Plot outline for Chapter VIII

It is important to know that the events in this chapter are based on a real occurrence. In 1983 thirty-eight fanatical Shi’ites walked into Hawkes Bay in Karachi (the site of the Rushdie family home in Pakistan). Their leader had persuaded them that a path through the sea would miraculously open, enabling them to walk to the holy city of Kerbala in Iraq (Ruthven 44-45).

The story of the mystical Ayesha from the end of Chapter IV resumes. One disaster after another assails the pilgrims following Ayesha in her march to the sea; but she insists on continuing, as does Mishal, Mirza Saeed’s wife, despite his repeated attempts to dissuade her. He tries to persuade Ayesha to accept airplane tickets to complete the pilgrimage to Mecca (which is in fact the most common way for pilgrims to make the hajj today); but she refuses. Her fanaticism makes her more and more ruthless, unmoved even by the deaths of fifteen thousand miners nearby. She behaves like the evil Ayesha of the Desh plot when an Imam announces that an abandoned baby is a “Devil’s Child,” and allows the congregation of the mosque to stone it to death. Finally, the horrified Mirza Saeed watches as his wife and others walk into the sea and are drowned; though all other witnesses claim that the sea did miraculously open as Ayesha had expected and the group crossed safely. Mirza Saeed returns home and starves himself to death, in his dying moments joining his wife and Ayesha in their pilgrimage to Mecca, though probably only in his mind.

Notes to Chapter VIII

Page 471

[484] The Parting of the Arabian Sea
See above, pp. 236 [243], 468 [483].

Page 473


A devout Hindu who has sworn to relinquish the things of this world and wander the world in poverty, living off what he can beg (Sanskrit, Hindi).

Page 474


looking like a mango-stone had got stuck in his throat
Most uncomfortable since mangoes have very large, sharp-edged seeds.

potato burtha
Spicy mashed potatoes (Hindi).

Flat bread fried in ghee, often stuffed with spiced peas or potatoes. Recipes.

Page 475


arré deo
Hey, you! (Hindi)

Family Planning dolls
Explained on p. 224-225 [231].

A respectful term for one’s mother’s sister (Hindi).

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“National Self-Service” Organization); a fanatically Hindu political organization with close ties to the Bhartiya Janata Party. The assassin of Mahatma Gandhi was a member. The RSS home page.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (“World Hindu Council”), another Hindu fundamentalist organization which often works closely with the RSS.

Page 476


In Indian usage, this term refers to sectarianism, and is often used in phrases such as “communal violence,” refering to violence between Hindus and Muslims.

Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai
Hindus and Muslims are brothers. A slogan made famous by Jawaharlal Nehru (Jussawalla, “Dastan” 57)

The divine power or energy often personified as female, for example Kali, Durga, Lakshmi (Sanskrit). Mirza Saeed is arguing that that they are merely metaphors for a purely spiritual reality.

Page 477


See above, note on p. 225 [232].

Page 478


British for windshield.

Page 479


Turban (Hindi, Urdu).

An Indian cigarillo, contains tobacco wrapped in a leaf of another plant (Hindi).

Page 482


her silver hair was streaked with gold
The reverse of the usual process.

See above, p. 217 [223].

Page 483


butterfly clouds still trailed off her like glory
Alluding to William Wordsworth’s poem: ” Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:

But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
(stanza 5, lines 7-9)

Page 484


According to (inaccurate) legend, lemmings periodically stampede suicidally into the sea.

See above, p. 24.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Devil’s verses
More Satanic verses.

a choice . . . between the devil and the deep blue sea
Formerly a common expression for a situation with no good choices, here made literal. Mirza Saeed is probably quoting the refrain of of Harold Arlen’s popular song, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (lyrics by Ted Koehler).

Page 485


refused to sleep beside him
This may not be merely a personal reaction, since when a Moslem man disavows Islam or becomes a heretic, it is incumbent upon his wife to refrain from sexual intercourse with him (Massud Alemi).

