The Moors Last Sigh - A Review

By Thathachari (thaths@netscape.com)

Being short-listed for a Booker Prize is nothing new for Salman Rushdie. His second book 'Midnight's Children' was judged 'The Booker of Bookers' - the best book to receive the prize in the first twenty five years of the prizes' existence - raising the bar for all future works. Shame and Satanic Verses were also nominated for the prestigious prize. His latest book is also in the short-list and is being billed as the favorite of the judges. But it looks as if the controversy surrounding the book may scuttle Rushdie's chances as they did with 'Satanic Verses.'

'The Moor's Last Sigh' is the tale of the fall from grace of the da Gama - Zogoiby family. Just as Midnight's had started with Aadam Aziz and his hole that could not be filled, Moor's starts with Francisco Da Gama and his pepper business in Cochin and slowly winds its way through, what else, Bombay and finally ends in Spain. Comparisons between Rusdhie's masterpiece 'Midnight's Children' and the latest offering are flying. Even the author seems to have made a deliberate attempt to force people to compare this book with Midnights'. Characters and places from Rushdie's earlier works (especially Midnight's Children and Satanic Verses) keep popping into this book. Why! Characters from other people also pop into this book (A passage from 'Waiting for the Mahatma' by R.K.Narayan and a small reproduction of the Common Man by R.K.Laxman).

Rushdie seems to tell us that this book is anti-Midnight's. While Aadam Aziz the grandfather of protagonist Saleem Sinai in Midnight's traces descent from Kashmir, Moraes Zogoiby - the "hero" in Moor's - traces his descent from the wrong side of Vasco da Gama's bed in Cochin. While the family in Midnight's moves from North to south, the family in this book moves South to North. People are calling this book the sequel to Midnight's. Though there are signs of the book being a sequel, it does now hold up under deeper analysis. While Midnight's ends in a post-emergency India which has a Prime-Minister-who-drinks-his-own-water, this book actually picks up steam from that time. There are parallels. While a freak bomb kills (almost) all relatives of Saleem, a deliberate bombing spree (the Bombay bomb blasts) kills not only Moraes' family, but also other characters who have stepped in from Rushdie's other novels (Zenny Vakil from Satanic Verses, for example).

One thing that really surprised this avid reader was the way Rushdie deals with Ganesh Chaturthi. While Rushdie confesses his love for this elephant headed god in Midnight's and associates it with the heart of Bombay's culture, the darker side of the festival emerges in this book. Ganesh Chaturthi is now painted as an occasion where Saffron dhothi-ed and Khaki trousered masses seig heil their leaders. Rushdie seems to vent his anger on the city where he was born. No longer is Bombay portrayed as a bustling metropolis as seen by the eyes of a young Saleem. It now becomes the city of Raman Fielding (a caricature of Shiv Sena chief Thakray) and muslim mafiosi (Dawood? Haji Mastan?).

Characters and places from other Rushdie books who pop in include Zenny Vakil and Chamchawala house from Verses. Braganza pickles (as green as grasshoppers), Lord Khusro and his domineering mother Mrs. Dubash, Col. Sabarmathi's baton, Saleem Sinai's "son" Adam Braganza, Aarey milk colony. The list goes on. This book is about the end of innocence of India. The downfall of the family is the downfall of India.

Readers of 'Imaginary Homelands' would also see that Rushdie picks up his tirade against Nutan and her "dam building India."

A charge leveled against Rushdie by Shiv Sainiks is that he is not qualified to comment on India and Indians because he now lives in another country. A charge that all of us, as NRIs, should face. In my opinion, the charge is totally baseless. Anybody who has read Rushdie's books would vouch for the love that Rushdie has for Indians and Indianess. His understanding of India is that of a true lover of the country. Who else can say that *we* as citizens of India should accept blame for all her evils. The bomb blasts cannot entirely be blamed on the unmentionable country across the border.

Another charge leveled against Rushdie is besmirching the Nehru family name. What a sad turn politics and boot licking has taken in India! Lackeys of the Gandhi-Nehru family are saying that "Madam Sonia" is displeased and "hurt" by the book's uncomplimentary reference to her family. I can easily picture khaki and saffron clad Sainiks and khaddar clad congresswallas burning copies of a book that have not read. A fact remains that Rushdie understands the Indian middle class and psyche better than "madam Sonia" in her ivory tower and Bal Thakray in his gutter.

Rushdie fans should definitely read this book. People who skim through Rushdie books may not like it. A good book that does not surpass the mastery of Midnight's Children. A book worth having in your collection as people may start burning copies of it in the future.

Copyright © 1994-2000, Sudhakar "Thaths" Chandrasekharan
Last Updated Sat Nov 25 16:51:01 PST 2000