July 11, 2007

"Shalimar the Clown" by Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie has been making news recently with his knighthood being questioned by Muslims across the world who believe that he misrepresents Islam in his writings. Well, his novel, "Shalimar the Clown" wouldn't help redeem his tarnished image in the Muslim world; if anything it probably made him more unpopular. The novel is set primarily in Kashmir, a long disputed territory between Pakistan and India; also, one of the most picturesque places in the world that I happen to have visited twice. Released in 2005, "Shalimar the Clown" did not make any waves in the literary world and understandably so.

The novel is weighed down by its long drawn out descriptions that makes the reader's interest sag. Rushdie's descriptions of Los Angeles and Pachigam were empty and dead. For example LA as a "decentered promiscuous sprawl of this giant invertebrate blob, this jellyfish of concrete and light" makes it seem like Rushdie held his paintbrush too long and too hard. His language distances the reader from the very places that Rushdie wants the reader to embrace and understand. Pachigam, a pastoral paradise apparently, has no concrete image to offer of itself, so the reader is always on shaky grounds, and thus his disbelief is seldom suspended. The reader never loses himself in the story!

The plot spans through three decades, and human emotions like jealousy, revenge, hatred, and love make for an intricate storyline that switches between the past and the present. The two main characters to house both the past and the present are Shalimar the Clown, a rope artist in a local circus of a small village in Kashmir, and Max Ophuls, a one time US Ambassador to India. "We are all brothers and sisters here,...There is no Hindu-Muslim issue." claims Abdullah, Shalimar's father, leader of a Felliniesque band of traveling players, and this pretty much is the underlying conflict in the entire novel. The rest of the story basically questions this proclamation. Kashmir was home to both Hindus and Muslims before the 90's, and the two communities lived in harmony and even shared a bonhomie that was marvelled at by Hindus in India and Muslims in Pakistan. Then came the 90's with the devious and bloody insurgencies on both sides of the Indo Pak border, the Kargill stand-off, and many such hate based initiatives, and the 'Kashmiriyat' of Kashmir was put to test. Rushdie's novel explores the impact of the 90's on the sensibilities of Kashmiris who all of a sudden faced an onslaught of religious fundamentalism and nationalistic propaganda in their idyllic paradise within the heart of the Himalayas.

Here is a novel that held tremendous potential, but Salman Rushdie failed to tap it. If he were to have done so he would have brought the ethnic strife in Kashmir on to center stage for the world to see. He could have achived what Khaled Hosseini did with his 'The Kite Runner' and "A Thousand Splendid Suns"for Afghanistan; placed Kashmir on the world map! Alas, Mr. Rushdie, with his unconvincing protagonist 'Shalimar', a clown turned 'terrorist' who is unable to be the reader's 'knight'-in-armor and sweep the reader off his feet!

"Shalimar the Clown" need not be on your 'to read' list, unless of course you are curious about Kashmir, and even then you may perhaps be better off going here!

13 comments:

EXSENO said...

I think I will skip that one for sure.
I have to have something that draws me in or I get to uninterested to finish it.

txandi said...

~fantastically scathing review~

How do we know said...

i ended up never liking Salman Rushdie's writing, and honestly don't understand the logic behind any laurels that might come his way - literary or otherwise.

But what is even more strange is that some ppl actually consider him important enough to be protested against. And sections of a whole community at that!

AVIANA said...

I think I might skip this one. However, thank you so much for this info and the link. You educate me on many interesting issues and this is something I've been interested in awhile or I should say my interest in Indian history has been growing as I try to learn more everyday. thanks. :)

pRicky said...

i think rushdie has become political n his need to make a living...
but I am cynical and hence excuse me

Dr. Deb said...

Hmmm....your review makes me think I'll not turning those pages anytime soon.

Lotus Reads said...

Great review as usual, Id. I love your choice of books. I read "Shalimar the Clown" a few months ago (my first Rushdie) and I couldn't help but think that Rushdie was overrated as a writer. I had read all about him being a brilliant writer and although I could see flashes of it in Shalimar, I wasn't entirely convinced. Ofcourse, I will probably have to eat my words when I read "Midnight's Children" or "Satanic Verses".

Back to Shalimar...I came away feeling satisfied with the read and knowing so much more about Kashmir than I ever did, but would I recommend the book? Not unless the reader wants to know a whole lot about Kashmir. Like you, I, too, found that Rushdie can get incredibly wordy and I must confess I skipped over some of the incredibly long descriptive passages.

I await your next review with bated breath, I am always excited to find out what you have been reading!

_Jonathan_ said...

of course it won't be in my list...
but is good to know a little more about that.

bye

bablu said...

Lucky U to have visited that paradise twice. All my elders always talk about kashmir. Too bad we cant visit there now with all the strife. Hope Kashmir returs to normalcy like Punjab in the 80's - Amen !

Sanjay said...

I think after midnight's children and Satanic verses, he has never quite come up with something that good or better.

Great review though.

AVIANA said...

Thank you for passing by...i appreciate your thoughts and I'm sure Keshi appreciates yours too...have a nice week.... :)

Guilty Secret said...

Oh no my brother bought me this book for Christmas and I didn't really fancy it anyway but I reeeeeally can't be bothered to open it now! Perhaps I will give it one quick chance... I have a feeling it's going to end up at the charity shop, though!
GS

Mellowdrama said...

I have yet to read this but his last lot did not impress me much - point to note GROUND BENEATH HER FEET, MOOR's LAST SIGH etc..gimme SHAME and MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN anyday!!!!!!!!Neat post..am adding you to my blog