Page 486


Literally “sweepers,” but more generally, untouchables, low-caste people (Hindi).

Page 487


The entire discussion about love at the bottom of this page is conducted in clichés.

all for love
Title of John Dryden’s (1677) play based on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

Love . . . is a many-splendoured thing.”
A popular song from the 1955 movie of the same name.

The next two commonplaces are immigrants, translations from foreign languages:

Makes the world go round
Originally a line from an old French folk song.

Love conquers all
Translation of Vergil’s Eclogue no. 2, line 68: “Omnia vincit amor.”


isn’t it?
Isn’t that so? See above, p. 310 [320].

Page 488

What is the point of the pamphlets being handed out by extremist Hindus?

Travelers, pilgrims (Sanskrit, Hindi).


Page 492


Venetian scene of devastation
Although the streets and squares of Venice are often flooded in modern times during high tides, this more likely refers to the fact that the city is threaded with numerous canals: any city whose streets are filled with water could be called a Venice.

Page 492

The water had an odd, reddish tint that made the sodden populace imagine that the street was flowing with blood.
Another version of Enoch Powell’s vision come true; see note on p. 186 [192].

Page 493

mining disaster
Mining is a dangerous occupation, but the fantastic scale of this disaster makes clear that it is miraculous punishment for the miners’ opposition to the march (see above, pp. 489 [503], 492 [505]).

Hindi for cowrie shells, which were used as currency throughout much of Asia and Africa in ancient times. There is a common phrase, “kana kauri,” which refers to a coin of such a small denomination as to be virtually valueless (Hussain).

“Value,” used in both the monetary and philosophical senses (Hindi). But also punning on the English expression “Not worth a damn,” which may in fact have been derived from the Indian word (Windsor).

Page 496


The Imam
The recurrence of the title here reminds us of the ruthless Imam of the Desh plot, and shows us how Ayesha’s idealism has turned to evil. It is as if the cruelty of the earlier Ayesha and the fanaticism of the earlier Imam have now joined forces. Yet another Imam, in Delhi, is depicted on p. 519 [533].

Page 497


stoned the baby to death
According to Srinivas Aravamudan, this scene recalls “the bloody and unsuccessful campaign conducted after Muhammad’s death by his favourite wife, Ayesha, against the fourth Khalifa, . . . Ali–a historical reference often cited by fundamentalists . . . as a proof that women should not enter public life” (13).

Traditional Indian hand drum.

Page 498


filmi ganas
Popular film tunes: the staple of popular music in India (Hindi). A history of filmi music.

Indian secular dancer in a tradition going back to the Mughal courts (from Sanskrit-Hindi naach: dance). A Brief History of Classical Dance from South India.

‘Ho ji!’
A vaguely celebratory exclamation meaning something like “Hurray!” (Hindi). A common refrain in popular songs.

Page 499


In this plot, Mirza Saeed plays the role of the doubting tempter which was played by Salman in the Jahilia plot. Compare the two in terms of how sympathetically they are portrayed: their motives, attitudes, and deeds.

Page 501


See note on p. 295 [305].

A four-wheeled cart used by street vendors (Hindi).

Partition was quite a disaster here on land.
The 1947 partition of the former British colony into India and Pakistan was marked by violent riots, looting, and enormous bloodshed.

Page 503

[517] dancing on a fire
Walking on hot coals is a traditional practice of certain Hindu mystics called “firewalkers.”

Page 504

kiss of life
Mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration.


CID man
Plainclothes detective from the Criminal Investigation Department. The acronym is often jokingly said to stand for “cop in disguise.”

Page 505


See above, p. 231 [237].

What evidence is there that the seas really parted and spared the pilgrims? What evidence is there that they simply drowned? What is Rushdie trying to convey by presenting this conflict evidence?

Page 505

What is the significance of the destruction of the tree in the garden?

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