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

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"They are useless skills," Soraya retorted. "In the real world there are no levels, only difficulties. If he makes a careless mistake in the game he gets another chance. If he makes a careless mistake in a chemistry test he gets a minus mark. Life is tougher than video games. This is what he needs to know, and so, by the way, do you."

Rashid did not give in. "Look how his hands move on the controls," he told her. "In those worlds left-handedness does not impede him. Amazingly, he is almost ambidextrous." Soraya snorted with annoyance. "Have you seen his handwriting?" she said. "Will his hedgehogs and plumbers help with that?

Will his pisps and wees get him through school? Such names! They sound like going to the bathroom or what." Rashid began to smile placatingly. "The term is consoles," he began but Soraya turned on her heel and walked away, waving one hand high above her head. "Do not speak to me of such things," she said over her shoulder, speaking in her grandest voice. "I am in-console-able."

It was not surprising t hat Rashid Khalifa was useless on the Muu. For most of his life he had been well known for his flue nt tongue, but his hands had, to be frank, always been liabilities. They were awkward, clumsy, butter-fingered things. They were, as people said, all thumbs. In the course of their sixty-two years they had dropped numberless things, broken countless more things, fumbled all the things they didn't manage to drop or break, and smudged whatever he wrote. In general, they were anything but handy. If Rashid tried to hammer a nail into a wall, one of his fingers invariably got in the way, and he was al ways a bit of a baby about the pain. So whenever Rashid offered to lend Soraya a hand she asked him - a little unkindly - to kindly keep his hands to himself.

But - on the other hand - Luka could remember the time when his father's hands actually came to life.

It was true. When Luka was only a few years old his father's hands acquired lives and even minds of their own. They had names, too: there was Nobody (the right hand) and Nonsense (the left), and they were mostly obedient and did what Rashid wanted them to, such as waving about in the air when he wanted to make a point (because he liked to talk a lot), or putting food in his mouth at regular intervals (because he liked to eat a lot). They were even willing to wash the part of Rashid he called his bee tee em, which was really extremely obliging of them. But, as Luka quickly discovered, they also had a ticklish will of their own, especially when he was anywhere within reach. Sometimes when the right hand started tickling Luka and he begged, "Stop, please stop," his father replied, "It's not me. In fact, Nobody's tickling you," and when the left hand joined in and Luka, crying with laughter, protested, "You are, you are tickling me," his father replied, "You know what? That's just Nonsense."

Lately, however, Rashid's hands had slowed down, and seemed to have gone back to being just hands. In fact the rest of Rashid was slowing down as well.

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