I have just finished rereading Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. When I first read it many years ago, I didn’t know much more about India than what I’d learned from Ravi Shankar and the Beatles, and my knowledge of Islam was even sketchier. I hadn’t even seen My Beautiful Laundrette. I remember finding it a difficult novel, and I don’t think I ever made much sense of the whole bit about the pilgrims from Titlipur, who march from their little village to the Arabian Sea, expecting it to part for them so that they can walk to Mecca.
On a second reading, I believe it may be the great Rushdie novel, surpassing even the extraordinary Midnight’s Children. It asks very deep questions — What is faith? What are good and evil, and how do we tell them apart? What is God? — and works on them through complex, moving narratives, without ever giving in to the temptation to answer them outright. And for whatever reasons, the novel touched me this time in a way that few novels have.
On a separate note, India continues its extraordinary tradition of melodrama with Sonia Gandhi’s tearful performance today in parliament. Was it sincere or all for show? Is this a ploy for sympathy and support, or is she really stepping down? Whatever the case, the whole show is worthy of a Bollywood weeper. Now all we need is a song-and-dance number.