East and West traditionally are not see as a connected, flowing entity. Most literature enhances the cultural and philosophical borders between the two major world regions, almost as though afraid of letting out some great secret. Rushdie, however, seeks to bring them together. In altering stories from the West to go east, he emulates (or was later emulated by, I’m unsure of the date) many Japanese writers, who for example converted Shakespeare’s Macbeth into a film, “Throne of Blood”. Rushdie also goes after Shakespeare (converting Hamlet) but much more interesting, I think, is his conversion to story-form of Christopher Columbus’s journey of discovery.
In his quest for the East, for lands hardly known by the West at the time, Columbus discovered more West, indeed unwittingly gave his culture a path towards dominance, but that is not the point of the story. Columbus, a dreamer sailing west, needs his sponsor to his east to even consider making such a journey. Isabella, his patroness, needs the possibility of trade to the East. The entire tale is centered around the concept of a need for interchange between East and West; note that this is not a cry for sameness, or for some common homogenous culture, but for an exchange between equals.
The ties between Columbus and Isabella vary, from patron and explorer and fellow dreamers to the obvious (and in my opinion, rather strange) sexual tension, and draw the reader deeper into the relationship simply through variety, rather than depth. But perhaps too this is a way of pointing out the differing and admittedly bizarre bonds that hold East and West together, no matter the era. From trade to philosophy to war and religion, the two major cultural behemoths of the world need one another, just as Columbus and Isabella would be lesser beings without their connection. While the Eastern stories may touch the reader more, with the tragic circumstances surrounding Hashim and the revelations (or rather the beginnings of them) witnessed in Muhammed, it is Columbus who most exemplifies the bonds twixt East and West.