Excerpt: Salman Rushdie's 'Luka and the Fire of Life'


The stars seemed to be dancing up there, to be swirling around in grand and complicated patterns like women at a wedding decked out in their finery, women shining white and green and red with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, brilliant women dancing in the sky, dripping with fiery jewels. And the dance of the stars was mirrored in the city streets; people came out with tambourines and drums and celebrated, as if it was somebody's birthday. Bear and Dog celebrated too, howling and bouncing, and Haroun and Luka and Soraya and their neighbour Miss Oneeta all danced too. Only Rashid failed to join the party. He sat on the porch and watched and nobody, not even Luka, could drag him to his feet. "I feel heavy," he said. "My legs feel like coal-sacks and my arms feel like logs. It must be that gravity has somehow increased in my vicinity, because I am being pulled down towards the ground." Soraya said he was just being a lazy potato and after a while Luka, too, let his father just sit there eating a banana from a bunch he had bought from a passing vendor while he, Luka, ran about under the carnival of the stars.

The big sky show went on until late at night and while it lasted it looked like an omen of something good, of the beginning of an unexpectedly good time. But Luka realized soon enough that it had been nothing of the sort. Maybe it had actually been a kind of farewell, a last hurrah, because that was the night that Rashid Khalifa, the legendary storyteller of Kahani, fell asleep with a smile on his face, a banana in his hand and a twinkle on his brow, and did not wake up the next morning. Instead he slept on, snoring softly, with a sweet smile on his lips. He slept all morning, and then al l afternoon, and then all night again, and so it went on, morning after morning, afternoon after afternoon, night after night.

Nobody could wake him.

At first Soraya, thinking he was just over-tired, went around shushing everybody and telling everyone not to disturb him. But she soon began to worry, and tried to wake him up herself. She spoke to him gently at first, murmuring words of love. Then she stroked his brow, kissed his cheek, and sang a little song. Finally, growing impatient, she tickled him on the soles of his feet, shook him violently by the shoulders, and as a last resort shouted at the top of her voice into his ear. He let out an approving mmm and his smile broadened a little, but he did not awake.

Soraya sat down on the floor beside his bed and buried her head in her hands. "What will I do?" she wailed. "He always was a dreamer and now he's gone and decided he prefers his dreams to me."

Soon enough the newspapers got wind of Rashid's condition and journalists came snaking and oiling around the neighbourhood, trying to get the story. Soraya shooed the photographers away, but the story got written just the same. No More Blather from the Shah of Blah, the headlines shouted, a little cruelly.

Now He's The Sleeping Beauty, Only Not So Beautiful.

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