Salman Rushdie, "The Prophet's Hair" (1142-1153)
There are elements of magical realism sprinkled throughout Rushdie's "The Prophet's Hair" that serve its comedic and hypocritical purpose. When Huma arrives to visit her injured brother, she asks for a thief while she's on the run from her " high-up policeman uncle" who "will move Heaven and Earth to punish [her] assailants" (1145), along with magical references to "newborn goblins of nostalgia" (1146) and "the gelatine bosom of the lake" (1147). From my knowledge of magical realism predominately in Latin American culture, the genre is used to exaggerate and distort reality to reflect a culture's view of a concept. Latin American magical realism twists themes of nature and time in most literature. In Rushdie's short story, he uses magical realism to comment on a distorted relationship with religion. When Huma tells the story of why she has come to this "grey-haired giant," I fear their home life is too comfortable, describing "the glassy contentment of that household, of that life of porcelain delicacy and alabaster sensibilities...[only] to be shattered beyond all hope of repair" (1146-1147). The author's biography says that Rushdie grew up "within a relaxed Muslim climate, almost secularized by the variety of other religions surrounding it" (1143), which relates to Hashim's decision to keep the vial of hair for its silver, overlooking its religious worth by noting that it's "a secular object of great rarity and blinging beauty" (1147). He feels guilty about keeping the vial, and more elements of magical realism are revealed when the vial appears to have Hashim under a spell, with his eyes bulging and his body "filled up with some spectral fluid which might at any moment ooze uncontrollably from his every bodily opening" (1148). This takes the form of spilling "streams of awful truths," and he admits to several truths: having a marriage that's "been the worst of his afflictions," having a mistress, frequently visiting prostitutes, criticizing his son for academic failures, and chastising his daughter for going out in public "barefaced" (1148). This is all very odd for Hashim to admit since his family was described so perfectly before he had found the vial. Relating to Kureishi's "My Son the Fanatic," perhaps Rushdie is commenting on how westernized Hashim has become in that he has no moral values within Islam anymore. Also similar to Rhys' "The Day They Burned the Books," Hashim then abruptly burns all of his family's books except for the Qur'an. Despite previously claiming he isn't a religious man, he enforces his family to follow strict rules, but slaps his wife when she calls him out for the double-standard of him getting away with abusing his debtors. The more strict Hashim becomes, the greater backlash he faces from his family, especially from his daughter Huma who claims she will go outside without wearing a head-covering. Rushdie uses personification in describing the fear in the house that "had become so thick that it was difficult to walk around" to show the magical realism connected with the vial of hair. Atta thinks that the vial is the sole reason for driving Hashim mad and is determined to rid of it before anyone else gets verbally or physically abused. It magically disappears from Atta's pocket and back into the lake where Hashim finds it again, driving him to raging violence once more.
Hashim's behavior at this point reminds me of Tolkein's greedy, Lord of the Rings character, Gollum. With Hashim sleeping with the vial of hair, he has let a tiny object completely rid him of any positive humanity. The characters from Lord of the Rings believe that all efforts to get rid of the ring will result in a peaceful realm once again. Throughout the trilogy many characters lose their lives to protect Frodo along his journey, and so do the characters in "The Prophet's Hair' to eliminate the vial of hair to bring peace to the home again. As if the events in this short story couldn't get any worse, Atta's cries of "Thief!" awaken Hashim right when Sín is about to steal the vial. In a panic, Hashim slays his own daughter by accident. Struck with grief he ends his own life, leaving his wife as the only one alive. She ends up going to an asylum. No wonder; I don't blame her.
Ultimately, the vial of hair represents the relationship Hashim has with Islamic faith. When he has the vial in his hands, he is more rooted in Islam and enforces its doctrine. Without it, he is more lax and lives more devoted to a secular family-life. Perhaps his ignorance to a hybrid identity's effects on his family is what leads to his family's destruction. To lead a life representing both secular and religious devotions is difficult, especially with regards to how English society views immigrants at the time this story was published. The vial represents how difficult a hybrid identity is to maintain, that society will only see an individual as one or the other.
