Victory City by Salman Rushdie. © Seemita Das

‘History is the consequence not only of people’s actions, but also of their forgetfulness.’

I couldn’t help but mull over this sentiment of the author in the light of the dastardly attack on him last year – an attack that, eventually, impacted his vision in one eye and movement of one arm. An attack for likely something he was accused of more than three decades ago. Who would have, including the intimidating Sir Rushdie, thought that what he wrote a couple of months/ years back in Victory City shall play upon him, like a trick-assumed-life?’

A city rises from seeds, with divine incantation of Pampa Kampana – a young girl of 9 who, in a near epiphanic moment, coinciding with her mother’s self-sacrifice as per Sati pratha, is blessed by the Goddess herself – and gains the characters of the people who inhabit her. Set in southern India and casting Vijayanagara kingdom as its citadel of action, the empire of Bisnaga, the city, experiences everything – love, friendship, bounty, weddings, education, training, magic, art, betrayal, politics, casteism, bigotry, war, death, succession – over and over again. Like the circle of life.

But if you choose to kneel close to its beating heart, you shall perhaps spot the parallels of Bisnaga’s events to the events unfolding across many global terrains of today – rule of incompetent heads, lack of able challengers, ugly howling of religious fanaticism, gnawing of rampant patriarchy and collective damage by fringe elements being questioned by a consistent group of reformers, beholders of free speech, advocates of equality and defenders of diversity.

But I come to Sir Rushdie’s works not just for his incisive take on the current political and societal canvas but for his impeccably rich way of taking this stand. Draped in many colors and foliage, a dazzling pack of birds and animals, and an enviable, and notably fable-like, warrior clan that leaps across timelines to give life to his imagined city are what left me breathless and eager to turn the pages. Page after page, his insistence to grant equal footing to women as those of men, whether in schools or fights, music or last rites, elevated his work to the heights that I have come to look upto. And in all these frantic observations, the cloud of profundity doesn’t leave him; every once in a while, it opens its arms and spills over its riches in his voice over Bisnaga’s people.

’In this way, Pampa learned the lesson every creator must learn, even God himself. Once you had created your characters, you had to be bound by their choices. You were no longer free to remake them according to your own desires. They were what they were and they would do what they would do. This was ‘free will’. She could not change them if they did not want to be changed.

Perhaps this perspicacity provides him the courage to carry on despite the unexpected threats lurking around, and the spirit to shift base to a better world, if need be, like his character who successfully flew away despite having only a cheel’s feather for company.

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