Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown (2005)

Shalimar the Clown

“Freedom is not a tea party, India. Freedom is a war.”

Shalimar the Clown is another deeply metaphorical tragedy from the pen of Salman Rushdie. He returns to his old theme of partitioning and fragmentation not only geographical, but also personal. In this novel, he tells the story of Kashmir through Kashmiris as well as through foriegn interlopers and a strangers to the land. I am going to avoid plot summary here as it would only get convoluded, and jump right into the legal aspects.

Rushdie’s use of magical realism extends to his manifestations of the law in his novels. In Shalimar the Clown Rushdie goes a step or two further than he did in Midnight’s Children. He takes us outside the minds eye of a single person, and into numerous versions of the same story. These different characters also symbolize the numerous regions that these views and actions originate. This illustrates that the partioning that we understand as legal boundaries also has an effect upon his characters in creating identities that must engage with the legal landscape around them (which is created by the boundaries). All the characters have mixed identities, a fracturing which is enhanced by the legal implications of the borders. Enhancing these ideas and themes is Rushdie’s use of fractured storytelling.

Max Ophuls, in the story, is a European that was transplanted to the United States and later became the US Abassador to India (he is also a lawyer). After that he became a Ambassador to terrorists. He flew around clandestinely supporting movements on behalf of the US government. It is he who tells us the “freedom is war,” invoking the idea that one must struggle in order to have freedom, if it is given then it is not freedom. He also is representative of the Western World’s post World War II architecture of world order:

He tried to believe that the global structures he had helped to build, the pathways of influence, money and power, the multinational associations, the treaty organizations, the frameworks of cooperation and law whose purpose had been to deal with hot war turned cold, would still function in th future that lay beyond what he could forsee.

Max forsaw and helped create the structure of world peace and security as we know it. In the Story, it is his musing on International Relations that helps to create the United Nations. The UN adopts Western ideals about international law, and as it gained power these ideals were carried worldwide.

Rushdie is not entirely damning of the idea that the West created and forced its vision of world order on everybody else, though. By making Max a French Jewish survivor of WWII, he shows us what the Western world feared, and the gravity of the battle just fought. Its vision of order was indeed one sided, but it also meant well in that it was trying to avoid another event as catastrophic as WWII. The West’s identity was fragmented due to the nationalism that results from war. Identity became fluid in the west as Europe’s borders became fluid. This is represented by Max’s work during WW II forging passports an papers to get people out of the battle zone. The West’s vision of order sought to reaffirm and resolidify those identities.

Max represents the Western force that acted on the Eastern world. The Eastern world is represented by Boonyi and Shalimar. The two live in a small village in Kashmir, which boasts a mixed population of both Hindus and Muslims. Boonyi is Hindu and Shalimar is Muslim. They fall in love and despite the religious differences they are allowed to be married. In Kashmir as this story unfolds the idea of partition is beginning to occur. As both Pakistan and India make claims on Kashmir the people of Kashmir are forced to choose a political side. Initially the claim seems to be “Kashmir for the Kasmiri’s,” but as the violence escalates power begins to overtake the people, who are forced to choose political sides. The political division runs down religious lines with Muslims wanting to join the Muslim state of Pakistan and Hindu’s wanting to join the more appealling secular state of India.

That the law in this situation becomes magically real can be found in a a passage in which Rushdie explores the legal pposition of Colonel Kachhwaha of the Indian Army: “[t]he legal stance of the Indian military presence in Kashmir had the full support of the population, and to say otherwise was to break the law.” Kachhwaha makes it clear the breaking the law and being criminal are the same thing. What we see from this is that the law has magically created a situation in which full support of the population is given. The right to dissent is undermined , by the idea of a thought crime. The result is an illusion, but one that is still none the less a fact.

Later, Kachhwaha realizes that the Kashmiris on the Indian side of the partition are ungrateful for the war, that they still sought self determination. On that side, only Kashmiris are allowed to own land, but on the far side anyone can the land was being populated by non-Kashmiris. Kachhwaha sees this as the answer “the valley should be emptied of all these people and refilled with others.” Kachhwaha’s sentiments demonstrate the meaning of identity under the law. On the Pakistani side Kashmiri meant land ownership in Kashmir, an the Indian side it meant something deeper and more historical. Kachhwaha endorses a change in the law to redefine the identy of the people in Kashmir in order to garner support needed for his conquest, a use of the law for political ends and not necessarily justice.

