“…there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.” (Rushdie, 5)
Sloughed-off selves. In The Satanic Verses, the sloughing off of selves is almost an art. Gibreel and Saladin are both masters, in fact professionals, in the business of self-off-sloughing. Gibreel has made a career filming up to “eleven movies ‘sy-multaneous’” (11), slipping from identity to identity, day after day. Saladin, the “Man of a Thousand Voices and a Voice” (60), has formed his career on a transmutable voice that can take on any identity the radio (or film) industry demands. On the business level, these skills can be attributed to years of practice and fine-tuning. On a personal level, however, the skills can be more attributed to the characters’ urgent desire to flee the selves of their homeland.
At home in Mumbai, Gibreel first perfected not the art of self-sloughing, but the “art of dissimulation” (25). He leads multiple lives—and keeps them strictly separated—in order to maintain his high social status. The stress of this performance nearly costs him his life, so he knows something has got to change. When he ultimately flees the country aboard flight AI-420 he is on one hand fleeing this social demand, but on the other, shedding this conglomeration of past identities all together. When he is reincarnated during his fall, he lands a new role of a new man…sort of. We’ll flesh that out more later in the text.
Saladin Chamcha has struggled his entire life to perform a similar feat. He successfully changes his last name (or shortens it), leaves India for an English education, and abandons the “father-ship” (41), as he calls the overseeing control of his father, for a life lived on his own terms. He carefully crafts a new accent and handwriting technique to disguise his background, but when he returns to India one last time he realizes that he has never successfully sloughed off his old Indian self. His voice slips, his handwriting and mannerisms betray him. The walnut tree of his birth, he realizes, still stands lodged in his father’s backyard: “Cut it down, sell it, send me the cash” (70). With the cash from the tree in hand, he tears the bark off his birth-tree in an act of finally peeling off his old self.