The Enchantress of Florence : Salman Rushdie

The Jaipur Literary festival, the biggest literary event in India, brought the ugliest facet of the Indian democracy out in the open. Salman Rushdie, one of the finest writers that India has ever produced, was not only forbidden from entering the country, but was also not allowed to meet people virtually. This is truly disturbing; another step on the regressive road that India has taken where freedom of expression is curbed and ideas are stifled. 

Salman Rushdie is a prolific writer. His books are thought provoking, a rich expression of philosophy that provides a keen look at humanity. His writing addresses universal themes that find appeal with people of any country, and at the same time it is also deeply entwined with the Indian culture, its geography and its languages. Indian minds find a special resonance with his ideas, and his language. 

But sadly enough, the great merit of Rushdie’s work turned out not to be enough to make him welcome in the country. I am outraged and hurt at the callousness with which Rushdie was prevented from attending the festival. Today I am going to write about Rushdie’s magnificent novel ‘The Enchantress of Florence’, a novel which among other things speaks of being open minded, fair, and tolerant to new ideas which seems especially relevant to India today.

The Enchantress of Florence’ is the story of two journeys, one which takes a willful Mughal princess, Qara Koz, the sister of Babar (founder of the great medieval Mughal empire of India) from her battle torn homeland in the East to the politically churning West; the second journey brings a young man from the West to Akbar’s (grandson of the emperor Babar) court at Fatehpur Sikri in India.  

Rushdie’s Akbar is a magnanimous ruler, a philosopher, an anthropologist and a man of contradictions. He trusts his nine Jewels but he is unable to trust his own sons. He wishes for a young man whom he can trust, and rely upon. And Akbar perhaps has a bit of witchcraft in his blood because when he words this wish to himself in a lonely hour of conjecture, he warps the fabric of time and a young man, bearing all the qualities of a royal heir, arrives at his court. This young man who calls himself the ‘Mughal of Love’ brings with him a secret, a tale of a journey undertaken by a forgotten Mughal princess. 

The journey that Qara Koz undertakes is extraordinary for a woman of her time. She makes unconventional choices and shapes her own destiny; she chooses love over duty, and then again survival over love. Through her journey we get to see the noisy and exuberant Florence at the doorstep of Renaissance. It is Rushdie’s great talent that he can so seamlessly bring together the great events and people of history and weave them into fictional ones. We see Machiavelli write his ‘Prince’ and hear of Amerigo Vespucci’s discovery of the new continent. Queen Elizabeth writes letters to Emperor Akbar and Medicis take over Florence. Tansen sings Deepak raag and Birbal unravels puzzles with his wit.

Rushdie is a master story teller. With Rushdie, no place on earth is unreachable and no idea is untouchable. He juxtaposes two entirely different worlds and uncovers the similarities in their ideas pertaining to civilization and shows how these ideas might have evolved in parallel. He ponders on the meaning of freedom, of individual will, the tenacity of ideas and of passion. Full of wit, humor and generosity, this novel offers a rare opportunity to peek into history and decipher the meaning of the rich human past. 

For those who have already read Rushdie’s novels, they will find his pleasing magical realism rendered beautifully. And for those who have not read his work before, this is a great book to begin with.  

The Enchantress of Florence is a stunningly beautiful novel and I recommend it highly to all those who possess a love for the written word.

Here is a great essay where Salman Rushdie speaks about ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ and the need to defend ideas.

'The Enchantress of Florence' can be downloaded for Kindle or can be bought from Flipkart.

Book source: Self