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

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That night it was reported on the TV news that, in an astonishing development, the animals of the GROF circus had unanimously refused to perform. In a crowded tent, and to the amazement of costumed clowns and plain-clothes customers alike, they rebelled against their master in an unprecedented act of defiance. Grandmaster Flame stood in the centre ring of the three Great Rings of Fire bellowing orders and cracking his whip, but when he saw all the animals beginning to walk calmly and slowly towards him, in step, as if the y were an army, closing in on him from all directions until they formed an animal circle of rage, his nerve cracked and he fell to his knees weeping and whimpering and begging for his life. The audience began to boo and throw fruit and cushions, and then harder objects, stones, for example, and walnuts, and telephone directories. Aag turned and fled. The animals parted ranks and let him through and he ran away crying like a baby.

That was the first amazing thing. The second took place later that night. A noise started up around midnight, a noise like the rust ling and crackling of a billion autumn leaves, or maybe even a billion billion, a noise that spread all the way from the Big Top by the banks of the Silsila to Luka's bedroom, and woke him up. When he looked out of his bedroom window he saw that the great tent was on fire, burning brightly in the field by the river's edge. The Great Rings of Fire were ablaze; and it was not an illusion.

Luka's curse had worked.

The third amazing thing happened the next morning. A dog with a tag on its collar reading Bear and a bear with a tag on its collar reading Dog showed up at Luka's door - afterwards Luka would wonder exactly how they had found their way there - and Dog the bear began to twirl and jig enthusiastically while Bear the dog yowled out a foot-tapping melody. Luka and his father Rashid Khalifa and his mother Soraya and his older brother Haroun gathered at the door of their house to watch, while from her verandah their neighbour Miss Oneeta shouted, "Have a care! When animals begin to sing and dance then plainly some witchy business is afoot!" But Soraya Khalifa laughed. "The animals are celebrating their freedom," she said. Then Rashid adopted a grave expression, and told his wife about Luka's curse. "It seems to me," he opined, "that if any witchy business has been done it is our young Luka who has done it, and these good creatures have come to thank him."

The other circus animals had escaped into the Wild and were never seen again, but the dog and the bear had plainly come to stay. They had even brought their own snacks. The bear was carrying a bucket of fish and the dog wore a little coat with a pocket full of bones. "Why not, after all?" cried Rashid Khalifa gaily. "My storytelling performances could do with a little help.

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