The severe problems in Kashmir arguably could be traced back the West’s disengagement from its colonies in the region, which left a semblence of the Western order, but one that was having trouble adapting to Eastern ideals. It is not fair to say that these former colonies were completely abandoned, the West still sought to control them. Thus Max Ophuls enters the story as the US Ambassador to India. He is sent in the midst of the US trying to exert its power in this part of the world, and India is a problematic area for them. The US is cozy with Pakistan at the time and willing to turn a blind eye on Sino-Pakistan relations. This of course causes tension with India, who is at war with Pakistan. Thus Max is sent to give “those Indian gentlemen . . . a good old American spanking.” Max symbolizes the West’s attempt to re-exert its power and values on the region.

Max attempts to resolve the problems between the two countries by attempting to get them to engage in International Cooperation. At the same time though he has inserted himself between the two. As represented in his seduction of Boonyi and her estrangement from Shalimar. He negotiates a “joint statement of accord” between himself and his new mistress, and she leaves her village, her husband, and more importantly her identity. When Max no longer needs her she is abandoned, pregnant with his child.

Boonyi returns to her village, but finds that she has been declared dead in and official and legal sense. She has been made a ghost by the law as “the dead have no rights” and no property. This idea plays directly into Rushdie’s commentary on identity. The law can change ones identity quite easily, i.e. from Kashmiri to Indian to Pakistani. This identity changed again for Kashmiri’s when Kashmir was declared a “disturbed area.” The criminal code gave immunity to public servants (including soldiers) for crimes committed in the line of duty. Furthermore, “in a disturbed area, search warrants were not required, arrest warrants ditto, and shoot-to-kill treatment of suspects was acceptable.” Thus Boonyi’s fear of attempting to come back to life and claim her rights only to be murdered is realized for the whole region. By asserting rights the ghosts that were citizens can be murdered. The criminal procedure was amended to allow torture and jailing without charges (particularly if the person challenged India’s territorial integrity in Kashmir. A presumption of guilt was allowed, and a failure to disprove the presumption would result in the death penalty.

Shalimar, becomes a terrorist and an assasin. his sole goal in life is to Kill Boonyi and Max (or maybe their mataphorical counterparts. In this we can find what I think is the most important message of the book. Effects of these turmoils are felt world wide. Insurgents in Kashmir tap into a network of terrorists who rely on different nations with shifting allegiances for funding and weapons. Max is one of the people that doles out this secret assistance. Shalimar comes to the states to assassinate Max. He lives with Max and understands Max, but Max never understands him. Thus killing Max can only be an external message (i.e. terrorism), because Max will never understand. This is a wonderful metaphor for terrorism in general. Terrorists often insert themselves into a culture in order to carry out their missions. So often though the people that become their victims have no real understanding of what the terrorists complaints are. It is an external message only.

The book ends with two significant items. First, Shalimar is taken into the American Justice system where justice is given. However, Rushdie doesn’t leave it at that. While the American justice system is one of the most highly developed in the world it has its moments where it is “a mirror of everywhere else.” Rushdie points to high profile Los Angeles cases as examples including the gas chamber, Rodney King, and O.J. There is a wonderful bit of lawyering where Shalimar’s Lawyers attempt to use a sorcerer’s defense wherein he argues that Shalimar has been bewitched by India/Kashmira (Max and Boonyi’s daughter). The defense claims that Shalimar was under the belief that sorcery was real and that he was under “extreme vulnerability to external manipulation.” His case however is lost when India/Kashmira testifies that Shalimar also killed her mother. While Shalimar’s case is interesting it isn’t the legal thrust of the book (but is probably worth a more in depth look than I have given here).

The second event of signifigance is that after Shalimar kills off an old ideal (Max), we find that he too is an old ideal. His ideas about identity are just as out moded as Max’s, thus he has to now confront India/Kashmira who represents a new globalized world. One which recognizes its Western legal traditions, but at the same time is willing to embrace new ideas emerging from around the globe. Significantly, Rushdie leaves us at the moment of confrontation and with no resolution.

Salman Rushdie

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4 Responses to Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown (2005)

  1. not for your country , i feel top get freedom , its called war

  2. Edomite says:

    Edomite says : I absolutely agree with this !

  3. Staci says:

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  4. Lucienne says:

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