The East Wind and the Loo in Waterland and Shame

Anjali Singh, '93, English 34 (1991)

In their novels Waterland and Shame, both Graham Swift and Salman Rushdie use the image of a strong, powerful wind to illustrate nature's power over man. Although both novels involve man's sturggle to claim and reclaim land, nature constantly undoes his work and brings either the harsh, biting or hot, choking wind bearing trouble.

Swift's wind, The East Wind, blows with "not only the breath of the Arctic and of half a frozen Europe, but also the influenza"(Swift, Waterland, 234). The Loo, on the other hand, blows as a "hot afternoon breath-that-chokes"(Rushdie, Shame, 69), but it too carries disease, fever, and madness. In Shame, the Loo causes Bilquis' madness, haunting her after Good News' birth when Raza withdraws and she sleeps alone. The Loo may also have been responsible for waking Suffiya Zinobia that fateful night she wandered out of the house to wring the necks of two hundred turkeys. Similarly, The East Wind brings its own disaster in causing Tom's mother's illness. It ceases only with her death and begins again, a signal of trouble, after Dick drinks of his legacy, the infamous Coronation Ale. In both cases the wind incites and warns of trouble to come.

On the day Suffiya Zinobia's family discovered her asleep amongst two hundred decapitated turkeys, the hot Loo blew fiercely, "releasing demons into the world"(148). In just such a way did the East Wind blow during Tom's mother's sickness, so that "Saint Gunnhilda would have crouched in her wattle cell, hearing the roaring of the devil"(242). Both winds signify the release of some sort of evil, unleashed by nature onto man, who cannot resist trying to tame her.

"The Loo is an evil wind"(69) says Rushdie of his wind which carries "disease and madness upon its sand-sharp wings..."(148). "It is a terrible wind" says Swift of an East Wind that bites at the British Shoreline with "ice-whetted incisors"(234). Though opposite in temperature, both winds are harsh and violent.

For his fens, flat and unchanging, Swift uses a freezing, fatal wind. This East Wind suits the slowed down, stable fen life, the life of the reserved, almost frozen people. It matches the numbing, sudden quality of Mrs Crick's passing away, less a death than a being "gone"(243), as if the wind took her with it. This freezing wind passes through a slow static land, where even the water, silt-filled, flows slowly. Swift must go back hundreds of years to explain the present, a present not very different from the past, where the same things happen again and again. It took generations to build the Atkinson empire, but now the fens are back where they started, and the Atkinson's are history.

The land in Shame, on the other hand, is a new land, a land meant to cover up centuries of Indian culture and history. Shame spans only one generation, the lifetime of Omar Khayyam Shakil. Within twenty-five years of its formation, the land again split to form Bangladesh. Pakistan still fights over its borders. It attempts to rewrite history, with violence, murder, torture, and a suppression of shame. So the burning volatile Loo blows through a country at war. It mimics the people, brings bloody, foul, shameful deaths.

Each author uses the wind as a symbol of nature's power, and triumph over man, who can never conquer her. But Swift and Rushdie also use their winds as allegories for the struggles and settings they describe. Both harsh and violent winds unleash evil and death. The East Wind and the Loo sweep over lands of contention, the water drained from the fens to make farms, Pakistan taken from India to create a Moslem state. These winds are a constant reminder of man's powerlessness and of nature's inevitable triumph over progress.

Postcolonial Web Pakinstan OV Rushdie OV Shame OV Waterland OV