Salman Rushdie is one of the most famous, prolific and controversial writers of Indian origin. His books are consistently on the bestseller lists, win awards and sometimes even earn him a fatwa. You, however, cannot deny the fact that he is an exceptional writer who has a large repertoire of work loved by the readers. My very first Salman Rushdie book was “Midnight’s Children”, the book which won him the Booker Prize and made him a literary celebrity. The book, however, became my Mount Everest, which somehow I couldn’t scale. Despite getting hooked in the story, due to myriad reasons, I couldn’t manage to read beyond the first hundred pages. Fifteen years and three attempts later, last year I made it a goal to finish Midnight’s Children, come what may, and I am glad I did finish it! The book was poetic, the mesmerizing saga of a family and the child whose destiny is twinned with the destiny of a country. Salman Rushdie was quickly added to my list of favourite Indian authors. The second book of his which I read was “Joseph Anton”, picked up from a book sale. “Joseph Anton” is the autobiographical work of Salman Rushdie about the dark years he spent hiding incognito when the Fatwa was declared against him. The book revealed more about Salman Rushdie as a person and also about the books which he wrote during this time. The first book he wrote and published during this period was “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”.
This book is about a young boy Haroun Khalifa, whose father is a master storyteller. His father, however, loses his gift of gab when Haroun ’s mother leaves them for a person who doesn’t tell stories. Young Haroun helps his father get his gift of storytelling back and thus saves the day.
“Haroun and The Sea of Stories” has been classified as a children’s book. In fact, this book was written by Salman Rushdie due to a promise made by him to his son. The book, however, was written during the time when Salman Rushdie was in hiding after the declaration of a fatwa against him. The colours of fatwa are visible in the book. Thus “Haroun and The Sea Of Stories” does not remain a simple children’s book but becomes a defiant declaration by Salman Rushdie. Reading through the book you cannot help but draw parallels between the characters of the book and people of the real world. You can mentally imagine and maybe, even permit yourself a smile, as you realise who “Khatam Shud” alludes too and what Salman Rushdie is trying to say when he writes about the “bezuban” and the “pollution of stories”. Using his pen Salman Rushdie made caricatures of the leaders who attacked him and turned them into objects to be mocked and pitied.
This book, in essence, favours free speech and artistic freedom. If so, is it then suitable for children to read? I think the answer to this question is an overwhelming yes! The story is simple, yet beautiful. The characters quirky, funny, imaginative and will stay with the children for a long time. The language is very easy to read, yet it flows poetically, drawing the reader into the tale. There is a strong flavour of India with Indianized names like Batcheat/Chup/Mali. Even Gopi(as guppy ) and Bagha make an appearance albeit as fish! Haroun’s character of a young boy who loves his parents is endearing. The children will love reading about a boy as young as them, who doesn’t have any super powers but yet manages to go on a magical journey and save the sea of stories!
This book has been classified as a children’s classic and I have to admit that I concur with this rating. The book is reminiscent of storytelling sessions with grandparents, it is a fantastical tale with funny characters and there is a fable-like quality to the whole book. This book will never be out of step with the events around the world and will always be relevant. So if you have an eleven or twelve-year-old who loves to read, give them this book, let them discover the magic of Salman Rushdie’s pen. It is quite probable that they might not understand the underlying currents and symbolism of the book. However, I assure you, they will fall in love with the story and the magic that it weaves. And hopefully, once they become more aware of the world we live in and read the book again, they may find the depth of the Sea of Stories.