Thursday, January 26, 2006

Shalimar the clown

Who lit that fire? Who burned that orchard? Who shot those brothers who laughed their whole lives long? Who killed the sarpanch? Who broke his hands? Who broke his arms? Who broke his ancient neck? Who shackled those men? Who made those men disappear? Who shot those boys? Who shot those girls? Who smashed that house? Who smashed that house? Who smashed that house? Who killed that youth? Who clubbed that grandmother? Who knifed that aunt? Who broke that old man's nose? Who broke that young girl's heart? Who killed that lover? Who shot his fiancée? Who burned the costumes? Who broke the swords? Who burned the library? Who burned the saffron field? Who slaughtered the animals? Who burned the beehives? Who poisoned the paddies? Who killed the children? Who whipped the parents? Who raped that lazy-eyed woman? Who raped that gray-haired lazy-eyed woman as she screamed about snake vengeance? Who raped that woman again? Who raped that woman again? (An excerpt from Shalimar…)
Is it a coincidence that I finally finished Shalimar the clown on India’s republic day? Critics may say whatever, but it’s a powerful tale told with passion, empathy and with a certain brutality, for truth needs to be shorn of padding, of the paradise lost. There are two parallel stories here: the loss of Kashmir as God’s own land and the story of unrequited love, lust, loss and revenge.
NYT critic Laura Miller says: “It must be said that despite the author's efforts to foreshadow it, Shalimar's transformation doesn't make much sense. As a rule, Rushdie's characters lack a plausible inner life; instead they have bizarre quirks, unusual looks or magical powers, like the figures in a fable. He seems psychologically astute only in the sketching of minor characters, for example an Indian Army colonel, an unrequited lover of Kashmir, who fantasizes about being nicknamed "Hammer" ("Hammer by name, hammer by nature," he imagines saying) but instead has to settle for "Tortoise" ("Tortoise by name, damned hard-shelled by nature").”
The lady is not necessarily right. It is precisely because he imbues his characters with a certain magical quality, unpredictability and human frailties that make them for what they eventually become: a part of our heightened conscience. Rushdie is not just a writer; he sometimes becomes our conscience-keeper. The problem with Western critics is that so much of the quintessential Rushdie is rooted in the local idiom that they may find it difficult to grasp the compete repertoire of Rushdie’s almost magical prose. That is why there is perhaps the tendency to reduce him to one caricature or the other. He is arguably the most powerful writer in English of our times. And what a beautiful but demanding book Shalimar turns out to be. The bhands of Pachigam and their evocative dance-dramas will reverberate in my mind’s eye for a long time. Read the book. It ain’t easy but it’s worth the effort.
Amitava Kumar on Rushdie in Tehelka
Moorishgirl Laila Lalami's brilliant review


Anonymous ArchanaD said...

well, i didnt like the book. couldn't go past the first 30 pages :( the story does not move forward! and rushdie does not come to the point very soon. the style is very similar ot that of midnight's children, but this one didnt hold my attention for long... and i had to switch to anotehr book before i left reading!(coz i was forcing myself to read that book)

10:05 AM PST  
Blogger santre said...

thanks, archana. i only wish you had persisted beyond the first 30 pages. it is truly rewarding after that and vintage Rushdie. pl. do try to pick it up again, and then we shall talk. warm rgds

11:09 PM PST  

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