Tuesday, March 17, 2009

India's Small Gimpse of Hope: Ignorance is Bliss

Rushdie separates East, West into stories narrated by different voices that are all suffering from deep disconnection in their own lives. They are disgusted and degraded by society, yet they have to learn to live in it anyways. However, none of the narrators in the “East” are able to rise above the tensions that plague their lives, and instead make the situations worse. Muhammad Ali sells questionable advice to women trying to get the permission to move to Europe, and the narrator in “The Free Radio” is unable to say what he really means, although through his disgusted tone the reader is aware he disproves of Ramani’s decision t marry the widow. He unravels the story like an old woman gossiping at the bridge table, repeating what he knows and then saying “But I personally will not comment” (20). He narrative is transfixed on the surface level situation, as he refuses to look deeply into the struggles of a young boy who he claims to care enough about to ramble on and on about for more then 10 pages. Huma, whose father goes crazy after finding The Prophet’s hair in a vile, has to go behind her fathers back to hire a criminal to solve the problem.
The tension in the stories is met by those willing to rise above corrupted connection within society. Rushdie begins his collection of short stories with Miss. Rehana. She is confident from the beginning, unaware of the female prejudices surrounding her. Rushdie writes, “Miss Rehana had come on her own, and did not seem at all alarmed” (6). Muhammad Ali is immediately astounded by her strong presence. He seems almost processed to offer advice that he normally demands money from. The woman’s composure seems to inspire him to be a better person, almost against his own will. Unlike the rest of the women desperate to get to London, Rehana is overjoyed when she fails the test. She is a separate entity, beyond her homeland and all of its injustices. At the end of the story Rushdie writes, “Her last smile, which he watched from the compound until the bus concealed it in a dust-cloud, was the happiest thing he had ever seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving life” (16). This statement allows the reader to see the distinction between these two characters: Rehana has a solid sense of who she is, when Muhammad Ali lives his life cheating others, trying to get by never caring about what is really important. Their interaction has changed him, which gives the reader hope that if only there were more people like Rehana, the India would be able to rise above their injustices and woman would no longer be looked upon as objects that need to be sold and gotten rid of.
However, the next chapters complicate this hope. The narrator treats the widow as if she is an unfortunate object. She is never disconnected from the husband who left her behind. She is permanently tainted and undeserving of the love that Ramani wants to give her. The narrator is disgusted and afraid of Ramani’s dream like attitude. His emotions are rooted from the same place as Muhammad’s, who does mention that he fears for Rehana’s life and “ignorance” but instead of being in awe the narrator is utterly disgusted by Ramani’s nativity.
The conflict between the old and new world serves as the prevalent issue within the stories. The reader is left to wonder if knowledge and tradition has any value at all. The characters who have the most wisdom and ability to change society are not plagued with sneaky advice or societal presumptions. They are the only hope that Rushdie offers, and it is only when their older peers can listen to their advice, will the world change.

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