Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown (2005)

September 13, 2007

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


Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children (1981).

June 6, 2007

Midnight’s Children“Mr. Kemal, who is the thinest man Amina Sinai has ever seen, sets off with his curiously archaic phraseology (derived from his fondness for litigation, as a result of which he has become infected with cadences of the law courts) a kind of chain reaction of farcical panic . . .”

Trying to summarize a book by Salman Rushdie in a small paragraph to start a blog article discussing it is just futile. This is due to the multiple competing topics that one could claim to say one of his books is “about.” Midnight’s Children is no exception and may even be the epitome of his layered and complex storytelling. I will take the overt metaphor from the book though, and make the claim that it is about India, but only with the reservation that this is only one of many themes and in a story about fractured land, fractured people, and fractured plots. In fact this is probably to simple. Thus I could also be very happy claiming that it is about fractures. What I won’t do is attempt to tell you what happens in any detail as it would bog down the legal analysis. Instead I will write from the oh so academic stand point that you the reader have already read the book (and if you haven’t you should) and commence with the legal analysis forthwith.

My reading of the novel is that Rushdie presents the law as a magically real experience that attempts to define and control man but in the end causes postmodernesque fragmentation and fracturing instead. This is a theme that I think can be traced throughout Rushdie’s work, but this is my initial foray into this little project so what I present below is more formative than anything else.

Saleem Sinai is Rushdie’s overt metaphor for the state of India, and was born at the exact moment that India gained independence from Great Britain. This can be seen as an initial jumping off point for Magically Real Law. At this moment India became India again, and not the British Colony of India. The magically real aspect is that this is treated as a birth, but does anything new actually exist, are the people suddenly different? Or instead is it simply that the legal matrix has shifted? Rushdie’s answer, I think is that it is only a legal matrix, which attempts to create a concrete existence for the people.

As is proper, we learn of the birth of India, but we must first look at the history. Rushdie examines Ghandi’s attempt to defeat the British domination with silence, the British counter of the Rowlatt Act (against political agitation), and Martial Law regulations. These are battles that are occuring not so much between peoples as between legal frameworks. That is not to say that people aren’t affected, indeed they are highly affected in that the law helps to support culture. The metaphor for this can be found when Methwold insists that those that buy his estate live like the English until the exact moment of Independence. In doing this he forces his culture, through a contract, upon the Indian Families that move into to his estate. Not only do they must absorb his culture, but they must also absorb his law. The contract is probably based on the British model, as is the property law that supports it. The larger picture is that after the British leave, the remnants of their legal order doesn’t, and those remnants may not support the underlying culture of the people as well.

The theme again arises in light of the partition of Pakistan from India. It was all occupied by the British, but upon independence there were two countries with competeing views. These two regions, before the British colonization had not existed as any sort of nation state, yet afterwards they had embraced the idea of nationalism. This is a very real thing, but its basis is ephemeral. Time even was suceptible to it as the clocks in Pakistan “would run a half an hour ahead of their Indian counterparts.” These partitions and borders, while real and enforced are only magical divisions and do not reflect the actual layout of the culture and the population. Furthermore they are suddenly Western nation states, thus creating the need for a large legal net as opposed to micro legal systems.

Much of this partition is drawn along religious lines, with India becoming a secular state and Pakistan becoming a Muslim state. But this partition can’t hold up under its own terms, because of the deep religious currents in India. We find this when Ahmed’s assets are frozen by the government because he is a Muslim. It is fought in the courts but only won by bribes, which further exposes contradiction within the law, which is meant to be secure and final. As Nehru consults astrologers for his 5 year plan for his secular state, the legal system for the people becomes just as malleable and susceptable to non legal argumentation. Hindu’s and Muslims clash, but they now clash under the framework of a Western legal tradition. Later in the book, there is an attempt to reorganize India into states of Languages, an analysis of this would follow the same sort of reasoning.

The magically real partioning on the territories then becomes magically real in Saleem who feels himself literally fracturing into pieces. What Rushdie has achieved is showing the consequences of the law on the person or body. The fracture is more than legal, more than mental; it is a physical affliction to the people and the culture. This physicality is repeatedly shown in the main character of Saleem.

