Love Wins Out by S. Krishnamoorthy Aithal
Surprisingly, the truce brokered by Madhav between factions and interest groups—some trying to protect Rushdie and others aiding and abetting the apostate’s assassination—held for many years. The representatives of the Muslim world—the Sheikh who had promised the reward of one million for the executors of the fatwa against Rushdie, the Director of Scotland Yard, the Manager of the Penguin Press, and Harold Pinter on behalf of Salman Rushdie—the signatories to the treaty—were more or less pleased with the peace treaty, or so it seemed.
The killers seemed to narrowly miss Rushdie, time after time, because they would find him either during the day or the night, within the four walls of a room or under a roof, reading, writing, eating, or sleeping, and so on, under which conditions they had been forbidden to carry out their task in terms of the memorandum their representatives had signed. In any case, they persuaded themselves to believe that they were getting ever closer to him.
The Scotland Yard was spared of the criticism of the British public that it was spending too much of its time and resources protecting a Paki immigrant, albeit a regular British citizen and an Indian immigrant, an NRI. Besides, the Scotland Yard had more serious tasks on hand, particularly after September 11, 2001. Luckily for them, Rushdie lived in New York for most of the year, and the Iranian government had repudiated the death threat on Rushdie, if that meant anything.
Although the sales of Rushdie’s books had fallen somewhat due to the lack of earlier publicity, the Penguin Publishers and their associates were making tidy profits from the sale of Rushdie’s books, old and new.
Harold Pinter felt happy for his client. Relatively free from the constant threat of death, Rushdie could pursue the normal activities of a young man, legally divorced, in possession of a large fortune. He wooed, won, and wed again. He was happy to show his trophy to the world, but had little patience with paparazzi, who encroached on the ground beneath his new wife’s feet. Swinging a cricket bat, he screamed at them and drove them away.
Notwithstanding the apparent success of the treaty, Madhav did, however, recognize the possible strain it might be causing on all the parties, and he had no doubt that it would break down like any other truce sooner or later. For example, Rushdie still felt threatened particularly after sundown, and the fear was aggravated by his newly-gained companionship; he didn’t want to break the heart of his lovely wife by an untimely departure. As agreed, the publishers were not making a full donation of their profits to the improvement of life of the Asian immigrants in England, and this was weighing heavily on their conscience. Even the small expense on Rushdie during his infrequent visits to London seemed like a big burden on the British government involved in a prolonged war in Iraq. The delay of execution was causing a faint suspicion among the aspiring assassins if the whole scheme wasn’t a ploy designed to fool them.
Madhav was not certainly the one to be taken in by surprise. He believed in taking proactive steps. On the fifteenth anniversary of the truce, he proposed a meeting of all the original signatories in Washington, DC, to enable them to rededicate themselves to the cause of nonviolence and peace.
From the word go, the proposed meeting encountered problems.
John, his friend and co-sponsor of the first meeting in London, politely declined to take any part in it. He was exasperated by Madhav’s obsession with world peace, but did not, of course, say it in so many words. From the Grand Canyon, where he had retired to pursue writing fulltime undisturbed, he wished Madhav success in the peace venture.
Although the friends of Rushdie had no objection to their foes pursuing their goal for religious reasons, they insisted, before they sat down with them in Washington, that their foes give a written assurance that they wouldn’t cause any physical harm to the writer.
The representatives of the foes of Rushdie objected to the choice of the venue; they were afraid that they might be hauled up by the FBI and sent to the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison: what the Amnesty International called the modern-day gulag, to an uproar of protest from the democracies of the world.
After a great deal of diplomatic maneuvering, Madhav succeeded in persuading all the participants to assemble in Washington, DC, without any preconditions. He promised them that he would table all their concerns and views for open discussion, and would not hustle them to sign any agreement without their full consent. To maintain transparency, he had, in fact, made necessary arrangements with the Universal Channel to broadcast live the proceedings of the meeting to the whole world on television. As regards the fear of arrest and dispatch to Guantanamo Bay, he argued with his Muslim friends that, as long as the dead body and the murder weapon were not found by the police, they would be safe and had nothing to fear from anyone.
The invited guests arrived on time for the meeting in the Kennedy Center. In a passionate welcome speech, Madhav stressed the need to reduce tension in the world so that countries and governments had time to address problems of poverty, unemployment, disease, and natural calamities.
Long and rambling speeches followed the inaugural for television consumption.
Everybody agreed with Madhav to work for peace, but took the view that the truce had become irrelevant in view of the world events—September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the war on Iraq, the prisoners’ abuse, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the havoc created by Katrina in the United States.
One side bitterly criticized the continued and continuing attacks on their god and the prophet by the infidels and by their hirelings like Rushdie who, they alleged, carried the infidels’ guns on their shoulders.
The other side defended freedom of speech, however offensive an individual’s ideas might sound. They argued that the right to freedom of expression was the very foundation of democracy and they would under no circumstances compromise this right.
