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

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Nothing like a dog-and-bear song-and-dance act to get an audience's attention." So it was settled, and later that day it was Luka's brother Haroun who had the last word. "I knew it would happen soon," he said. "You've reached the age at which people in this family cross the border into the magical world. It's your turn for an adventure - yes, it's finally here! - and it certainly looks like you've started something now. But be careful. Cursing is a dangerous power. I was never able to do anything so, well, dark."

An adventure of my very own, Luka thought in wonderment, and his big brother smiled, because he knew perfectly well about Luka's Secret Jealousy, which was actually Not So Secret At All. When Haroun had been Luka's age he had travelled to the earth's second moon, befriended fishes who spoke in rhyme and a gardene r made of lotus roots, and helped to overthrow the evil Cultmaster Khattam-Shud who was trying to destroy the Sea of Stories itself.

By contrast, Luka's biggest adventures to date had taken place during the Great Playground Wars at school, in which he had led his gang, the Intergalactic Penguins' Team, to a famous victory over the Imperial Highness Army led by his hated rival Adi Ratshit, a.k.a. Red Bottom, winning the day with a daring aerial attack involving paper planes loaded with itching powder.

It had been extremely satisfying to watch Ratshit jump into the playground pond to calm down t he itch that had spread all over his body; but Luka knew that compared to Haroun's achievements he really hadn't done very much at all. Haroun, for his part, knew about Luka's desire for a real adventure, preferably one involving improbable creatures, travel to other planets (or at least satellites), and P2C2Es, or Processes Too Complicated To Explain. But until now he had always tried to damp down Luka's lusts. "Be careful what you wish for," he told Luka, who replied, "To be honest with you, that is easily the most annoying thing you have ever said."

In general, however, the two brothers Haroun and Luka rarely quarrelled and, in fact, got on unusually well. An eighteen-year age gap had turned out to be a good place to dump most of the problems that can sometimes crop up between brothers, all those little irritations that make the older brother accidentally knock the kid's head against a stone wall or put a pillow over his sleeping face by mistake, or persuade the younger brother that it's a good idea to fill the big fellow's shoes with sweet, sticky mango pickle, or to call the big guy's new girlfriend by a different girlfriend's name and then pretend it was just a really unfortunate slip of the tongue. So none of that happened. Instead Haroun taught his younger brother many useful things, kickboxing, for example, and the rules of cricket, and what music was cool and what was not; and Luka uncomplicatedly adored his older brother, and thought he looked like a big bear – a bit like Dog the bear, in fact – or, perhaps, like a comfortable stubbly mountain with a wide grin near the top.

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