Excerpt from The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Ground Beneath Her Feet

By Salman Rushdie

The Ground Beneath Her Feet
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  • Hardcover: Apr 1999,
    575 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2000,
    575 pages.

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Then we were past the vehicles and flying over the hills and valleys turned smoky blue by the agave plantations, and her mood swung again, she began to giggle into her microphone and to insist that we were taking her to a place that did not exist, a fantasy location, a wonderland, because how was it possible that there could be a place called Tequila, "it's like saying that whisky comes from whisky, or gin is made in Gin," she cried. "Is the Vodka a river in Russia? Do they make rum in Rzm?" And then a sudden darkening, her voice dropping low, becoming almost inaudible beneath the noise of the rotors, "And heroin comes from heroes, and crack from the Crack of Doom." It was possible that I was hearing the birth of a song. Afterwards, when the captain and copilot were interviewed about her helicopter ride, they loyally refused to divulge any details of that in-flight monologue in which she swung moment by moment between elation and despair. "She was in high spirits," they said, "and spoke in English, so we did not understand."

Not only in English. Because it was only me, she could prattle on in Bombay's garbage argot, Mumbai ki kachrapati baat-cheet, in which a sentence could begin in one language, swoop through a second and even a third and then swing back round to the first. Our acronymic name for it was Hug-me. Hindi Urdu Gujarati Marathi English. Bombayites like me were people who spoke five languages badly and no language well.

Separated from Ormus Cama on this tour,Vina had discovered the limitations, musical and verbal, of her own material. She had written new songs to show off that celestial voice of hers, that multiple-octave, Yma Sumac stairway to heaven of an instrument which, she now claimed, had never been sufficiently stretched by Ormus's compositions; but in Buenos Aires, Sco Paulo, Mexico City and Guadalajara she heard for herself the public's tepid responses to these songs, in spite of the presence of her three demented Brazilian Percussionists and her pair of duelling Argentine guitarists who threatened to end each performance with a knife fight. Even the guest appearance of the veteran Mexican superstar Chico Estefan had failed to enthuse her audiences; instead, his surgery-smoothed face with its mouthful of unreal teeth only drew attention to her own fading youth, which was mirrored in the average age of the crowds. The kids had not come, or not enough of them, not nearly enough.

But roars of acclaim followed each of the old hits from the VTO back catalogue, and the inescapable truth was that during these numbers the percussionists' madness came closest to divinity, the duelling guitars spiralled upwards towards the sublime, and even the old roui Estefan seemed to come back from his green pastures over the hill. Vina Apsara sang Ormus Cama's words and music, and at once the minority of youngsters in the audiences perked up and started going crazy, the crowd's thousand thousand hands began moving in unison, forming in sign language the name of the great band, in time to their thundering cheers:

V! T! O!

V! T! O!

Go back to him, they were saying. We need you to be together. Don't throw your love away. Instead of breaking up, we wish that you were making up again.

Vertical Take-Off. Or, Vina To Ormus. Or, "We two" translated into Hug-me as V-to. Or, a reference to the V-2 rocket. Or, V for peace, for which they longed, and T for two, the two of them, and O for love, their love. Or, a homage to one of the great buildings of Ormus's home town: Victoria Terminus Orchestra. Or, a name invented long ago when Vina saw a neon sign for the old-time soft drink Vimto, with only three letters illuminated, Vimto without the im.

V . . . T . . . Ohh.

V . . . T . . . Ohh.

Two shrieks and a sigh. The orgasm of the past, whose ring she wore on her finger. To which perhaps she knew she must, in spite of me, return.

Copyright © 1999 Salman Rushdie, Used by permission

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