This section returns to the Titlipur plotline introduced in Part IV.
Sri Srinivas, the toy merchant who buys Ayesha’s products, is having an ordinary day at his factory in Chatnapur, a village about an hour away from Titlipur. Suddenly, the entire population of Titlipur appears in the streets, surrounded by butterflies; this is the first stop on their pilgrimage. Mirza Saeed follows the group in his Mercedes, each day trying to convince Mishal and others to join him in the car, or to fly to Mecca by airplane.
When they arrive in Chatnapur, Mirza Saeed tries to enlist Srinivas to help talk the villagers out of their “suicide mission” (490). Srinivas, a Hindu, is dubious about the pilgrimage, but he changes his mind when he sees in Ayesha the face of the goddess Lakshmi. Although he does not convert to Islam, he joins the pilgrimage both to spend more time with Ayesha and to seek adventure. The butterflies welcome Srinivas by changing color to match the scarlet of his shirt.
As the pilgrims continue on their journey, thirst becomes a major problem. An elderly woman named Khadija is the first to die. Mirza Saeed begs everyone to take her body to a proper burial site, hoping that the detour will dissuade them from the folly of the pilgrimage. However, the pilgrims vote unanimously to simply bury Khadija by the side of the road so they can keep going. Khadija’s distraught husband, Sarpanch Muhammad Din, is perturbed by his wife's treatment, and he joins Mirza Saeed in the Mercedes the next day.
As the journey grows harder, the villagers begin to doubt Ayesha, who is growing more authoritarian by the day – she refuses to comfort Osman when his pet bullock dies, and she insists that the increasing number of corpses be abandoned by the side of the road. At night, the pilgrims gather around Mirza Saeed’s car to listen as he tells them stories. Ayesha threatens that the archangel will revoke his promise and refuse to part the sea if they continue to doubt him.
Mirza Saeed and the steadily worsening Mishal have a terrible quarrel about whether to continue the pilgrimage. Mr. Qureishi, Mishal’s father and a prominent banker, comes from the city to convince his daughter to try Western medicine, but he fails. Mishal begins to sleep with Ayesha instead of with her husband. Meanwhile, several more pilgrims defect to Mirza Saeed, riding with him in the Mercedes; these are Osman, Mrs. Qureishi, and Sri Srinivas. As word of the pilgrimage spreads, it becomes a media sensation, as well as a focal point for sectarian tensions. When the pilgrims arrive in Sarang, a suburb near the sea, a violent mob of miners awaits them. The butterflies suddenly vanish.
Ayesha is unperturbed by the threat, and leads the pilgrims through town towards the mob. Right before the confrontation begins, an incredible torrent of rain falls and disperses the miners. Mirza Saeed, Osman, and Srinivas pull Mishal and Ayesha into the Mercedes and drive them to safety. After the rain, the butterflies return, and lead the dispersed pilgrims back together. Meanwhile, a catastrophic mine accident kills 15,000 miners. The once-hostile people of Sarang begin to believe that God endorses Ayesha’s pilgrimage.
The next day, Ayesha allows the pilgrims to worship at a mosque in Sarang. While they are praying, a local leaves a baby on the steps of the building. Upon discovering the baby, Ayesha and the Imam declare it to be a product of the devil, and they allow the surrounding crowd to stone it. This callousness disillusions the original pilgrims – who do not participate in the stoning – and they listen as Mirza Saeed interrogates Ayesha about her visions. When she admits that the archangel sings to her in the form of popular songs, the pilgrims realize they have been duped. They then dance in the mosque’s courtyard.
Mirza Saeed offers to fly Ayesha and a few other villagers to Mecca, so that can complete the pilgrimage while preserving a shred of credibility. She initially agrees, but then decides to push on towards the sea anyway. The people follow her, determined to finish what they started. When the pilgrims arrive at the beach, the butterfly flock takes the shape of the archangel, and the villagers regain their faith. Everyone walks into the water, waiting for the sea to part. It does not, however, and they eventually sink silently beneath the waves. The doubters – Mirza Saeed, Srinivas, Mrs. Qureishi, Osman, and Muhammad Din – rush into the water to save their friends, but almost drown themselves in the process. Lifeguards try to rescue everyone, but only succeed in saving the doubters. When they are interviewed about what happened, all of the survivors except Mirza Saeed claim that they saw the sea part underwater, forming a tunnel for the pilgrims to walk through. (These observations conflict with the fact that bodies of the pilgrims are already washing up on shore.)
