THE IRISH PHILOSOPHER GEORGE Berkeley once speculated that "the whole mighty frame of the world" is "the unsleeping mental activity of God," who perpetuates it and prevents it from "being constantly annihilated." In a word, we live in the mind of God, or what Berkeley called "the universal mind," sustained by the simple fact that God is a crazed insomniac.

The only problem with this idea (which is not an entirely bad one) is that if this world is the realization of one God's manic mind, then that means there must be another world in which this "universal mind" lives. Beyond the limits of this world there must be another world, a parallel world peopled by giants, by Gods, by beings better than us; and because this God is constantly manufacturing our reality "by the Word of His power," we must assume that he borrows--in the Claude Levi-Strauss sense--from his own reality to compose this fiction we live in and love. Thus, this world is a distorted mirror, a mini version of that other world.

I bring up this famous conjecture by the Irish bishop because there is a class of writers whose relationship with their own fiction resembles not only Berkeley's excellent theological proposition, but also spirals into some of the same philosophical problems and puzzles inherent in such a theory (i.e., if my thoughts are the product of one mind, then what is that other mind the product of?). All writers in some way or another "create worlds" in their books, but for this class of writers, the sense of being the Creator is more acutely felt; it's what matters above all else--their God-like presence over their fictional worlds and characters.

By nature, these writers are erudite, encyclopedic (they know everything from theory to trash), multilingual, and essentially monsters, possessing imaginations that are inhuman in their size and capacity to thrill us. These writers are Borges, Nabokov, and Salman Rushdie; and each has produced one work of fiction in which this capacity to be God is unleashed with no restraint, with no shame: For Borges it was Tlon, Qubar, and Orbis Tertis; for Nabokov it was Ada; and for Rushdie it is his latest novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet is an elaborately unfolded love story concerning two godlike rock stars, Vina Apsara (who is half Greek and half Indian), and Ormus Cama (who is all Indian). The novel begins in Mexico at the end of Vina's life, and is told by a photographer, Umeed Merchant, who worshipped the ground the rock diva walked on, and was blessed to be her lover from time to time. Umeed tells of Vina and Ormus' upbringing in Bombay, how the two first met in a record store, how they fell in love, and how that love took them across three continents and three great cities (Bombay, London, New York), and only ended with their blazing falls to death. All of this is told with intense passion, as if the narrator feared, like Berkeley's God, that if he stopped to take a breath, to sleep, everything would collapse and be annihilated.

If the idea of two Indians from Bombay rising to a global superstardom matched only by Elvis, Michael Jackson, and the Rolling Stones seems a bit implausible, it is because the novel, like Ada (the literary double of this book), happens in another world, on another planet, which is slightly different from ours. On this planet (which we may call Planet Bollywood), John Kennedy is not assassinated in Dallas, Elvis is called Jesse Parker, Lou Reed is female, John Lennon sings "Satisfaction," and so on. And it is through the morbid dreams of Ormus that fragments of our world are transmitted to theirs. Ormus learns pop songs like "Yesterday" from our world a full 1,001 days before they hit our charts. This capacity, this clairvoyance, causes Ormus to suspect that there is another world, that "the truth is out there." And that truth--the God he suspects is haunting his dreams and is all around him but unseen (to borrow a phrase from James Joyce)--is none other than Salman Rushdie.

The only difference between the God of Nabokov and Borges and the God of Rushdie is that Rushdie loves to plunge his worlds into total chaos: He is a violent God, a God with too much energy, a God of spontaneity. Unlike Nabokov, who claims he thought out his novels before writing a word, Rushdie doesn't mind being only a few seconds ahead of the world of his fictional characters. He operates much like that fabulous moment in an episode of Wallace and Gromit, when the dog is sitting on the very front of a rushing toy train, throwing down the tracks just seconds ahead of it, preventing by sheer invention the collapse and annihilation of the whole damn thing. Though I love his novels (especially Satanic Verses, which remains my favorite of his books), I'm very happy I'm not a subject in his world. My God is so much kinder to me.

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