Notes for Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses

Previous Chapter

Chapter IV: Ayesha

Plot outline for Chapter IV

Gibreel's dreams resume with a narrative imitation of a long zoom shot focussing in on the fanatical Imam, in exile in London. This figure is clearly based on the Iranian Muslim fundamentalist leader, the Ayatollah Khomeni. His companions are named after prominent companions of Muhammad, and his enemy in his homeland of Desh is named after Muhammad's favorite wife. Gibreel as angel carries the Imam to the capital city of Desh, as the Islamic Gibreel had carried Muhammad to Jerusalem. They witness a popular revolution in which the evil Ayesha dies. From her dead body springs the spirit of Al-lat, one of the three goddesses of the "satanic verses," but she is defeated by Gibreel. The Imam triumphs and tries to freeze time by destroying all the clocks in the land. Rushdie provides his own commentary on this image in discussing the Iranian revolution: ". . . the revolution sets out quite literally to turn back the clock. Time must be reversed" ("In God We Trust" 383).

A separate plot now begins, involving Mirza Saeed Akhtar, his wife Mishal, and the mystical, mysterious and beautiful Ayesha (a quite different figure from the Ayesha of the Desh plot, but in the long run equally destructive). As Mirza watches the butterfly-clad Ayesha, he longs for her. A long flashback tells of Ayesha's girlhood and introduces us to several characters from the village of Titlipur. Mirza Saeed tries to transmute his lust for the girl into passion for his wife, but it is Mishal who becomes close to Ayesha. This intimacy is a disaster, for the seemingly insane girl claims to have been told by the Angel Gibreel that Mishal has breast cancer. The only cure, she pronounces, is to make a foot-pilgrimage to Mecca. Unfortunately, this involves walking across the Arabian Sea. The skeptical and furious Mirza Saeed cannot stop his wife from going, but decides to accompany them in hopes of somehow saving her.


Notes on Chapter IV


Page 205

[211]

a mansion block built in the Dutch style
Note how many foreign, immigrant-related associations are made in this paragraph. Kensington is viewed not as as a quintessentially English locale, but as the product of the mixing of a number of national cultures, a refuge for exiles. It has long been noted for its wealthy inhabitants; but many of them are now immigrants, especially from the Middle East.

Barkers department store
A famous luxury store at 63 Kensington High Street.

where Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair
Near Kensington Gardens, at 13 Young Street. William Makepeace Thackeray wrote most of his novel after he moved there with his daughters in June, 1856 having previously lived for some time in France. Rushdie may have become interested inVanity Fair because it features two characters recently returned from India and because Thackeray himself, like Rushdie, was born in India. Project Gutenberg edition of Vanity Fair. One huge 2-meg file!

the square with the convent where the little girls in uniform are always going in, but never come out
Although this looks like an allusion, Rushdie says "The square I had in mind was a (somewhat fictionalized) Kensington Square; the allusion to the convent girls is all mine" (personal communication from Salman Rushdie).

Talleyrand
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838), opportunistic and skillful French bishop/diplomat.

[212]

silence, cunning. Exile
At the end of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus enunciates his manifesto: "I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use--silence, exile, and cunning." Joyce became an exile, living in Paris for most of his life. Why do you think Rushdie has isolated the term "exile?" to the end of the list?

Elba, not St Helena
Napoleon was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba during 1814-15, but managed to escape to rule France for 100 days, after which he was finally and definitively exiled to Saint Helena, 1,200 miles west of the African Coast, where he died in 1821.

The Imam
A title of high respect in Islam, here clearly meant to depict someone very like the Ayatollah Khomeni. Oddly lacking from most commentary about Khomeni's denunciation of The Satanic Verses is any mention of the character of the Imam. See below, p. 450.


Page 206

enemy of images
Not only are idols forbidden in Islam, pictorial art of any kind is suspect in varying degrees for many Muslims.

her profile of a Grecian statue . . .
Compare with the description of Hind above, p. 113 [116].

What characteristics do the various Ayeshas in this novel share? In what ways are they different?

Desh
An Indian place-name, meaning "land of," but here used as a substitute for Iran (Hindi, originally Sanskrit).


