Children was the first Salman Rushdie book I spent my own money purchasing, and it was the one book that disappointed me. I know, I know, it won the Booker Prize, and the B
ooker of Bookers as well, but still, it didn't live up to my expectations. I liked it, as a book. I didn't like it so much, as a Salman Rushdie book. Don't ask me why - I am still not sure.

I next rushed out to buy Shalimar the Clown, and I think it is the only book I have ever bought as soon as it was released. Shorter than his earlier books, nevertheless a good read. Somewhere early on in the book, there is this quote:

"Always do something impossible right at the beginning of the show. Swallow a sword, tie yourself in a knot, defy gravity. Do what the audience knows it could never do no matter how hard it tries. After that you'll have them eating out of your hand."

This book does exactly that.

I liked it infinitely more compared to Midnight's Children. The ending...not my favourite, but I guess there was no other way the story could have ended. The richness of language should be enough to make you read the book.

The next book I read was borrowed from a friend. The Ground Beneath Her Feet, in my opinion, is the heaviest of his books, in terms of writing, story...everything. I loved the book, but it is a bit heavy. Excellent read, in small doses.

Within a rather short gap, I picked up Grimus at the Colombo Book Fair. Salman Rushdie's first book, and not much acclaim for it, but I liked it. I actually liked it far more than the award-laden Midnight's Children. It is nothing like his other books, and resembles Lost more than it does any thing I've ever read, but I like it.

The latest book I get to call my own is The Enchantress of Florence (the best
Christmas gift ever! You know who you are, and thank you so much). It seemed much smaller than most of his other books, but was deceptively longer. Unlike Salman Rushdie's other books, the entire story takes place in time periods different to ours, and he removes England and introduces Florence as part of the scenery. Emperor Akbar, Machiavelli and the Medicis all make an appearance.

Much like The Satanic Verses, religion plays a big role here, and there is a particular line in the book which would get another fatwa issued to him, if the fanatics ever bothered actually reading his books. There is hardly a female character worth her salt in this book despite the queens, concubines and prostitutes that walk through its pages. But Rushdie does not disappoint, and I am already looking forward to rereading this wonderful book.

I hope Salman Rushdie keeps on writing, because I for one am a fan for life.

*The title of this post is from a phrase used by a critic when reviewing one of Salman Rushdie's books. I forget the critic and the book - all I know is that it is not an original phrase from me, but it describes this author best so I have decided to use it.


I shall end with one of my favourite quotes, out of Shalimar the Clown. It has no relevance at the end of this post, and I know that he has better quotes, but I love this because it is so sarcastic, so well said and so true.

"This tiny landlocked valley with barely five million people to its name wanted to control its own fate. Where did that kind of thinking get you? If Kashmir, why not Assam for the Assamese, Nagaland for the Nagas?
And why stop there? Why shouldn't towns or villages declare independence, or city streets, or even individual houses?
Why not demand freedom for one's bedroom, or call one's toilet a republic?
Why not stand still and draw a circle round your feet and name that Selfistan?"

I was in Class 6. I was already an avid reader, but the books I read were anything by Enid Blyton, the Nancy Drew stuff, abridged versions of English classics and a few Sweet Valley twins thrown in for extra spice. Kid stuff.

Then Mr. Marshall happened. My English teacher, and his own curriculum introduced itself to my class. John Steinbeck, E.B. White...these were authors he made us read, and I happily realized that good literature did not necessarily mean having to put yourself through Dickens. He made us indulge in quality reading, but he made it fun. And believe me when I say this - any teacher who could make John Steinbeck fun was one special teacher!

Till I was in that class, my English writing had exclusively consisted of homework and exam writing. Maybe an additional three or four letters in between written to my parents when they were abroad. That was the sum total.

Then Mr.Marshall introduced me to 'The Journal'. We each had to get a book (like the CR books kids use in SL) and every week, we had to hand in a piece of creative writing. It could be anything - a story, an essay, letters...whatever took our fancy. He taught me the meaning of creativity. Mr. Marshall taught me to write.

I remember the first time I had to write my journal. I struggled and struggled to find something to write about and finally wrote a story based on a cartoon I had watched. Which was neither very creative, nor very well written. And having been based on a cartoon (that too one I remembered so poorly at the time), it had no ending. I was compelled to continue it every week.
I thought that my journal was doomed.

But Mr. Marshall kept encouraging me, and needling me to write shorter stories, because for some strange reason, he thought that I could. And I did. I think it was after a month (four journal attempts), but it could have been longer. I wrote a story that was exclusively a product of my imagination. At that time, it was the most difficult thing I had ever written.

However, Mr.Marshall wasn't going to be content with just that. Without even reading my first attempt at genuine creative writing, he asked me to read it aloud to my whole class. I was the new kid, just barely a month in school, with almost no friends and zero self esteem. And there I was, standing in front of everyone, with a story I lost faith in as soon as I had to stand up. I somehow managed to read it to the end. And at the end, the class applauded. Mr. Marshall applauded.

Writing, and writing my journal was never a problem after that, and it was with gleeful pride that I gave my journal to classmates who wanted to read the stories I had come up with.

20 years have passed since then. I've done a hell of a lot of reading, and almost as much writing. I am able to discuss the similarities and differences between Hamlet and Oedipus with random people in the subway (to which another English teacher, Mr. Siegfried also deserves credit) and I have enough confidence in my writing to have a public blog. But I know, that without Mr. Marshall, none of this would be possible. So.

Thank you, Mr. Marshall.

About Me

My photo
Be true to your heart, and true to your conscience.

Blog Archive

Stat Counter

View My Stats

World Top Blogs

World Top Blogs - Blog TopSites