Passage I PROSE FICTION:
This passage is adapted from the novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie (©1999 by Salman Rushdie).
Art Deco is an architectural and decorative style that was popu-lar in the first half of the twentieth century.
When you grow up, as I did, in a great city, during what just happens to be its golden age, you think of it as eternal. Always was there, always will be. The grandeur of the metropolis creates the illusion of 5
per-manence. The peninsular Bombay into which I was born certainly seemed perennial to me. Malabar and Cumballa hills were our Capitol and Palatine, the Brabourne Stadium was our Colosseum, and as for the glittering Art Deco sweep of Marine Drive, well, that 10
was something not even Rome could boast. I actually grew up believing Art Deco to be the “Bombay style,” a local invention, its name derived, in all probability, from the imperative of the verb “to see.” Art dekho. Lo and behold art. (When I began to be familiar with 15
images of New York, I at first felt a sort of anger. The Americans had so much; did they have to possess our “style” as well? But in another, more secret part of my heart, the Art Deco of Manhattan, built on a scale so much grander than our own, only increased America’s 20
allure, made it both familiar and awe-inspiring, our little Bombay writ large.)
In reality that Bombay was almost brand-new when I knew it; what’s more, my parents’ construction firm of Merchant & Merchant had been prominent in its 25
making. In the ten years before my own coming into the world, the city had been a gigantic building site; as if it were in a hurry to become, as if it knew it had to provide itself in finished condition by the time I was able to start paying attention to it . . . No, no, I don’t really 30
think along such solipsistic lines. I’m not over-attached to history, or Bombay. Me, I’m the under-attached type.
But let me confess that, even as a child, I was insanely jealous of the city in which I was raised, because it was my parents’ other love. They loved each 35
other (good), they loved me (very good), and they loved her (not so good). Bombay was my rival. It was on account of their romance with the city that they drew up that weekly rota (list) of shared parental responsibilities. When my mother wasn’t with me 40
when I was riding on my father’s shoulders, or staring, with him, at the fish in the Taraporewala Aquarium— she was out there with her, with Bombay; out there bringing her into being. (For of course construction work never stops completely, and supervising such 45
work was Ameer’s particular genius. My mother the master builder. Like her father before her.) And when my father handed me over to her, he went off, wearing his local-history hat and a khaki jacket full of pockets, to dig in the foundations of building sites for the secrets 50
of the city’s past, or else sat hatless and coatless at a designing board and dreamed his lo-and-behold dreams.
Maps of the early town afforded my father great joy, and his collection of old photographs of the edifices and objets of the vanished city was second to 55
none. In these faded images were resurrected the demolished Fort, the “breakfast bazaar” market outside the Teen Darvaza or Bazaargate, and the humble mutton shops and umbrella hospitals of the poor, as well as the fallen palaces of the great. The early city’s relics filled 60
his imagination as well as his photo albums. It was from my father that I learned of Bombay’s first great photographers, Raja Deen Dayal and A. R. Haseler, whose portraits of the city became my first artistic influences, if only by showing me what I did not want 65
to do. Dayal climbed the Rajabai tower to create his sweeping panoramas of the birth of the city; Haseler went one better and took to the air. Their images were awe-inspiring, unforgettable, but they also inspired in me a desperate need to get back down to ground level. 70
From the heights you see only pinnacles. I yearned for the city streets, the knife grinders, the water carriers, the pavement moneylenders, the peremptory soldiers, the railway hordes, the chess players in the Irani restaurants, the snake-buckled schoolchildren, the beggars, 75
the fishermen, the moviemakers, the dockers, the book sewers, the loom operators, the priests. I yearned for life.
When I said this to my father he showed me photos, still lives of storefronts and piers, and told me I 80
was too young to understand. “See where people lived and worked and shopped,” he clarified, with a rare flash of irritation, “and it becomes plain what they were like.” For all his digging, Vivvy Merchant was content with the surfaces of his world. I, his photographer son, 85
set out to prove him wrong, to show that a camera can see beyond the surface, beyond the trappings of the actual, and penetrate to its flesh and heart.