Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Modern Panchatantra or a Neo-Didactic Novel: A Perspective on Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Modern Panchatantra or a Neo-Didactic Novel: A Perspective on Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

Article excerpt

An Indian by birth and an American by domicile, Salman Rushdie, the most celebrated contemporary novelist, has an innate Indian psyche and aesthetic susceptibility. This can be illustrated from Rushdie's (2015) recent novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (henceforth Two Years) which follows resolutely the ancient Indian short story tradition. Panchatantra in Kathasaritsagara (Ocean of the Streams of Stories) by Somadeva (1997) is a collection of stories with a determined moral thought content in them. It is believed that a king of yore, who wanted to reform his three young princes, requested the priest in his court to take up the cause of mending them. Naturally, the Brahmin courtier narrated, mostly in verse and sometimes in prose also, fables, including animal stories, and succeeded in infusing a sense of moral tenor in the princes for living in peace and harmony even in the midst of deceit, hypocrisy, and other ills in life.

Similarly, an Arabic version (Alf Laylah wa Laylah) of a Persian book called Hazar Afsaneh or One Thousand Stories is a collection of stories that concerns itself with "Arabic tales, their genesis, structure, and social background" (Burton 2004). It is said that the book deals with a murderous king Shahryar who marries a woman each day and executes her at dawn. It is foiled by a princess, Shahrazad or Scheherazade, a clever woman who with her narration of thousand one stories protects herself from being executed by her husband. It is also held firmly that the collection of stories came mostly orally over a period of several centuries from India, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece. Truly these "wonder stories of the east" had moral fiber in them. Rushdie's latest novel, Two Years,1 with its fabulous account of genies, etc. runs like a modern version ofPanchatantra and The Arabian Nights, though its chief concern, like the former, is primarily with a serious didactic note (Bamzai 2015).

Rushdie's Two Years, a novel with deep roots in the real and a solemn reformist motto, has revived the good old oriental (at least overtly Indian) tradition of moral legends with an earnest moral principle in it.2 The scene of action is twelfth century Andalucia where Ibn Rushd (Averroes), a rationalist Muslim philosopher and also a progenitor of Islamic secularism, lived. Soon, the complex and thoughtful story takes a new turn when Dunia-also known as Princess Aasmaan Peri, Skyfairy, the Lightning Princess, and a jinnia from Peristan (Fairyland)-visits the abode of the great philosopher and takes partially a human form and falls in love with him. Unsurprisingly, their union leads to multitudes of children over a thousand years who become their descendants called Duniazat (world's tribe) with their unique feature of earlobe-less human body. After the demise of the philosopher and also the departure of the Lightning Princess for Peristan (fairyland), their progeny became the "people of the world," leading lives of their own. In the course of time, a fiery and smokeless jinn returns to the earth spreading "strangenesses" that cause war of people and war of words. When the rivalry between the two philosophers, viz., Ibn Rushd and Ghazali of Tus, occurs, the novelist, with a view to strengthening his argument, takes refuge grippingly in the historical facts around which the main plot is structured (Frye 1975).

The entire novel soon runs like an allegory in that Rushd represents Reason, Logic, and Science, while the intolerant Persian theologian Ghazali, a provider of the intellectual ethos of Islamic fundamentalism, epitomizes God, Faith, and Quran. A few hundred years later, the human descendants of the Lightning Princess and the contemplative philosopher spread the ripples of hysteria into the human world leading to a "War of the Worlds." The havoc persisted for 1001 days or Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, thereby emphasizing the significance of the title of the novel.

The epigraph at the beginning of the novel is from Goya y Lucientes3 (1969) that lays stress on the fruitfulness of the fusion of Reason and Fantasy. …

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