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Short Stories > "The Free Radio" by Salman Rushdie

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message 1: by Barbara (last edited Apr 08, 2009 04:14AM) (new)

Barbara | 5852 comments A thousand apologies, everyone! Somehow, I had it in my head that the discussion on "The Free Radio" by Salman Rushdie started next Sunday! Thank goodness, Al emailed me with a reminder! This story is in our anthology, The Art of the Story, edited by Daniel Halpern on page 513.

The following is biographical information on Rushdie from the British writers Contemporary Writers website. It is a little long, but it's hard to be concise about this guy:

Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 19 June 1947. He went to school in Bombay and at Rugby in England, and read History at King's College, Cambridge, where he joined the Cambridge Footlights theatre company. After graduating, he lived with his family who had moved to Pakistan in 1964, and worked briefly in television before returning to England, beginning work as a copywriter for an advertising agency. His first novel, Grimus, was published in 1975.

His second novel, the acclaimed Midnight's Children, was published in 1981. It won the Booker Prize for Fiction, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction), an Arts Council Writers' Award and the English-Speaking Union Award, and in 1993 was judged to have been the 'Booker of Bookers', the best novel to have won the Booker Prize for Fiction in the award's 25-year history. The novel narrates key events in the history of India through the story of pickle-factory worker Saleem Sinai, one of 1001 children born as India won independence from Britain in 1947. The critic Malcolm Bradbury acclaimed the novel's achievement in The Modern British Novel (Penguin, 1994): 'a new start for the late-twentieth-century novel.'

Rushdie's third novel, Shame (1983), which many critics saw as an allegory of the political situation in Pakistan, won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. The publication in 1988 of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, lead to accusations of blasphemy against Islam and demonstrations by Islamist groups in India and Pakistan. The orthodox Iranian leadership issued a fatwa against Rushdie on 14 February 1989 - effectively a sentence of death - and he was forced into hiding under the protection of the British government and police. The book itself centres on the adventures of two Indian actors, Gibreel and Saladin, who fall to earth in Britain when their Air India jet explodes. It won the Whitbread Novel Award in 1988.

Salman Rushdie continued to write and publish books, including a children's book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), a warning about the dangers of story-telling that won the Writers' Guild Award (Best Children's Book), and which he adapted for the stage (with Tim Supple and David Tushingham. It was first staged at the Royal National Theatre, London.) There followed a book of essays entitled Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 (1991); East, West (1994), a book of short stories; and a novel, The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), the history of the wealthy Zogoiby family told through the story of Moraes Zogoiby, a young man from Bombay descended from Sultan Muhammad XI, the last Muslim ruler of Andalucía.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet, published in 1999, re-works the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the context of modern popular music. His most recent novel, Fury, set in New York at the beginning of the third millennium, was published in 2001. He is also the author of a travel narrative, The Jaguar Smile (1987), an account of a visit to Nicaragua in 1986.

Salman Rushdie is Honorary Professor in the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made Distinguished Fellow in Literature at the University of East Anglia in 1995. He was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1993 and the Aristeion Literary Prize in 1996, and has received eight honorary doctorates. He was elected to the Board of American PEN in 2002. The subjects in his new book, Step Across This Line: Collected Non-fiction 1992-2002 (2002), range from popular culture and football to twentieth-century literature and politics. Salman Rushdie is also co-author (with Tim Supple and Simon Reade) of the stage adaptation of Midnight's Children, premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2002.

Shalimar The Clown, the story of Max Ophuls, his killer and daughter, and a fourth character who links them all, was published in 2005. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Whitbread Novel Award.

Salman Rushdie became a KBE [note from Barb: this appears to stand for Knight Commander from my Wikipedia research] in 2007. In 2008, his latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence (2008), was published and Midnight's Children won the 'Best of the Booker' Prize. He also co-edited The Best American Short Stories (2008) with Heidi Pitlor.








message 2: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5852 comments I should add that "The Free Radio" is also included in Rushdie's collection East, West: Stories, published in 1995.

This story feels like a fable, but I'm not sure what if and what Rushdie meant for the lesson. Ramani's character is somewhat irresistable in his hopefulness. I loved that image of him in his rickshaw pedaling about broadcasting imaginary news. And, his move to the city to become a movie star feels like another burst of incredible optimism. Is it more important not to be taken advantage of by others? Or, should Ramani's sunny attitude be a lesson to us all?


