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Play with Fire

 

...and You are Bound to get Burned....!

 

 

 

Salman Rushdie’s delightful new book for children and adults, Luka and the Fire of Life, written for his son Milan (a sequel of sorts to the earlier Haroun and the Sea of Stories) is an adventure or quest in the grand old story-telling tradition.  Young Luka must find and bring back the Fire of Life to save his father, the storyteller Rashid (yes, the sim-onym is intentional), the Shah of Blah, the Ocean of Notions who has somehow, rather ominously, slowed down and fallen into a sleep from which he does not wake....  The book is in many ways a moving gift from an older father to his young son, a touching attempt at transcending time itself. 

 

When Luka was only a few years old, his father’s hands acquired lives and even minds of their own.  They had names, too: there was Nobody (the right hand) and Nonsense (the left), and....Sometimes when the right hand started tickling Luka and he begged, “Stop, please stop,” his father replied, “It’s not me.  In fact, Nobody’s tickling you,” and when the left hand joined in and Luka, crying with laughter, protested, “you are, you are tickling me,’ his father replied, “You know what?  That’s just Nonsense."

Lately however, Rashid’s hands had slowed down....

 

And so there is Luka, alarmed at the “...image of a completely halted father, stuck in mid-sentence, mid-gesture, mid-stride, just frozen to the spot forever....”

 

Luka is a book that celebrates the power of the imagination, for the Fire of Life is to be found in the Left-Handed Dimension or the World of Magic (and then there is the corresponding Right-Handed Dimension or the Real World).  A tale of time and memory, of mythology and magic.  The fantastical world where Luka must travel with his bear called Dog and his dog called Bear is modeled on computer games with levels and multiple lives and peopled with creatures from myth and poetry and the imagination: a journey down (or up) the River of Time; Memory Birds with heads like elephants; a magic carpet ride with the deliciously dismissive Insult-ana of Ott; creatures from Greek mythology, Nordic sagas, the Hindu pantheon, even Fraidy Cats!  The book is charming, revels in wordplay, silly wordplay at times (but then that’s half the fun of rhyming and riddling, the very pleasure in both the silliness and the pat-oneself-on-the-back cleverness of punning).

 

 

But what was really the elephant in the room as we read the book was Rushdie’s magnum opus, the winner of the Booker of Bookers, that modern classic Midnight's Children.  And from those famous opening lines: ....On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact.  Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came.  Oh spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world....

 

Oh, let’s spell it out then.  Midnight is when clock hands join.  And can Left-Handed Imagination and Right-Handed Reality meet in print once more?  Can Oh be spelt out twice?  And we wondered whether Rushdie can overcome his distraction (which, when we think about it, is the mood that seems to define his literary novels ever since the marvelous The Moor's Last Sigh, as if somehow the competing pressures of the fatwa and the red carpet took him away from a flying carpet whose fibers had now become tangled and matted, as if he had lost control of the strands of story, lost the trail, and Blah had became Blather and there were Digressions from which there was no Egress.... And if we happened to be creatures in Luka we would inevitably be silly and say we don’t mean to dis his tracts but only that we kept expecting that old magic).  And perhaps Rushdie has found that old fire again for we are pleased to say he didn’t lose us this time around, and that he guided us surely through this make-believe World of Magic, and that the stumbling in and out dimensions was remarkably smooth.  Whew!

 

Can clock hands join again? Can Nobody and Nonsense meet and make Sense for Somebody?  All we know is that for every midnight there is indeed a noon!  And so the quest (or question) is not only whether Rushdie can make clock hands join again but whether he can do it one better (One o’clock anybody?...get those hands parted!) Or perhaps that Fire of Life is a torch to be passed on, to all those other children of midnight.  Luka can also be read as a vampire tale about the power of stories and the imagination.    

 

Read: Luka and the Fire of Life, Salman Rushdie, for children and adults of all ages

 

Read: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

 

Read: Midnight's Children

 

Read: The Moor's Last Sigh

 

Tags:  literature  library  india  language  history  books   

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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