Saturday, February 25, 2006

Salman Rushdie: Shalimar the Clown

Shalimar the Clown is a poem – a prose poem more epicurean in theme than epic in sweep. After Rushdie's East, West, he could well have titled this The Feast Wazwan.

The East and the feast is Boonyi, who tries to cross boundaries but is pushed back to where she came from. A modern day Anarkali whose husband turns anarchist. Boonyi deceives and is deceived. She underestimates Shalimar, her acrobat husband.

It is equally the story of the anarchist’s antithesis, Maximilian Ophuls, a hero of the French resistance who is rejected by the French but climbs the US establishment -- a scholar who becomes a power player, a steady flyer with a roving eye, a man of many talents who is at the core a weak man. Shalimar the Clown is the story of a Western man lusting for an Eastern woman, the encounter of a modern imperialist with an opportunistic Anarkali.

Shalimar is a single minded and a simple minded man. Whose sense of balance truly belongs only on the tight rope.

This is a story of climbers and of balancing and unbalancing acts – of the high brow Ophuls brought to earth by the low brow Shalimar in a bloody East West encounter.

And of Anarkali’s daughter, the lust-product of an earlier East West encounter, who finally takes down the anarchist. A daughter of Kashmir, she rejects India and becomes Kashmira.

The East and the feast is also Kashmir, a Kashmir before Freedom’s Midnight. The story ends with Kashmira’s midnight assertion of her mother’s power and the irony of a pure child of Kashmir felled by Kashmira in a foreign land. A story that draws the curtain on Midnight’s Children.

A story with no lessons but many insights, a film with more scenes than story, with the narcissism of the novelist playing on every page, of a magical and unrealistic nostalgia that can only come from the mind of a boarding school boy.