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I've only very quickly read it...last night, but Ramani, was to me, almost irritating. Yes, his attitude was optimistic, but really, he needed an injection of realism in my opinion. Optimism is fine, but he was living a lie. The widow was only taking advantage of him.

He gives up the right to have children because she already has children, ok, true, there were too many people, hence the government giving away a free radio for a vasectomy. Supposedly. He is tricked on every level. How can that lead to real happiness? He's living in a bubble...it's bound to burst. He refuses to listen to any sound advice.


message 4: by Yoby (new)

Yoby (yobs) | 181 comments These last two stories were so depressing and "irritating" that I am like "yuck." I like good epiphanies instead of the "A sucker is born every moment" stories like this one.


message 5: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9352 comments Ramani was a cheerful idiot. but I liked the story. I'd never read anything by Rushdie before. Is this typical of his writing? I'd always thought it would be dense and difficult.

I agree, Barb, it was a fable of sorts.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Barbara and/or Ruth,
A fable in what manner? What would be the lesson here? To be cheerful no matter what? Or no matter how badly you are lied to by people and governments? He refused to listen to the only good advice he was tendered, ignoring it to listen to lies.

This is the first complete bit of Rushdie I've read, although I have a couple of his books in my TBR stacks, and have read bits and pieces of same. The little I've read of The Enchantress of Florence seems to jive with this style.


message 7: by Yusra Zainab Laghari (last edited Apr 08, 2009 09:39AM) (new)

Yusra Zainab Laghari (YusraZainab) I request everyone that works of such controversial personalities shouldn't be discussed. I think we should respect feelings of people from different communities and religions. Being a Muslim, I am really hurt.


message 8: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7563 comments Yusra, I haven't read the story yet, but I intend to, and I also intend to discuss it. If we were to put a ban on discussing anything that was controversial, we wouldn't have a whole lot to talk about. It's the respectful manner in which we discuss things that counts.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Yusra wrote: I request everyone that works of such controversial personalities shouldn't be discussed. I think we should respect feelings of people from different communities and religions. Being a Muslim, I am really hurt.

I'm not sure how anything Muslim has been disrespected, nothing I have posted was meant in any disrespectful manner.
Could you please clarify?


message 10: by Sherry, Doyenne (last edited Apr 08, 2009 11:00AM) (new)

Sherry | 7563 comments If I interpret her comment correctly, she was asking us not to discuss works by "such controversial personalities," in which I think she means Salman Rushdie. I'm afraid we can't do that. If I'm wrong, Yusra, I apologize.


message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 08, 2009 11:03AM) (new)

Ahhh. I see. Thanks Sherry.

AIE: I missed your previous post Sherry. Thanks.


Yusra Zainab Laghari (YusraZainab) I am leaving this group.


message 13: by Khizer hussain (new)

Khizer hussain (Khizer) I am also a MUSLIM and I am PROUD to be. Its extremely Disappointing. I cannot bear any discussions on a person like Salman Rushdie. I am also LEAVING this group


message 14: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 08, 2009 12:47PM) (new)

It's disappointing that religion creates such dissension when it appears as a topic in discussions. I generally avoid such discussions, but for the different reason that I don't like the personal remarks I am frequently the target of (being a person of faith). I agree with Sherry that a respectful manner is what would permit friendly discussion, but that frequently seems to be so difficult to maintain. So, in general I avoid them for safety's sake, while respecting everyone else's right and privelege to continue the discussion as they wish.
PS And I am certainly NOT anti-Muslim based on the many fine Muslims I have personally known.


message 15: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7563 comments That's too bad, Yusra and Khizer. You can certainly not go to the discussion threads that are about Rushdie, if they bother you, but it is your prerogative to leave the group as a whole. Just because we discuss Rushdie's work, does not mean we are anti-Muslim.


message 16: by Yoby (new)

Yoby (yobs) | 181 comments As for the muslim thing, Idon't think this story was anything about that, but the circumstance happens in every country and every religion. We would probably lkeave in a huff if it was someone our country considered a traitor. I like discussion, and don't have to storm off when I don'tlike the author. But American customs about dealing with offensive people is different. It's kind of like the Prime Directive.(Now what was that again?)


message 17: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5852 comments Yusra and Khizer, I am very sorry to see both of you go. I read things all the time written by people with whom I disagree emphatically. But, how am I to know what they are saying if I don't read what they write? If I don't, I am dependent on someone else to tell me what to think.


