‘The Courter’ is a short story by Salman Rushdie that was published in 1994 within the collection East, West. It is told from the perspective of a teenage boy from India who has been sent to boarding school in the United Kingdom. The now grown-up narrator reminisces the time during the sixties, when he was joined in London by his family – his parents, his three sisters and his ayah – and lived with them in ‘Waverley House’. ‘The Courter’ explores the immigrant microcosm of Waverley House – where two Indian Maharajas are also living –  and binds different storylines together.

In the foreground is the love story between the narrator’s ayah and the porter, whose name she mispronounces ‘courter’ and who himself is an immigrant from the USSR. Both have to deal with their dislocation, being cut off from their relative homelands and living in an environment where they have troubles finding their place – which is constantly articulated through the medium of language and language barriers. Even so, they find a way of communicating with each other through the game of chess.

‘The Courter’ is also the story of the narrator himself, a story staged in the background. It shows how he deals with his status as an immigrant, belonging neither to India nor fully to Britain yet applying for British citizenship. It shows how he deals with his situation as a ‘hybrid’ while simultaneously facing more ‘down-to-earth’ problems such as teenage issues or dealing with his disharmonic family – such as his authoritarian father and his rebellious sister.

‘The Courter’ is a wonderful story by Rushdie, that – contrary to many of his novels such as, of course, The Satanic Verses – deals with the subjects of exile, hybridity and dislocation in a very direct and quite positive way. It is a story that shows how ‘newness enters the world’ and highlights the possibilities and the unexpected combinations of ideas, people and cultures that can arise from the borderline position of the exile.  ‘The Courter’ explores the tensions, mistranslations and miscommunications that arise from hybridity, but it also emphasises that something very positive can come from the position of being caught between two cultures. It displays how the hybrid changes the landscape of which he is part, how he has the power to subvert the dualisms and binaries of power, and how new historical subjects emerge from hybridity:

‘But I, too, have ropes around my neck. I have them to this day, pulling me this way and that, East and West, the nooses tightening, commanding, choose, choose.

I buck, I snort, I whinny, I rear, I kick. Ropes, I do not chose between you. Lassoes, lariats, I choose neither of you, and both. Do you hear? I refuse to choose.’ (211)

 

 

Charlotte Wirth