Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chekov and Zulu

Salaman Rushdie’s short story Chekov and Zulu in his novel East, West was extremely interesting to me because it showed the effect of western culture, namely Star Trek, on people in eastern countries. I thought that the story best exemplified the connection that Rushdie was trying to make between the West and the East, and the story used the overlying humor of the two diplomatic agents love and understanding of the iconic characters from the Starship Enterprise to examine the serious nature of the connection between England and the terrorism that afflicted India and caused the death of some of its great leaders.

Chekov and Zulu are the two main characters, and we never learn their real names, although Rushdie does tell us that Zulu is a Sikh. The story takes place after the death of Indira Gandhi at the hands of two Sikhs, and mentions that members of the Sikh religion are being violently persecuted for their peers’ actions. Chekov and Zulu reside in London, and are on a mission from a their government to discover who is behind the attack. The two men endlessly liken their mission to an adventure from the Star Trek television show, which is endlessly humorous. Chekov is the brains behind the operation, whereas Zulu is the one who will be embedded in the terrorist organization, who they call the Klingons. Chekov, in his spare time, makes money by entertaining wealthy business men, who donate money to the Indian government. Clearly, Chekov is fine with associating with the colonizers of India, although he mentions that their home “has been plundered by burglars, (155)” referencing the fact that there are large amounts of Indian art in the English museums, and much of the British Empire’s success was based on the toiling and suffering of the Indian people. Zulu on the other hand, is a simple family man who prefers to focus only on the mission at hand.

The characters’ obsession with Star Trek is an interesting detail for Rushdie to involve. Clearly the characters were deeply affected by the American television show, even though Chekov admits that they never saw the show as children and simply used their imaginations to create legends around the characters they had heard of. This hobby carries over into their adult lives, as we see that Zulu has Star Trek figurines on his mantle and his wife has been forced to watch endless episodes. In America, people like this are referred to as Trekkies, and are generally written off as nerds regardless of what they do in life. However, these two Indian trekkies are more like James Bond than they are like Geeks. They know how to lose tails and infiltrate terrorist cells to retrieve secret documents that they can then give to their government, who can in turn use them to take down sleeper cells in their own country. This is funny to think about, and next time I see a grown man dressed up like a Klingon, I’ll think twice before messing with him, because he might know krav maga or jujitsu or something.

All joking aside, each character’s overt love of western culture, which also includes Zulu’s deep reading of Lord of the Rings, covers up their feelings about English involvement in Indian politics and terrorism. Chekov, at a dinner party amongst wealthy English “India Lovers”, states, “England has always been a breeding ground for our revolutionists. (164)” He says this with a sort of approval, suggesting that he is thankful to England for doing such a great service for India. In reality, these revolutionists were often the starting point for bloody struggles and terrorist organizations. Zulu has a much grave view of Englands’ involvement in terrorism. After he completes his mission and subsequently quits, he tells Chekov, “terrorists of all sorts are my foes. But not, apparently, in certain circumstances, yours.” This is a reference to the fact that evidence implicated English congressmen in the attack on Indira Ghandi, the same congressmen that Chekov associated with at his dinner parties. Clearly Zulu has a much different opinion than Chekov. Rushdie uses humorous and serious tones to contrast the allure of western culture like Star Trek with the ominous implication of Western governments in Eastern problems. This, in turn creates an extremely fun story to read and ponder, as well as it instills a respect for my inner geek.

1 comment:

  1. Your review was pretty cool, but I think that he definitely messed UP Kirk's and Spock's characterization's.

    I don't care HOW well written this was, he messed with my Trek. Nobody messes with my Trek.