message 18: by Bruce (new)

Bruce | 88 comments I'm sorry you folks are choosing to leave the group. I am a Christian, and there are a number of threads on GR where people have made fun of the pope, and other Christian religious leaders. I don't like them particularly, but I believe that tolerance is important if we are going to have civil discourse. GR is about books, all books. If you object to Rushdie, wouldn't it be better if you shared with us the reasons why, rather than just bailing?


message 19: by Yoby (new)

Yoby (yobs) | 181 comments I too, wish you would share instead of bailing, but realize that being a muslim, it is like denying your faith to be in talk about a story or book by a person who has exposed your faith to ridicule inother books so that it seems you cannot read this one because of who he is, and I can respect that. I hope even if you can't discuss this \particular story or author, you forgive us for not removing him from the reading list but continue to contribute in other discussion on stories and books. We are trying for dialouge, to see into the heart of man through literature, and hope you continue on the journey with us. If you can show no tolerance of this author or story because of your faith - Please continue dialogue in the areas you can. I myself cannot discuss Lolita by Nabakov, and have a hard time tolerating many Ameriucan authors, - so I respect your decision here.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Well put Yoby. You're right on the mark. :)


message 21: by Yoby (new)

Yoby (yobs) | 181 comments Pontalba wrote: "Well put Yoby. You're right on the mark. :)" I've just come to se that what we consider "firm boundaries" and "taking a stand" in ourown lives, we call "intolerance" in others lives. I think what is needed here is a "respect" for each others boundaries as a more profound kind of tolerance. Hyarder to practice than to state, believe me, a daily challenge.




message 22: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5852 comments And, now back to the story. Is a fable required to have a lesson or a moral? It seemed to give two points of view, the retired teacher and Ramani's. The teacher is the observor, probably has taken few chances in life, seems wise but certainly doesn't seem to be following his passions, taking any chances, etc. Ramani is full of life, hope and curiosity. I understand what you are saying, Pontalba. But, I think I would rather be Ramani. What about the rest of you?


message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 14, 2009 05:27AM) (new)

Hitch-hiking here on Barbara's thought: has taken few chances in life, seems wise but certainly doesn't seem to be following his passions, taking any chances, etc. Ramani is full of life, hope and curiosity.
Strictly from the outside, from someone who hasn't read the story, this sounds like the dialogue/conflict between head and heart -- best when dialogue, impossible to resolve when conflict. Just thinking out loud.


message 24: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9352 comments It seems fable-like to me because of its repeated instances. Ramani continues to have unwarranted faith that he will succeed against all odds. We don't have to be told that at the end he has failed again despite what his letters say.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Only a fool continues to have unwarranted faith in the face of all Ramani was presented with, and no one can save a fool from his end. The old man was cautious, of course, he didn't want to be beaten up by the gangs that the boy was hanging around with, for what? For all the false flattery they poured on his head? Bah.
We are not filled in much on the old man's background, except to know he was "not without importance in the town" and was referred to as teacher, we know he could read people. Not traits to be discounted.

If I had to choose, I'd be the old man. Rather be a little cautious, pay head to all the warning signs on the road, then end up as Ramani. Living a lie.


message 26: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9352 comments Pontalba wrote: "Only a fool continues to have unwarranted faith in the face of all Ramani was presented with, and no one can save a fool from his end.

Perfect, Pontalba. There's the moral in a nutshell.




message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

Pontalba,
It's interesting that you the style of this story is typical of Rushdie. I was thinking the opposite based on the Rushdie I've read, which is far from extensive. I've read a couple of the novels and found them to be less choppy in style and more lush and melodious. I generally like Rushdie's style, but the style of this short story was a bit pedestrian, I thought, when compared to other Rushdie I've read. The "fable" feel of the story, on the other hand, feels very much like the Rushdie I've read.

I liked this story quite a bit. At first it seemed to be depressing because Ramani is so obviously deceived, but then I realized that Ramani doesn't have enough insight to be depressed himself. I'm not sure there's a moral to this fable except perhaps that uninsightful people sometimes end up happier than the rest of us.


message 28: by Yoby (new)

Yoby (yobs) | 181 comments Ruth wrote: "Pontalba wrote: "Only a fool continues to have unwarranted faith in the face of all Ramani was presented with, and no one can save a fool from his end.

Perfect, Pontalba. There's the moral in a..."