When these orations were in progress, Madhav received directions how to proceed from god knows where. He followed them without question, reminded by Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Remember, Horatio, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy!” There was no other way of explaining the plan of action he hit upon on such occasions.
He knew that his Muslim brethren hadn’t read The Satanic Verses and there was no way he could persuade them to read the blasphemous book, induce them even to touch it with a long barge pole. He wasn’t also sure that others had read it carefully enough, either. True, the copies of the book were selling in millions. Buying a book is, however, merely establishing property rights to it, as someone put it, not to be taken for owning it in any meaningful way. Owning a book involved reading it, understanding its contents, absorbing its ideas.
So he got a few pages of The Satanic Verses photocopied without the header or the page numbers. He distributed them among the participants and asked them to take a few minutes to read it silently. Soon he found ashen faces on one side and bright and cheerful faces on the other.
“This is precisely the point that we have been hammering at all along,” an Arab Muslim representative stood up and declared. “These so-called civilized people who call us animals are themselves full of intolerance, bigotry, cruelty, and brutality. How dare they talk about civilized standards, while they force their innocent victims eat their own muck! How dare they give sermons against torture when they give their police a free hand! Blah!”
The speaker wanted to read the pages aloud for the benefit of the audience the world over. Although time was running out, Madhav allowed the speaker permission to read the pages with a disclaimer that the World Peace, Inc., under whose auspices the peace and reconciliation meeting was held, or any of its organizational entities, took no responsibility for the views, philosophy, will, or intent contained in the pages.
As soon as the reading came to an end, the civilized people the world over—remember the proceedings were aired live by Universal Channel—shouted that the passage was probably written by some insane Islamic jihadist.
Madhav wondered if he overplayed his hand. When the audience demanded to know the author of the passage, he had, without any privilege of reporter-source kind of confidentiality under the constitution, no option but to reveal that the passage was taken from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Chapter III, Section 3, parts 1-3, and pages 157- 64. Casually, as an aside, he mentioned that this is only one of the many similar passages in the book.
To convince all the participants in the meeting hall and the curious onlookers outside that the pages were indeed from The Satanic Verses, Madhav produced the copies of the novel. To allay fears that he had given them some pirated or doctored edition of the book, he got different editions of the novel, published in England as well as in the United States by reputed publishers. Even the first edition of the novel from the Library of Congress was procured to verify the authenticity of authorship. An Internet search was initiated to trace the location of the original manuscript in Kashmir.
While this academic exercise was going on in the Kennedy Center, news broke out on TV that Rushdie was captured and murdered in England. A correction soon followed that he was captured, not by Islamic extremists but by Skinheads, while the British protection force idly stood by, and that the murder news was still unconfirmed. A further correction followed saying that the capture was made not by real Skinheads, but by Iranian government agents, who, in the disguise of Skinheads, stormed into Rushdie’s farmhouse near London. The viewers were asked to stay tuned to learn what happened next after a brief commercial break. Within seconds, Rushdie was seen being torn away from his lovely wife’s feeble enfolding arms with rude force, carried swiftly into a helicopter in the backyard in his pyjamas, then into a jumbo jet waiting at Heathrow, and flown past the military jets trying to intercept the plane to Teheran where he was greeted and embraced by the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and cheered by millions of Iranians to the villain-turned-hero’s dismay and joy.
In London, Jack Straw summoned Iranian chargé d’affaires to the Foreign Office and demanded that Rushdie be immediately returned to London to face charges of malicious slander against the British police and society.
The participants at the meeting at the Kennedy Center watched blow by blow the entire episode on television with astonishment and disbelief.
Overtaken by the sudden occurrences in the real world, Madhav hurriedly adjourned the peace meeting.
As he regained his calm, he saw a new dawn breaking in the far horizon, past Homer’s Aegean skies and the Arabian Desert. Setting aside their political and religious differences, nations and governments were working hard to reunite Rushdie and his wife who had refused to touch food or water until each was restored to the other. With every passing hour the condition of the lovers was deteriorating and their government custodians were becoming nervous lest the lovelorn should die at their hands. It became evident that the only way for the sworn enemies was to reunite the two, let bygones be bygones and declare unilateral and unconditional peace. Exceeding postmodernist imagination, events thus rolled on to a close and Leila and Majnu were together again bringing universal joy.
Note: This is a sequel to the short story “Squaring the Rushdie Cycle” that appeared in Critical Quarterly 33 (1991): 48- 53.
Author’s Bio: S. Krishnamoorthy Aithal has published articles on a wide range of authors and books in scholarly international journals. His short stories have appeared in Critical Quarterly, Short Story International, Unlikely Stories, Long Story Short, Indian Literature, and New Quest. Two volumes of his short stories One in Many and Many in One are making editorial rounds. He teaches English at Potomac College , Washington , DC.
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