‘HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES’ : A personal appreciation

There is a vibrant buzz on Facebook at the moment, where users are requested to post a list of their top ten favourite books.  This has been an opportunity to discover a whole world of new books and authors and to hopefully help perpetuate the reading culture further. On my list, I included ‘Haroun and The Sea of Stories’ (1990) by Salman Rushdie. The impact this novel has had on me has been tremendous and I would like to share my appreciation of this cutting-edge book with our esteemed readers.  This book inspired me, made me develop a love for subtle stinging satire and I still make it a point to re-read it at least once every year.  
The author, Salman Rushdie, is notorious for his novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ (1988) which was considered blasphemous and resulted in a fatwa being issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989. There followed some failed assassination attacks on Rushdie, who was placed under police protection.  This book is banned in many countries and even in Mauritius, it is unavailable in bookstores and libraries.  As a reaction against the freedom of expression denied, Rushdie wrote ‘Haroun and The Sea of Stories’, which seems innocent enough at first glance.  Just like ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Jonathan Swift which can be interpreted as a piece of children’s fiction, there however lies a more sinister motive deep down.  
There is a surreal tinge of ‘The Arabian Nights’, as Haroun, the young hero, goes on a mission to help his father, Rashid, find his tongue and inspiration and defeat the villain responsible for the pollution of a colourful Sea of Stories.   The plot is gripping, with elements of magical realism intertwined as the young daring hero encounters a panoply of supernatural characters in a new dimension of ‘Wonderland’. Alice has been replaced by Haroun but the quest for the key to a mysterious enigma remains the same.  There ensues a battle between the inhabitants of Gup City and those of The Land of Chup.  Gup means ‘gossip’ while Chup means ‘quiet.’ The contrast cannot be clearer as there is a clash between those who favour human interaction and freedom of expression and those who stifle free speech.  The tyrant behind the poisoning of The Sea of Stories is none other than the formidable Khattam-Shud whose name means ‘completely-finished.’ He is "the Arch-Enemy of all Stories, even of Language itself."  This story is Rushdie’s response to the fatwa issued.

Presently, away from the fictional world of Haroun, reality is rife with dictators or wannabe dictators who want to muzzle people, the press and rule as they wish.   Blurred lines there are, between the world of stories and that of reality. Stories relate to one’s imagination, a secret guarded place where free thoughts swim around night and day.  If dictators like Khattam-Shud manage to take over the realms of imagination and block the flow of thoughts, democracy is then seriously jeopardized or faces the risk of extinction.  It is therefore fitting that the sheer power of will is the catalyst to defeat Khattam-Shud.  
In fact, the novel is encouraging us to break away from mind-forged manacles which are limiting our thoughts, suffocating our voices and paralysing our actions.  Most people have become numb, complacent about the society in which they live, resigned to their fates and go with the flow, at the mercy of the cruel waves.  Nothing other than free will can break that spell and this is the message that lies hidden within the depths of The Sea of Stories. It is time for a wake-up call against injustice, sycophancy and dictatorship.  This explains the universality of the novel.  The ‘Haroun’ that lies within us must be freed.  No Khattam-Shud has the right to turn us into puppets.  We, the people, have the power to make things right.  It is all a matter of will. Words can make even the worst villains fear. 


Pity that in your zeal to promote free expression, especial in the arts, you neglect to mention M. F. Husain, the Indian painter who died in exile (2011), after having his life threatened on more than occasion by those who consider themselves to be the moral guardians of India. Husain also had his house attacked by thugs and an exhibition of his paintings had to close due to threats.

M.F Husain lived the last years of his life in Qatar, where he was offered citizenship. however, Husain died and was buried in the UK, where he was undergoing medical treatment.

Thank you for your insight.

There are numerous freedom fighters all over the world, invisible ones too, whose contribution should never be forgotten.

However, in this article, I am specifically writing about a novel which is dear to me.