Hanif Kureishi, "My Son the Fanatic" (1200-1209)
I felt emotionally torn by this story. While I am not an immigrant nor a follower of Islam, I can relate to Parvez in many ways. I grew up in a very small town that is heavily influenced by a private, religious university and a church by the same faith. My family does not belong to a church, and I have been judged and bullied all my life for not going to the same church my small class of 52 students did. I have been told by several men and women that I'm going to hell for decisions I've made, and I've had several people cut me out of their life because I don't follow a particular branch of faith. I've been hurt a countless number of times. What's worse is that I returned to this school district to teach for two years, and I've had a few students come to me in distress that they heard the same hateful speeches I received years ago, that my students were going to hell for the choices they made and that they needed to be saved in order to go to heaven. I remember discussing one particular incident with my fellow faculty in the same classroom. One advocated for the students expressing their religiously devoted concern, and one advocated for the student being the victim of this situation. I shared my experiences without giving too much detail for sake of having a private life, yet both of them were unwilling to reach a middle ground, instead notifying our guidance counselor about the situation.
I can completely relate to Parvez when his son looks him straight in the eye and says that he's going to hell for his westernized way of living. Several times I found myself rooting for Parvez, but I was conflicted in that Ali completely has the right to follow his own path. I agree with Bettina, that Parvez needs to support his son no matter what. What this support looks like is what I feel Parvez is struggling to discover. Parvez feels his son has betrayed him when he first discovers Ali getting rid of all his belongings because Parvez moved to England to create a better life for his family, and he bought those belongings with his hard-earned money. Since we are limited to Parvez's point of view, we aren't able to see the progression of Ali's journey and how he has come to this newly-discovered religious devotion. I could also argue that Parvez may not have a son at all, and that Ali is a hallucination when he is drinking, or is a made up figure that represents Parvez's struggle with his own religious path. I more likely believe Ali is indeed his son, but since we don't find out any details about their personal relationship other than how it has been demised, I'm not certain their relationship is strong enough to be real.
Regardless, Ali reverses the roles between his father-son relationship from the result of cultural alienation. Ali suggests to his father, quite subtly, that he has been the victim of racial intolerance, especially when he claims that "'the Western materialists hate [them]'" and asks him, "'how can you love something which hates you'" (1206)? Ali criticizes his father for his anti-Islamic behavior (eating pork, drinking alcohol, spending time with prostitutes, avoiding prayer), and says "'Western education cultivates an anti-religious attitude'" (1207). Since Ali is studying at college to become an accountant, this seems to me like he has faced discrimination at school, and his program is not fulfilling him enough to want to continue on to graduate. Ali throws away his belongings because he has probably tried to fit in with Western culture, but he has been isolated in the notion of "trying to hard" to become something he's not, as most likely encouraged by his English-born peers in school.
Parvez's relationship to Western culture in England is much like that of Ali's relationship with Islam. The more Parvez and Ali each become devoted to their preferred lifestyles, the more they grow apart. Based on Parvez's lifestyle, Ali judges his father to become more lost and disconnected with his true identity. This is especially seen at the short story's conclusion, when Parvez is so lost in alcohol that he kicks his praying son. Ali views alcohol, abundant eating, and unrestrained behavior in the presence of women as the toxic reasons why Parvez has lost control of his life. Reading Kureishi's "You Will Always Be a Paki," I can observe several reasonings for crafting his characters' traits. Kureishi felt "ashamed" for his identity when he first moved to England, saying he "wanted to be rid of" his Pakistani culture just so he could fit in (888). I find these aspects in Parvez's character because he finds that England will let him do almost anything that Islam won't. This is why Parvez is so against his son’s decisions to become more devoted to Islam. When Kureishi entered his "'temporary' period," he left his school life "to make another kind of life, somewhere else, with better people," much similar to how Ali seeks out Islam to escape the toxic college culture (888). While Parvez does not reflect on any personal experiences he has had with racial intolerance, he most likely does not face the same hatred Ali does because Parvez actively chooses to fit in with Western culture. By giving up his Pakistani identity he gains privileges by participating in English society and surrounding himself with the culture; however, Ali's religious devotion is not met with the same privileges. Since Ali is still relatively young, he is more vulnerable to experiencing trauma from cultural alienation, therefore causing a greater reaction against Western culture.