Yet i get a sense that the older man genuinly cared and hurt for him even below all his gruffness. I feel that way about a lot of people. And it hurts to contemplate them and the wrick I see coming. makes me want to shut down, but that isn't the answer either.

(Notice every story becomes the personal, but it it isn't for wuetioning how and why we live, then what is it for?)




message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Gwendolyn wrote: Pontalba,
It's interesting that you the style of this story is typical of Rushdie. I was thinking the opposite based on the Rushdie I've read, which is far from extensive. I've read a couple of the novels and found them to be less choppy in style and more lush and melodious.


Well, you've read far more than I have, I've only read bits and pieces of the Rushdie's in my stack. I found I easily recognized his voice though. He seems to be a flexible writer, using whatever style suits his characters, or possibly his own mood. :)

Yoby wrote: Yet i get a sense that the older man genuinly cared and hurt for him even below all his gruffness. I feel that way about a lot of people. And it hurts to contemplate them and the wrick I see coming.

Yes. The older man had reached the age though that he realized you cannot substantially change people. Perhaps he was a bit of a cynic as well.
It's true, it hurts terribly to see someone pursuing a course that you know will end badly for them. But after all, we have the free will run ourselves into the ground if we choose. Ramani was a grown man and if he only listened to those that wanted to use him, and be led around by his hormones, well, there wasn't much the older man could do about it. At least the older man was wise enough to realize it, and didn't beat his head up against a brick wall.




message 30: by Yoby (new)

Yoby (yobs) | 181 comments When I was younger, I always wondered why older people knew more than they were telling, would stay si8lent and only give each other "that " look. Now I catch myself doing it more and more, giving "that" look. I never thought I'd be like that. But then, I never thought I'd turn out having the same opinions as my dad either. As my mom says "you know, people our age. . . " She says it when talking to my grandmother, and she says it when talking to me. I guess when you have mastered "that" look, you become -part of "that" club. People our age.


message 31: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7563 comments One of my first feelings while reading this story was that the narrator wasn't necessary reliable. He seemed so much like a meddling old man who was intent on keeping up the status-quo. He disliked the widow, solely because she was a widow, and I got the feeling he thought she should have gone onto her thief/husband's funeral pyre. He assumed that there was something fishy about her. (Well, her husband had been a thief, but was that necessarily her fault?) She may not have been all that much older thaan Ramani. Weren't young girls married very young, 12 or 13 even? She might have had the seven children in seven years and been only in her 20s.

I felt sorry for her. Ramani may have been a naive young man, but he obviously had a sense of responsibility to take on five children. I may be a galumping optomist, too, but I like to think, maybe he was handsome enough and talented enough to have gotten into the movies. Those Bollywood epics sure need a lot of people.

And what was that old man smoking in his hookah?


message 32: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 15, 2009 12:34PM) (new)

You may be right about wanting to keep the status quo, I recall he was very upset about the vasectomy of the young men, while we know the terrible over population problems India faces. But it could just be a "male" thing as well.

He certainly painted the widow as being hard hearted and mercenary, and intimated she was a prostitute. Well, I can't think of any other reason for the men to be hanging around her door at the odd hours the old man mentions, plus her screaming in the street certainly was not something a woman of any class would do.

He may have been an unreliable narrator to an extent, but I suppose I have the tendency to believe, if not the details of a story, at least the bones must be accurate. Even allowing for the generational differences, the boy sounds naive at best, and downright stupid at worst. Granted I took a dislike to him almost immediately, but no one could call him smart.


message 33: by Yoby (new)

Yoby (yobs) | 181 comments Sherry wrote: "One of my first feelings while reading this story was that the narrator wasn't necessary reliable. He seemed so much like a meddling old man who was intent on keeping up the status-quo. He disliked..."I just lump him in with the Cranky Old Fart thing. But I like Cranky Old Farts, spend most of my outside time with cranky old farts, so if they Didn't talk that way, I'd wonder if something were wrong. Kind of like Archie bunker. Shoots off his mouth and we laugh because he is so outrageously bigoted but sometimes sying things we secretly think but are to proper or PPC to admit to. I have been thinking of that a lot lately. Why I am attracted to some irascable characters besides what I think I should think or feel. My dark side is showing up, so I might s well admit it is there. Isn't that what makes good literature, pointing out in a character what we don't want to face in ourselves?




message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

I've come across Rushdie's East, West collection, I will try to get into it tonight. I've only read a few pages, but the flow is certainly lovely.


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