Shalimar the Clown
By Salman Rushdie
Reviewed by Efadul Huq
Shalimar the Clown begins with the end. A young, attractive, India finds her father's dead body on her doorstep, and swears to avenge his death. She has just one clue: the murderer calls himself 'Shalimar the Clown'. The story takes a backward spin and we tumble into the paradise on earth Kashmir. Boonyi, a Hindu dancer, has fallen in love with Shalimar, a Muslim rope-walker. Regardless of the traditional, religious boundaries separating them, their love ties the Gordian knot between their souls. This love blooms in the heavenly landscape of Kashmir, a place which Rushdie has described beautifully in this book. But from America comes Max Ophuls, a hero of the French Resistance and more importantly an ambassador to India (the country). In his visit to Kashmir, Boonyi's dance kindles the flames of romance in him. This comes from a slight desperation too, because his wife, whom he lovingly calls Ratty, denies his needs. On the other hand, ambitious Boonyi after being proposed ponders over the matter logically. Content with the idea of a better, fashionable, modern life with Max, she flees Kashmir and the village-life that awaited her if she ever married Shalimar. Angered, betrayed, helpless Shalimar bides his time and hatches a plan. In America, Boonyi gives birth to a daughter whom they name India. But after the delivery Boonyi is heaped back to Kashmir without her daughter. Shalimar joins hands with the fundamentalist iron-mullahs' terrorist group to initiate a killing-spree on his lost love, Boonyi, his love smuggler, Max and all those who come in his way. Soon enough he realizes Boonyi has a daughter. The question is will he kill the daughter of the one whom he loves the most in his life? But on the contrary, how can he bear the product of Boonyi's love affair with Max in front of his eyes? With all the complexity of emotions and perplexity of actions, comes this brilliant novel, Shalimar the Clown, from Rushdie's over-active imagination.
Shalimar the Clown is ultimately an old-fashioned revenge saga, the kind of plot that clutters our local movie market. But the beauty of Rushdie's book is in its language. Anyone who has a keen eye for literary aspects of a novel will find more than what he expects in this novel. Stylistically, the novel is dense with symbolism, allegories, imagery and local legends. But it seems the acute humour, clever wordplay, ambiguous puns and witty repartees which are specialties of Rushdie, have almost disappeared. I was a little disappointed by this point.
At the same time the book is poignant and pretty convincing. The scenes in Kashmir seem heartfelt and written with deep conviction. Moving elsewhere Los Angeles, in particular Rushdie seems a bit less confident. More significantly, Rushdie seems unsure of what kind of book he wanted to write: a simple tale of love, betrayal and revenge or a book that talks about armed conflict in the contemporary world.
In an imitation-epic style he picks both, which has produced a decent enjoyable read but not an exceptional one, whereas some parts of the book do show that he is an exceptional author. Catch hold of this book for the love of Rushdie's unique writing techniques!
The book is available at Bookworm and Friend's Book Corner, Nilkhet.
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