The Satanic Verses (1988)

[The Satanic Verses (US edition)]

Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses (1988)


Even as he was performing (having no option) the latest and basest ritual of his unwarranted humiliation, - or, to put it another way, as the circumstances of his miraculously spared life grew ever more infernal and outrĂ© - Saladin Chamcha began to notice that the three immigration officers no longer looked or acted nearly as strangely as at first. For one thing, they no longer resembled one another in the slightest. Officer Stein, whom his colleagues called 'Mack' or 'Jockey', turned out to be a large, burly man with a thick roller-coaster of a nose; his accent, it now transpired, was exaggeratedly Scottish. 'Tha's the ticket,’ he remarked approvingly as Chamcha munched miserably on. ‘An actor, was it? I'm partial to watchin' a guid man perform.’

This observation prompted Officer Novak - that is, 'Kim’ ­ who had acquired an alarmingly pallid colouring, an ascetically bony face that reminded one of medieval icons, and a frown suggesting some deep inner torment, to burst into a short peroration about his favourite television soap-opera stars and gameshow hosts, while Officer Bruno, who struck Chamcha as having grown exceedingly handsome all of a sudden, his hair shiny with styling gel and centrally divided, his blond beard contrasting dramatically with the darker hair on his head, - Bruno. youngest of the three, asked lasciviously, what about watchin’ girls, then, that's my game. This new notion set the three them off into all manner of half-completed anecdotes pregnant with suggestions of a certain type, but when the five policemen attempted to join in they joined ranks, grew stern, and put the constables in their places. 'Little children,' Mr Stein admonished them, 'should be seen an' no hearrud.'

By this time Chamcha was gagging violently on his meal, forcing himself not to vomit, knowing that such an error would only prolong his misery. He was crawling about on the floor of the van, seeking out the pellets of his torture as they rolled from side to side, and the policemen, needing an outlet for the frustration engendered by the immigration officer's rebuke, began to abuse Saladin roundly and pull the hair on his rump to increase both his discomfort and his discomfiture. Then the five policemen defiantly started up their own version of the immigration officers' conversation, and set to analysing the merits of divers movie stars, darts players, professional wrestlers and the like; but because they been put into a bad humour by the loftiness of 'Jockey' Stein, they were unable to maintain the abstract and intellectual tone of their superiors, and fell to quarrelling over the relative merits of the Tottenham Hotspur 'double' team of the early 1960s and the mighty Liverpool side of the present day, - in which the Liverpool supporters incensed the Spurs fans by alleging that the great Danny Blanchflower was a 'luxury' player, a cream puff, flower by name, pansy by nature; - whereupon the offended claque responded by shouting that in the case of Liverpool it was the supporters who were the bum-boys, the Spurs mob could take them apart with their arms tied behind their backs. Of course all the constables were familiar with the techniques of football hooligans, having spent many Saturdays with their backs to the game watching the spectators in the various stadiums up and down the country, and as their argument grew heated they reached the point of wishing to demonstrate, to their opposing colleagues, exactly what they meant by 'tearing apart', 'bollocking', 'bottling' and the like. The angry factions glared at one another and then, all together, they turned to gaze upon the person of Saladin Chamcha.

Well, the ruckus in that police van grew noisier and noisier, ­and it's true to say that Chamcha was partly to blame, because he had started started squealing like a pig, - and the young bobbies were thumping and gouging various parts of his anatomy, using him both as a guinea-pig and a safety-valve, remaining careful, in spite of their excitation, to confine their blows to his softer, more fleshy parts, to minimize the risk of breakages and bruises; and ,when Jockey, Kim and Joey saw what their juniors were getting up to, they chose to be tolerant, because boys would have their fun.

Besides, all this talk of watching had brought Stein, Bruno and Novak round to an examination of weightier matters, and now, with solemn faces and judicious voices, they were speaking of the need, in this day and age, for an increase in observation, not merely in the sense of 'spectating', but in that of 'watchfulness', and 'surveillance'. The young constables' experience was extremely relevant, Stein intoned: watch the crowd, not the game. 'Eternal vigilance is the price o' liberty,' he proclaimed.

'Eek,' cried Chamcha, unable to avoid interrupting. 'Aargh, unnhh, owoo.'

– Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (London: Viking, 1988): 160-62.

Critical Responses:

"I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur'an, and those publishers who were aware of its contents, are sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, where they find them, so that no one will dare to insult the Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God-willing. In addition, if anyone has access to the author of the book but does not possess the power to execute him, he should point him out to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God's blessing be on you all." - Rullah Musavi al-Khomeini (February 14, 1989).

"I regret profoundly the distress the publication has occasioned to the sincere followers of Islam. Living as we do in a world of many faiths, this experience has served to remind us that we must all be conscious of the sensibilities of others." - Salman Rushdie (February 15, 1989).

The strongest opinions on all sides came from those who had not even seen, much less read, the novel." - Publishers Weekly.

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