Passage I Column 2 heading

PROSE FICTION: This passage is adapted from the novel The
Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie (©1999 by
Salman Rushdie).

.               Art Deco is an architectural and decorative style that was popular
.       in the first half of the twentieth century.
.       When you grow up, as I did, in a great city, during
.       what just happens to be its golden age, you think of it
5      as eternal. Always was there, always will be. The
.       grandeur of the metropolis creates the illusion of permanence.
.       The peninsular Bombay into which I was
.       born certainly seemed perennial to me. Malabar and
.       Cumballa hills were our Capitol and Palatine, the
.       Brabourne Stadium was our Colosseum, and as for the
10    glittering Art Deco sweep of Marine Drive, well, that
.       was something not even Rome could boast. I actually
.       grew up believing Art Deco to be the “Bombay style,” a
.       local invention, its name derived, in all probability,
from the imperative of the verb “to see.” Art dekho. Lo
and behold art. (When I began to be familiar with
images of New York, I at first felt a sort of anger. The
Americans had so much; did they have to possess our
“style” as well? But in another, more secret part of my
heart, the Art Deco of Manhattan, built on a scale so
much grander than our own, only increased America’s
allure, made it both familiar and awe-inspiring, our
little Bombay writ large.)
In reality that Bombay was almost brand-new
when I knew it; what’s more, my parents’ construction
firm of Merchant & Merchant had been prominent in its
making. In the ten years before my own coming into the
world, the city had been a gigantic building site; as if it
were in a hurry to become, as if it knew it had to provide
itself in finished condition by the time I was able
to start paying attention to it . . . No, no, I don’t really
think along such solipsistic lines. I’m not over-attached
to history, or Bombay. Me, I’m the under-attached type.
But let me confess that, even as a child, I was
insanely jealous of the city in which I was raised,
because it was my parents’ other love. They loved each
other (good), they loved me (very good), and they
loved her (not so good). Bombay was my rival. It was
on account of their romance with the city that they
drew up that weekly rota (list) of shared parental
responsibilities. When my mother wasn’t with me—
when I was riding on my father’s shoulders, or staring,

with him, at the fish in the Taraporewala Aquarium—
she was out there with her, with Bombay; out there
bringing her into being. (For of course construction
work never stops completely, and supervising such
work was Ameer’s particular genius. My mother the
master builder. Like her father before her.) And when
my father handed me over to her, he went off, wearing
his local-history hat and a khaki jacket full of pockets,
to dig in the foundations of building sites for the secrets
of the city’s past, or else sat hatless and coatless at a
designing board and dreamed his lo-and-behold dreams.
Maps of the early town afforded my father great
joy, and his collection of old photographs of the edifices
and objets of the vanished city was second to
none. In these faded images were resurrected the
demolished Fort, the “breakfast bazaar” market outside
the Teen Darvaza or Bazaargate, and the humble mutton
shops and umbrella hospitals of the poor, as well as the
fallen palaces of the great. The early city’s relics filled
his imagination as well as his photo albums. It was
from my father that I learned of Bombay’s first great
photographers, Raja Deen Dayal and A. R. Haseler,
whose portraits of the city became my first artistic
influences, if only by showing me what I did not want
to do. Dayal climbed the Rajabai tower to create his
sweeping panoramas of the birth of the city; Haseler
went one better and took to the air. Their images were
awe-inspiring, unforgettable, but they also inspired in
me a desperate need to get back down to ground level.
From the heights you see only pinnacles. I yearned for
the city streets, the knife grinders, the water carriers,
the pavement moneylenders, the peremptory soldiers,
the railway hordes, the chess players in the Irani restaurants,
the snake-buckled schoolchildren, the beggars,
the fishermen, the moviemakers, the dockers, the book
sewers, the loom operators, the priests. I yearned for
When I said this to my father he showed me
photos, still lives of storefronts and piers, and told me I
was too young to understand. “See where people lived
and worked and shopped,” he clarified, with a rare flash
of irritation, “and it becomes plain what they were
like.” For all his digging, Vivvy Merchant was content
with the surfaces of his world. I, his photographer son,
set out to prove him wrong, to show that a camera can
see beyond the surface, beyond the trappings of the
actual, and penetrate to its flesh and heart.
1. The passage as a whole can primarily be characterized
as the narrator’s: