Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reflections: Luka and The Fire of Life

Since I loved reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories, I began reading its sequel, which is also Rushdie’s latest book, Luka and the Fire of Life. This book is a sequel in that it has the same core characters and settings, but is not an extension of the story of Haroun’s adventure. Luka is Haroun’s younger brother and is the apple of his parents' eyes (especially his father’s), as his birth seemed to have stilled the notion of Time for the aged couple. Luka yearns to go on a magical adventure similar to Haroun’s and eagerly awaits such an opportunity. Little did he realize that he had to be careful of what he wished for. When his dad, the famed story-teller Rashid, falls ill, the onus of reviving him falls on Luka’s shoulders. Luka desperately races into the World of Magic to steal the Fire of Life for his father.

This is again a fun, fantastical adventure on the surface. Salman Rushdie creatively incorporates the notion of virtual reality in this adventure, as Luka’s quest for the Fire of Life is represented as a game he has to play in the World of Magic. In this age, most of us have gone through several vicarious experiences of traveling in magical/dangerous lands, taking the avatar of heroic princes, intrepid warriors and ruthless soldiers and battling our way to win the precious gem, treasure or the beautiful princess! The real-to-life experiences are sometimes so vivid, it becomes hard to separate our real identity from that of the virtual avatar. I got the sense that Rushdie was hinting at the possibilities of Life if we started focusing on the virtual platform as being more real than our “real” lives. If so, we would start viewing most things in our “real” life in terms of virtual-symbols and elements of fantasy, thus causing our perception of reality to be colored by magical/fantastical hues. Luka’s adventure to save his father seems to be a combination of Luka’s and his fathers’ vivid imagination, since the boy is an avid gamer, and the dad is a brilliant story-teller.

However, the core theme of this story is not as straightforward as I found its prequels’ to be. Perhaps there is no new theme other than the importance of story-telling and imagination (just as its prequels’), and this is meant primarily for young adults (as some reviews seem to say). But I find it hard to agree...if it’s magical realism, I am bent on finding the abstractions to “realism”. If anything, this book has a lot more convoluted and deep references to reality than the previous book. And I don’t think they are mere word plays on Rushdie’s part.

My hypothesis is that the Fire of Life is the symbol for the ephemeral spark within us that defines our unique Life. A certain crackle of spark and fire within us fuels our drive to live, and keeps us alive. When Rashid’s fire (and life) was receding, his son tries to bring back that fire. But where is that fire located? Is it in the depths of our mind? Or locked at the bottom of our heart? Perhaps we can learn about this fire only during that defining moment in the past when we came to life? If so, can we travel back the River of Time to get to that moment? Our memories get us only so far into the past... beyond that we get stuck in oblivion. How do we cross that chasm? Luka seems to travel into that point of Infinity beyond the realms of memory, to fetch the Fire of Life. And this entire journey happens within Rashid’s mind (at least that’s what made the most sense to me). Rashid’s mind wills him to fight through his illness by imagining a magical adventure that takes place in a world he created in his mind. The adventure makes him focus on the aspect that matters most to him, and that energizes his will to survive. To Rashid, the Fire of his Life is Luka himself - the apple of his eyes, who seemed to have coagulated Time for him. It can also be argued that in addition to Luka, Rashid's unparalleled talent to tell stories is what keeps his Fire burning.

Salman Rushdie hence applies Einstein’s notion of Time, as a dimension that is relative. If we choose to not let Time hang on us and learn to live in the moment, notions of past and future don’t constrict us anymore. At the end of the day, all our life’s battles are against Time, aren’t they? All of Rushdie’s word plays are quite a treat as he explores the various phenomenon of our mind - the source of knowledge, wisdom, creativity, imagination, dreams, memory, identity and ego. I am not sure if I’m viewing everything as related to the mind and the psyche, but the last two books of Rushdie’s definitely seem to explore the depths of the human psyche. Again, I may have read too very much between the lines, as always.

Digested Thoughts: Although I’m giving this book the same rating as Haroun and The Sea of Stories (due to the obvious limitation of employing a rating heuristic), I enjoyed the former much much more than this book. I liked the simplicity of Haroun’s adventure. While Luka’s was interesting as well, I found it a little more murkier to decipher. I still am not sure if my understanding of the book and its themes are anywhere close to Rushdie’s intentions! But according to me, it sends an optimistic message that we can conquer our fate, and win the battle against Time, if we can keep our inner Fire fueled.

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