We transform constantly and we remain constant. Music is the bridge between our worlds. Music liberates and unifies.*
We are in India, UK and United States. The story starts back in 1937 and ends (but there will ever be a real end?) in 1989. The protagonists: Ormus Cama, Vina Apsara and Umeed “Rai” Merchant, reinterpreting the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and taking us through the history of rock music, pop culture and photography.
The novel is divided in two main parts: the first is set in Bombay and the second one between London and the U.S.A. The story starts with Vina Apsara’s death on Febrary 14 1989 (on the same day that the fatwa against Rushdie was issued). She is a famous and loved singer with a wild voice: it’s her story, and that of her lover and musician Ormus Cama, who finds and looses her over and over again. We read the story through Rai’s words, a photographer and the couple’s close friend, following the detailed narration of Ormus and Rai’s love for the same woman, Vina, but also the detailed history of their lives (and deaths) and the entire 1950s-1990s cultural background.
She was my ground, my favorite sound, my country road, my city street, my sky above, my only love, and the ground beneath my feet.*
Ormus Cama writes the lyrics as a lamentation for his lover Vina. U2 singer Bono came up with the idea of the song after reading Rushdie’s novel, and made it a world wide hit. He used almost every line of these lyrics, apart from the one above. Fictional and real worlds intertwine, an endless game of narrations and voices.
Salman Rushdie plays with the story, its worlds, its characters,with dichotomies such as East/West, world of the living/world of the death, reality/supernatural, historical facts/fictional world. The central theme is crossing borders (the central chapter is called “Membrane”): the only way to communicate with others is to unhinge barriers and pass through borders and membranes diving each other and the various worlds.
Disorientation is loss of the East. Ask any navigator: the east is what you sail by. Lose the east and you lose your bearings, your certainties, your knowledge of what is and what may be, perhaps even your life. […] But let’s just suppose. What if the all deal – orientation, knowing where you are, and so on – what if it’s all a scam? What if all of it – home, kingship, the whole enchilada – is just the biggest, most truly global, and centuries-oldest piece of brainwashing? Suppose that it’s only when you dare to let go that your real life begins?*
It’s a complex book, where the reader has to deal with different levels of narrations and references (classical myths, music, historical facts, contemporary culture, photography). We are taken into a modern myth, reflecting on the meaning of Life, Death, Art.
But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds (because we are all alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee. And in the waking dreams our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks. What we forbid ourselves we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or movie theatre, or to read about between the secret covers of books. Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth. The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveller, the gangster, the runner, the mask: if we did not recognize in them our least-fullfilled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.*
*The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie. 1999, Random House.