Page 207

[213]

Bilal X
" Bilal" was the name of the muezzin appointed by Muhammad to call the faithful to prayer, hence a suitable name for a singer (Fischer 134). The custom of subsituting an X for one's final name was at one time widely followed by American Black Muslims. Bilal X is a caricature of singer Cat Stevens, who became a convert to Islam, denounced his earlier recording career, and endorsed the fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death for writing The Satanic Verses. Compare with Mr X, p. 413 [427].

gori
Literally, a "light-skinned woman," used here to mean an "English" woman as opposed to an Indian (Hindi).

SAVAK
The notorious secret police of the late Shah of Iran, one of the main targets of the Islamic revolution.


Page 208

[214]

no alcohol
Wine is specifically forbidden to Muslims and the prohibition is usually understood and extending to all alcoholic beverages; but some equivocation goes on among certain Muslims.

once and future land
This phrase not only suggests that the Imam will return to his old homeland, but alludes to King Arthur's Camelot as depicted in T. H. White's The Once and Future King.

chapati
Indian unleavened flat bread (Hindi). A chapati recipe.


Page 209

[215]

Aga Khan
See above, p. 26 [27].


Page 210

[216]

Salman Farsi
Salman the Persian, the second minor character to bear Rushdie's first name. See above, p. 101 [103].

certain surreptitious radio waves
Khomeni created his revolutionary movement via clandestine addresses delivered via audio cassettes recorded from exile in Paris.

[217]

the great Shaitan
The great Satan.

What seem to be the main reasons the Imam hates Ayesha? Judging by his speech, what are his values?


Page 211

calendars
Reza Pahlevi, Shah of Iran, had attempted to replace the traditional Islamic calendar with one commemorating the supposed 2500 years of continuous monarchy in Iran/Persia (Fischer 134).


Page 212

[218]

fly me to Jerusalem
See above, p. 110 [112].

[219]

the Babylonian whore
See Revelation 17, where the decadence of Rome (here called "Babylon" is depicted through the metaphor of a whore riding on the back of a seven-headed beast. See note on Babylon for p. 4.


Page 213

a high mountain of almost perfectly conical dimensions
Compare with Mount Cone in Jahilia, allusion to Allie Cone (who climbs mountains).


Page 215

How is the victory of the Imam similar to the victory of Mahound?


Page 216

[222]

zamindar
Landlord (Hindi) (Spivak 44).

Mirza Saeed Akhtar
A rearrangement of the name of Indian film director Saeed Akhtar Mirza.

[223]

had been reading Nietzsche the night before--'the pitiless end of that small, overextended species called Man' Source?


Page 217

butterflies
The image of a girl constantly accompanied by butterflies is reminiscent of the character of Mauricio Babilonia in García Márquez'sOne Hundred Years of Solitude. But Rushdie may have been influenced even more by the 1983 film version of García Márquez's short story, "Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother." In Ruy Guerra's Eréndira (though not in the original story) the heroine encounters a butterfly made out of torn paper which has come to life, lands on a wall, and metamorphoses into a painted image. The butterflies were featured in the poster for the film. The heroine of the short story also embarks on a lengthy foot-pilgrimage to the sea, like Ayesha. Gabriel García Márquez Information about the film.

familiar spirits
Medieval European term for animals possessed by demons which accompanied witches. See below, Matthew Hopkins.

Bibiji
The word for "woman" with the honorific suffix "ji;" usually means "wife," but here probably just a term of respect (Hindi).

[224]

Peristan
Fairyland.

Titlipur
"Town of butterflies" (Suleri 233). Perhaps inspired by the song "Titli Udi" from the film Suraj (Fischer 134).

Pandora's imps
According to the myth of Pandora, when her curiosity led her to open the box into which had been sealed all the troubles of the world they flew out like a horde of insects and created the flawed world we know today. The myth of Pandora.


Page 218

zenana
Women's quarters in a Muslim home (Urdu).


Page 220

[226]

King Charles I
Beheaded in 1649. See note below, on his son, Charles II, on p 340.

What point is Rushdie making by alluding to the king's having lost his head after using this staircase?

[227]

small enamel animals
Reminiscent of the small candy animals made by Ursula Buendía in Gabriel Garcia Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

What might it mean to be too poor to dream?


Page 222

[228]

panchayat
Traditional village council (Hindi, derived from Sanskrit).

[229]

untouchables were renamed 'children of God'
Mahatma Gandhi attempted to remove the stigma from untouchables by renaming them harijans: children of God. Hindu untouchables have traditionally been drawn to Islam, with its anti-caste tendencies.