Saleem describes his existence in India as one of an “infinity of alternate realities,” but in Pakistan where truth is what the law says it is he is beset with and “infinite number of falsenesses.” The differences in the two cultures can be explained by the differences in the law. Secular law allows for possiblity, whereas theocracy allows only for the binary of truth an falseness. When the law enforces this binary the truth becomes magically real as it is supported by an item that is also magically real (if you accept that the law is a magically real structure i.e. that it comes from nowhere yet we accept it as a solid and binding force). The dichotomy between the two exhibits exactly this point. If the law were a real thing it would be substantially the same in each country, instead the law is created in reaction to the presence or lack of religion exposing the law’s preoccupation with rule and its lack of concern with justice.

These are just really initial thoughts and formulations on a somewhat perfunctory read of the novel. It should be noted that legal themes run through out. On can find criminal law, contract law, family law, tax law, immigration law, and probably scads of other items throughout. Each of these in turn can probably have this idea applied to it and be used as a way of exposing weakness in the system.

Salman Rushdie

Mortimer, John. Rumpole and the Younger Generation (1978)

April 18, 2007

“. . . you will discover during the course of these memoirs that, although I only feel truly alive and happy in law courts, I have a singular distaste for the law.”

Rumpole and the Younger Generation is the first of Sir John Mortimer’s short story’s chronicling the illustrious career of one Horace Rumpole, barrister (while it is a short story one can find it in book form published by Penguin, which is how I happened to read it).

Mr. Rumpole is a barrister that spends his days fighting for Justice in the Old Bailey (England’s Criminal Court for those of you not in the know). While the whole of the story deals with the law in one way or the other, I will only address two of the substantive themes that occur within the story: the characterization of Rumpole as the lawyer’s lawyer and Rumpole’s ideas about criminal law as being at the heart of the legal system.

Mortimer has created the quintessential English barrister in Rumpole. In and out of court he is quick and witty, he can qoute lines of Wordsworth to fit most situations, and he very adept in court as well. At the same time though he can be reflective and philosophical. In short, Rumpole is the type of lawyer that other lawyer’s like to read about; he is a lawyer’s lawyer. Let’s face it, we lawyer’s revel in the idea of making a judge look like a fool in court and getting away with it. We love the idea of solving the case at the last minute with innovative surprise evidence. And despite our dubious reputation we like to think that we really do seek justice when we go to court. Rumpole embodies one of the great lawyer archetypes, which I’ll dub the gentleman lawyer. He doesn’t have the perfect record or the cut throat persona that we often see displayed in other lawyer characters, what he has though is charisma and charm. The way in which he carries himself allows him to seem nonthreatening, but this is his greatest weapon in the courtroom. He is a lawyer that loves the court room, yet retains human dimensions outside the courtroom, too. To sum up he is more than a good lawyer; Rumpole is a good man.

The second theme that I will deal with revolves around Rumpoles ideas about criminal law. My father once told me that the most fun he ever had while practicing law was when he was a criminal lawyer. This idea is somewhat reflected in Rumpole’s statement that a “person who is tired of crime . . . is tired of life.” In the story the head of Rumpole’s chambers is retring and it is time to choose a new head of chambers. While Rumpole is the most senior barrister, he also has an entirely criminal practice, and there are some in the chambers that feel as though this is the wrong direction to be taking. Thus Rumpole must defend his devotion to criminal law when it is asserted by his mentor (and the out going head of chambers) that “too much criminal work does rather lower the standing of a chambers.” When one lawyer states that the chambers should move more towards tax Rumpole sarcastically responds “compared to the wonderful world of tax, crime is totally trivial.” This conflict represents a real conflict in law, and one that is troubling. There is not money in criminal law, glory maybe, but no money. Yet criminal law may be the most important type of law there is. It is through criminal proceeding that the true measure of justice is found. If we can depend on the criminal courts to be just for others then they are likely to be just for ourselves as well. When, though, we are in an advesarial system of law and criminals are routinely represented by over worked public defenders, second rate lawyers, or even law students the justice in the system can be easily challenged. Quite simply, we need more Rumpole’s in criminal law, but we have no way of luring them there (as criminals are commonly not well off).

Rumpole and the Younger Generation (Penguin 60s)
Sir John Mortimer