The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) is Salman Rushdie’s sixth novel. The story is a variant of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth, with a rock-and-roll twist.
At its core, the story revolves around a young Indian woman, Vina Apsara, and her two lovers, Ormus Cama and Umeed Merchant (aka Rai). It’s Rai who narrates the story and gives us an alternative universe existing in the 1950’s – 1990’s.
Throughout we’re treated to a semi rock-drama/semi Indian myth come love-story. It’s a melting pot of genres, all meshing into a style that can only be captured by Salman Rushdie.
Rushdie, at the time, was very much the ‘poster boy’ of free expression in a world of heavy censorship. Reading his books in 2018, almost 20 years after the Iranian government lifted their death sentence on him; it’s worth noting the different times.
Expressively, Rushdie stated that during his fatwa he needed to find his feet again. He had to learn how to fight back against the power that held him down. Rushdie needed to find a way to re-establish balance once again; which he did this through the strength of his writing.
Equally, our protagonists, Vina, Cama and Rai also use their artistic talents to resist the uncertainties in their lives. This is something that’s easier said than done.
The overwhelming theme throughout is emigration, the loss of an identity and then trying to build a new one.
In this case, it’s Vina who struggles to fit into her local city life in India due to her dark skin, but being treated as a white child. Her Bombay roots are the reason for her dark tone, but her American lineage determines her social standing. This means she’s looked down on for being brown by the white children and disowned by the darker girls for reaping the benefits of being white. This includes being able to ride the bus to school.
However, all three main characters are tied to Bombay in some way.
Ormus is the son of Lady Senta and Sir Darius Xerxes Cama and is the surviving half of twin brothers. Although, in later life, he does become haunted by his dead brother, Gaya. He also has two older twin brothers; Virus, who is hit early on by his father’s cricket ball and is then rendered both mute and mystic, and Cyrus, a psychotic serial killer.
Quite the family.
Not only is Ormus handsome, talented and alluring to women, he’s also a singer/composer in search of the American Dream™. Nevertheless, this dream does keep him exiled in England for several long years.
Our narrator, Rai, is the son of Bombay parents, one a local historian and the other a property developer. Rai is a photographer, who learns to blend into his surroundings to capture the greatest of moments. He leaves India in fear of his life (much like Rushdie) to make it in the West.
Vina Aspara, half-Indian, half-American is the main focus of this story, with both boys falling in love with her. She begins relationships with both, eventually going on to marry Ormus.
A Parallel Existence
Ormus Cama is likely inspired by John Lennon, despite Lennon making an appearance in the book. He has a love for making bread (much like Lennon) as well as his death playing out in similar circumstances. In the same fashion as Lennon, Ormus dies right outside his house after being shot by a crazed fan, by a pistol at close range.
Previous characters from Rushdie’s other novels make appearances throughout, including Homi Catrack and William Methwold from Midnight’s Children. S.S. Sisodia from The Satanic Verses, and Aurora Zogoiby from The Moor’s Last Sigh.
U2 – The Ground Beneath Her Feet
Taken from the lyrics produced by Ormus Cama, in the novel, U2 sang their own version of the song. Due to the words being almost verbatim Salman Rushdie is credited as the song’s writer.
Bono called me. “I’ve written this melody for your words, and I think it might be one of the best things I’ve done.” I was astonished. One of the novel’s principal images is that of the permeable frontier between the world of the imagination and the one we inhabit, and here was an imaginary song crossing that frontier. – Salman Rushdie
Furthermore, Rushdie makes an appearance in the song’s music video. You can find more information on the song, and Rushdie’s thoughts here.
Despite being incredibly ambitious and original, The Ground Beneath Her Feet does at times feel drawn out. There are parts where you feel the chapters dragging on, or sequences playing out just a touch too long.
Overall, there is a certain level of freedom that comes from the novel in a kind of artful way. Its navigation of life and surrealism, of ancient myths and current day dilemmas.
Both playful and dramatic, The Ground Beneath Her Feet is far from dull.