In 'Victory City', Rushdie takes the reader on an eventful journey

He dives into religious intolerance, puritanism and fanaticism


Victory City is the latest novel of Salman Rushdie. He jumps straight into ‘magical realism’ with the opening line itself: “On the last day of her life, when she was two hundred and forty-seven years old, the blind poet, miracle worker and prophetess Pampa Kam-pana completed her immense narrative poem about Bisnaga and buried it in a clay pot sealed with wax in the heart of the ruined Royal Enclosure, as a message to the future. Four and a half centuries later we found that pot and read for the first time the immortal masterpiece named the Jayaparajaya, meaning ‘Victory and Defeat’, written in the Sanskrit language, as long as the Ramayana, made up of twenty-four thousand verses, and we learned the secrets of the empire she had concealed from history for more than one hundred and sixty thousand days.”

Rushdie takes the reader on an eventful journey through the 300 years (1336-1646) history of Vijayanagara empire in which he has woven magic imaginatively and entertainingly. Kampana, the protagonist, throws seeds which become the Vijayanagara (Bisnaga) empire with cities, palaces, walls and markets. She then whispers into the ears of the rulers and the people who come alive in the new empire. At the end, when she is blinded by emperor Krishnadevaraya and the empire is ending, the descendants of the original inhabitants start whispering their lives into her ears helping her to complete the writing of history. Things go into reverse, as if rivers had started flowing upstream.

Rushdie revels in magical realism with passages like this: “In the city of Zerelda, time flies. Every day the citizens, who know that life is short, rush about with large nets trying to capture the minutes and hours that float around just above their heads like brightly coloured butterflies. The lucky ones who capture a little time and gulp it down – it’s easily edible, and quite delicious – have their lives elongated. But time is elusive, and many fail.”

Rushdie teases the readers saying: “This is that story, retold in plainer language by the present author, who is neither a scholar nor a poet but merely a spinner of yarns, and who offers this version for the simple entertainment and possible edification of today’s readers, the old and the young, the educated and the not so educated, those in search of wisdom and those amused by folly, northerners and southerners, followers of different gods and of no gods, the broad-minded and the narrow-minded, men and women and members of the genders beyond and in between, scions of the nobility and rank commoners, good people and rogues, charlatans and foreigners, humble sages, and egotistical fools.”

Rushdie pronounces and provokes on contemporary political and social issues of India. While describing the conflicts between the Hindu empire of Vijayanagar and the Muslim sultanates, he dives into religious intolerance, puritanism and fanaticism. He has made references to the stories of Mahabharath and Ramayana. But after having learnt his lesson from the reaction to Satanic Verses, Rushdie has avoided danger this time by his subtle narratives and subdued language.

Throughout the novel, he has thrown pearls of wisdom here and there

- History is the consequence not only of people’s actions, but also of their forgetfulness.

-The miraculous and the everyday are two halves of a single whole, and that we ourselves are the gods we seek to worship, and capable of mighty deeds.

-The truth of the world is that people act according to their natures, and that is what will happen.

Here is the memorable ending of the novel:

She was two hundred and forty-seven years old. These were her last words.

I, Pampa Kampana, am the author of this book. I have lived to see an empire rise and fall. How are they remembered now, these kings, these queens? They exist now only in words. While they lived, they were victors, or vanquished, or both. Now they are neither. Words are the only victors. What they did, or thought, or felt, no longer exists. Only these words describing those things remain. They will be remembered in the way I have chosen to remember them. Their deeds will only be known in the way they have been set down. They will mean what I wish them to mean. I myself am nothing now. All that remains is this city of words. Words are the only victors.

I enjoyed this book in the way as I did in the case of most of his other novels. I admire Rushdie’s extraordinary talents as a writer and story-teller. I believe he deserves the Nobel Prize.

The author is an expert in Latin American affairs

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