I’ve sometimes assumed that Rushdie is more in the news for the supernumerary amount of death threats that are leveled against him rather than for his literary talents. But Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the only book I’ve read by him (supposedly a children’s book!) is one that I read, enjoyed and kept aside as favorite to date. Athough I have no clue about how well known the book is, Rushdie uses his imagination in this one freely- and the results at least in my opinion are brilliant.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is about the adventures of a young boy who is of course Haroun Khalifa and his father Rashid Khalifa. Haroun is the only son of his parents and leads a happy life in the sad city of Alifbay- a city so sad that sadness was actually manufactured in the factories of the city and packaged and sent all over the world! Haroun’s father Rashid is a master storyteller who is popularly known as the Ocean of Notions or more cattily known as the Shah of Blah. All he has to do is open his mouth and out comes a brand new saga very much like a Bollywood movie with all the right ingredients.
Haroun and his very parents are very happy until one day tragedy strikes. Haroun’s mother Soraya runs away with their neighbor upstairs, the “whiny” Mr. Sengupta. She leaves exactly at eleven o’ clock. This causes psychological repercussions for Haroun as he is stuck on the number eleven. On the other hand Rashid has lost his story telling powers after Haroun causes him to lose faith in himself. He cancels his storytelling subscription from the land of Kahani. Haroun decides to take matters into his own hands and get his father’s and his life back on track by going all the way to Kahani and getting the subscription reinstalled. As soon as he reached there he is drawn into the battle between the two warring factions of Kahani, the Guppies and the Chupwalas. There he makes new friends, has his first crush and learns that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it.
The book has a lot of other characters who provide many of its funny moments like Iff the water genie whose idea of punishment for spies is making them write lines like “I will not spy again” 500 times, while he wonders whether even that is a bit too much! And Butt- the mechanical hoopoe who is the most temperamental machine I have ever read about. Also, I simply adore the characters of princess Batcheat and prince Bolo. The princess is hideous to look at and the descriptions of her looks are entertaining to read, to say the least. The Prince is always handsome and dashing but exceedingly foolish. Both being portrayed as complete opposites of stock fairytale characters by Rushdie. In a way the book could have been fairytale- but with a decidedly Indian twist!
Even though it’s a children’s book I personally loved it because of Rushdie’s wild imagination and the creative manner in which he harnessed it. In fact as you keep reading the book you realize many allusions to popular culture especially Indian. I did not read too much into the pick and I suppose if you really sat down and analyzed it, you could draw out many themes and parallels; but what I gauged is that sometimes in order to live everyone needs a little bit of imagination in their life, otherwise loosing one of the fundamental qualities that sets us apart as human beings. It is after all imagination that gives rise to hope and without hope we are but soulless beings. Another thing all of us already know but the book reinforces is that, nothing is impossible! I probably sound like a preacher but it’s just what I understood from the book. I have read the book many times, for the sheer pleasure of Rushdie’s imagination but I must admit I never really came around to looking beyond it, until i came down to doing this review.