Shalimar the clown – an absorbing trinity


Some stories are appreciated for their suspense and thrill. Some for their surprising climaxes. And some for their emotional feel. Shalimar the clown doesn’t fall into any of these. The distinctness about Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is that, it’s a story narrated by the intricate tussles between the emotions carried in the heart and the hallucinating thoughts in the minds of its characters, set in the backdrop of a torn paradise called Kashmir.

Max Ophuls. A war ravaged hero, the American ambassador to the country, who looks to the outside to satisfy his sexual appetite being rather indifferent to his wife’s inability to do so, and the father of his daughter with Boonyi. Boonyi. A teenage dancer who loves and marries Shalimar the clown, only to be clutched between the pincers of infatuation and juvenile dreams of glorious futures. Shalimar the clown. Possessed by his demonic love for Boonyi, betrayed by her and driven to extremist limits of terror with the sole agenda of exorcising the demon.

What is most opulent, is Rushdie’s expressions of thoughts and his descriptions of the path those thoughts tread on their way to making life’s choices. What had to happen should be allowed to happen or it could never be overcome. And thus Boonyi makes her choice to make love to Shalimar. She was recklessly pouring out Pachigam’s supply of good luck while bad luck accumulated like water behind a dam and one day the floodgates would open…and everyone would drown. And thus appear the first strands of terror in the hitherto tolerant Kashmir.

However Rushdie’s narrative of the terrorism part has a few disconnected links. The abrupt appearance of the fanatical mystic Bulbul Shah leading to the slow incubation of terrorism in the land, Shalimar donning the hat of a terrorist ultimately to keep the promise he made to his father and father-in-law that he would not take his revenge on Boonyi until the fathers have died, the extra-long narration of the holocaust times to bring the context of Max’s marriage with his wife, the military General Kachhwaha making frequent insignificant appearances. Perhaps Rushdie aims to draw us into the typical emotions of an unmarried military man caught between his need for a woman in his life and his escapades of war and hence realize the terrors of war, but they all fall short of doing just that.

But what Rushdie does manage to do, is take us deep into the roller-coaster travails of pain beneath a betrayed heart of Shalimar and a love despite betrayal of Boonyi. When death beckoned Boonyi, in her husband’s form, Rushdie paints the picture of a woman who prepares herself for the ultimate honor of being rendered dead by the person she still loves, and has always loved. She knew he was coming, could feel his proximity. She wanted him to know she loved him. He came on foot, holding a knife… Now, she commanded him. Now.

In Shalimar the clown, the story moves not with the conversations between the characters, but with their contemplations of emotions and relationships. It’s more of monologues and retrospections that hold the roost in binding the branches of the story together. The novel is not flawless, but nevertheless, a compelling trinity of love, betrayal and revenge.


2 Responses to “Shalimar the clown – an absorbing trinity”

  1. Hmmm.. Will add this to my reading list for next year.

  2. so many ppl i know have read this book – and reviews have been v good. Rushdie is a great writer go try some more of his work Kish.

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