Page 224

[230]

Hand
In countries where much of the population is illiterate, voters often identify the party they wish to vote for on ballots by its symbol. In this case the Congress Party which governed India until recently uses an open hand as its symbol.

CP(M)
The Communist Party (Marxist), very much opposed to the Congress Party.


Page 225

[232]

Sarpanch
Head of a village council or Panchayat.

Muhammad Din
This is the name of a spoiled little boy who dies in childhood in Rudyard Kipling's "The Story of Muhammad Din" in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888). The text of this story.

Khadija
Also the name of the Prophet Muhammad's first wife.


Page 228

[235]

Hamlet
Considered as perennially indecisive.

Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was an outstanding poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for his collection of love poems entitled Gitanjali. More information on Tagore. A biographical sketch of Tagore.

Ghare-Baire
A 1905 Bengali novel about the Swadeshi movement translated asThe Home and the World (1915) in which a progressive young Zamindar persuades his wife to enter modern life, with results to their relationship as disastrous in their way as in this story. Tagore's novel was made into a film by Satyajit Ray in 1985, which may have reminded Rushdie of it.


Page 229

What is the zamindar's real motive for persuading his wife to enter purdah?

swadeshi
A campaign led by Gandhi to boycott foreign (especially British) goods in preference of Indian-made ones (Hindi, Bengali).

Some coast . . . some clear
This phrase is modeled on a famous passage in one of Winston Churchill's speeches, made to the Canadian Senate and House of Commons in Ottawa December 30, 1941: "When I warned [the French] that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided cabinet, 'In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.' Some chicken; some neck" (Ina Westphal).

Percy Westerman
A prolific writer of boy's adventure stories, popular in the 1930s.

G. A. Henty
author of numerous inspirational boy's novels in which virtue is rewarded with prosperity.

Dornford Yates
British author of light fiction, humor, romance, and thrillers (1885-1960).

paan
Areca or other nut rolled in betel leaf, a mild stimulant commonly used throughout India (often incorrectly called "betel nut") which turns the saliva bright red (Hindi).


Page 230

[237] the action of the Meerut soldiers
Refers to an 1857 revolt called by Indians as "The First Indian Revolution," and by the British "the Sepoy Mutiny" which began by the soldiers killing British officers and their families as they emerged from church services.

Perownistan
Citizens of former imperial nations often obscure history by referring to their former colonies as tropical "paradises"; thus Perowne's old estate has become "Fairyland."


Page 231

punkahs
Large swinging fans made of cloth stretched over a rectangular frame (Hindi).

punkah-wallah
Servant who operates the punkahs.


Page 234

[241]

kahin
A soothsayer of a type abhorred by orthodox Muslims (see above, note on p. 113) [116]. One early revolt against Islam was led by such a woman, called the Kahinah.

a pir
See above, note on p. 185 [192].


Page 235

[242]

I have flown with the angel into the highest heights
Like the Prophet Muhammad, who was flown to Heaven, an event called the miraj (Qur'an 17:1).

to the lote-tree of the uttermost end
See note above on p. 91 [93].

Black Stone
A stone said to have fallen from heaven, embedded in the wall of the Ka'aba.

pilgrimage . . to Mecca Sharif
All pious Muslims are required at least once during their lifetimes to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, to go on the Hajj. A person who has performed this pilgrimage is called a "hajji." Part of the traditional ceremony involves kissing the black stone embedded in the wall of the temple called the Ka'aba. For Sharif, see note above on p. 156 [160].


Page 236

umra
"Lesser pilgrimage," a rite performed in Mecca (Arabic). This ritual can be performed at any time, but it is usually a part of the better-known "greater pilgrimage" (al-hajj) which is much more complex and can only be performed at specified times. Explanation of the distinction.

[243]

The waves shall be parted
A miracle modelled on the parting of the Red Sea (or, as some translate it, the Sea of Reeds) when the Hebrews left Egypt led by Moses (Exodus 14).


Page 239

[246]

There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet.
The qalmah. See note above, on p. 105 [108]. Strictly speaking, the only act necessary to become a Muslim is to sincerely affirm this belief.


Page 239

[247]

What does Osman's final speech mean?

Next chapter
Back to Table of Contents