Mirza Saeed returns home to Titlipur, which has begun to decay since the entire population left. He sits in his rocking chair each day, barely aware that he is starving to death. However, just as he is about to die, he notices that the village’s sacred tree is burning. He goes to investigate, and the flames engulf him. As he dies, he has a vision of himself in the sea with Ayesha. She urges him to open himself up to her, and despite an initial refusal, he eventually acquiesces. The sea parts, and they walk to Mecca together.
This plotline echoes many of the same criticisms of religion that Rushdie makes in the London and Jahilia plots. For example, the narrator strongly implies that the villagers choose to follow Islam or Hinduism based on which will benefit them materially. Osman the clown chooses Islam to escape the restrictions that come with being a Hindu untouchable, and likewise, “Sri Srinivas, a Brahmin, was obviously not a man who had ever considered making a pilgrimage to Mecca” (489). By specifying that Srinivas is a Brahmin rather than simply a Hindu, Rushdie makes a pointed critique of Hinduism as a creed that favors the privileged and enforces the status quo (at least in some parts of India). The population of Titlipur is drawn towards Ayesha in large part because their faith assuages their unhappiness and poverty. The most dramatic critique is delivered through the way Ayesha develops an authoritarian streak similar to the one developed by Mahound in the Jahilia plot.
Given his criticisms of religion, one might expect Rushdie to admire Mirza Saeed, the only Titlipur resident who is skeptical of Ayesha’s pilgrimage. However, Mirza Saeed is portrayed as aloof and out of touch with the common people; he follows the pilgrims in his Mercedes, and lacks the empathy to understand why they risking their lives to complete the journey. As the narrator explains, Mirza Saeed has a disease “of detachment, of being unable to connect[himself] to things, events, feelings” (504). As he becomes more desperate to save his wife, he goes from superior to pathetic, and his submission at the end of the novel suggests defeat rather than moral or logical correctness – however understandable his objections to the ‘Ayesha Hajj’ may be. In other words, rationality is not necessarily the superior approach to life. Further, when he offers to fly Ayesha and a few pilgrims to Mecca, he is paralleling Abu Simbel, who in the Jahilia plotline tempted Mahound to accept a few pagan goddesses in exchange for his support. In other words, Rushdie associates him implicitly with the devil, even as the reader can most likely sympathize with his intentions. As with everything else in The Satanic Verses, Mirza Saeed is not easily categorizable, but rather reflects a profound contradiction. Both he and Ayesha are capable of angelic and satanic impulses.
Like the other plotlines, the Titlipur story does not have clear protagonists and antagonists. Mirza Saeed is flawed for the reasons described above, and though Ayesha can act cruelly, she never becomes a complete monster. For example, when the crowds stone the infant, they do so more at the Imam’s command than at Ayesha’s. Her quote from Scripture – that “everything will be asked of us” – is at best an implicit endorsement of the stoning (511). It can easily be interpreted to mean that they should not trouble themselves with obstacles that distract them from their path; after all, this is her perspective on eschewing proper burial for those pilgrims that die on the journey. Likewise, Mirza Saeed’s vision at the end of the plotline seems to legitimize her cause, even though the evidence in the rest of the section often points against it.
Despite Rushdie’s issues with religion, he seems to admire the pilgrims’ faith and determination. The only true heroes of the Titlipur plot are the common people who follow Ayesha and are horrified when she descends into corruption. They do not participate in the stoning – and thus stay morally pure – and they potentially die as martyrs, if misguided ones. Their deaths serve to illustrate the cost of absolute faith, be that faith put into religion, a leader, or a political ideology.
The Titlipur plot exists, for the most part, parallel to the other plotlines. However, it includes sly references to the themes that Rushdie emphasizes in other parts of the books. For instance, when it becomes clear that the Arabian Sea will not part for the pilgrims, the authorities accuse them of illegal immigration. This is yet another illustration of Rushdie's signature synthesis of the spiritual and political. There are also many structural parallels to the Jahilia dream: Ayesha’s corruption; her followers’ uncertainty; and Mirza Saeed’s vision just before he dies, which is very similar to Mahound’s. In both plotlines, the faithful must deal with persecution by outsiders, but despite their heroism, their faith is ultimately shown to be destructive.