Imagine this. A modern day rendition of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice set in a world where history as we know it takes a slightly different course, owing to the author Salman Rushdie’s uncontainable urge to tweak realities. Some writers are like unbroken horses that don’t like a reader sitting comfortably. Salman Rushdie is one such culprit.
He revels in stretching the artistic license to the snapping point. At his command is not just the floodforce of the English language, but a trove of encyclopedic knowledge of the arts, sciences, history and mythology, the trove in which he digs like a magician into a top hat to pull out a tale that perpetually dances between fact and fiction, reality and magic.
Rushdie’s Orpheus in The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a Parsi boy Ormus Cama, a musical prodigy who hears in his head the voice of his dead twin singing songs from the future. Rushdie’s Eurydice is a parentless girl, a singing prodigy named Vina. She is nobody’s fool. She is high on confidence but low on sexual fidelity. Which brings into the picture Ormus’s friend Umeed Merchant aka Rai, a photographer with a severe crush on Vina.
The novel is essentially a tangled love story between these three, spanning fifty years of their lives, three continents, and many historical events that Rusdhie, given his irrepressible urge to play around with facts, gives a new spin.
Here’s how: In the novel, JFK survives the Dallas shooting but is gunned down alongside his brother Robert. Indira Gandhi and her whole family is assassinated in the bloody October of 1984. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is Catch 18 (which by the way was that book’s initial title). This apart, Rushdie models various characters in the novel on real-life figures. Ormus himself seems inspired from John Lennon. Rai is apparently modeled on Indian photographer Raghu Rai. German filmmaker Wim Wenders is Otto Wing in the book. Andy Warhol is Amos Voight. Henri Cartier Bresson is Mr. Hulot. And there’s a whole assortment of such characters that will have you playing who’s who for the better part of the book’s second half.
But The Ground Beneath Her Feet runs deeper than such trimmings. In part it’s a collation of Indo-Greek mythologies, in part a meditation on the nuances of photography and music. It’s a love letter to Bombay’s lost glory and it’s a commentary on the volatility of times. The ground we stand on, the author tells us, is unsteady.
Two parallel universes are in collision in the novel and there are slits and gashes through which one can peep from one into the other. Just like Orpheus who goes into the afterworld to bring his deceased lover Eurydice back to life. Is he a coward to not choose death himself to be united with her in the hereafter? the book contends. Our hero Ormus follows the same path after Vina is taken away by the cleaving earth, just like Queen Sita was in the Indian epic Ramayana or Sassui was in the Sindhi love story of Sassui-Punhoon. Is Ormus, too, a coward like Orpheus? Should the willingness to die to be united with the deceased lover be a test of true love?
The Ground Beneath Her Feet leaves you with such thoughts and much more. If only the book wasn’t overly self-indulgent and repetitive, it might have ranked among the best works of Rushdie’s.
It’s basically the story of band and music that progresses in various parts. There are so many references related to the history and mythology in Salman Rushdie novels that one goes deeply involved. It’s the love story of Rai and Vina that moves in various places throughout the world. The characters seem so real that one forgets about the fiction. Writing of the novel is incredibly strong. It’s about the celebrities who reach out towards the international audience.