Pankaj on Rushdie

Pankaj Mishra does a nice job in the NYRB of separating what Rushdie meant to do with Shalimar from what he actually did. Read the whole essay here:

“The fictional world created by Shalimar the Clown also often resembles the slick, swift virtual reality of a video game or TV commercial. Nevertheless, Rushdie’s political engagement with his material keeps open the possibility of more intellectual satisfactions. As he said in a recent interview, he is determined to make his fiction do “something that newspapers can’t do, which is to allow the reader to enter imaginatively into realities that would otherwise be alien to them.”…

…”There is much material here for a novelist interested in exploring why many Muslims on the threshold of the modern world embrace ideological violence. Instead, Rushdie places his Kashmiri characters in a pastoral idyll. In his fictional village, people appear to do little more than cook thirty-six-course banquets and put on plays and dances. Wearing their hybridity on their sleeves, they often sound like professors in American cultural studies departments. As Boonyi’s Hindu father puts it,
Today our Muslim village, in the service of our Hindu maharaja, will cook and act in a Mughal— that is to say Muslim—garden, to celebrate the anniversary of the day on which Ram marched against Ravan to rescue Sita…. Who tonight are the Hindus? Who are the Muslims? Here in Kashmir, our stories sit happily side by side on the same double bill, we can eat from the same dishes, we laugh at the same jokes.
Strangely, Boonyi’s father evokes this politically correct Kashmir in 1947—the year in which the maharajah launched a harsh crackdown on a Muslim-led opposition, and his Hindu police massacred thousands of Muslims to the south of the Kashmir valley. None of Rushdie’s Kashmiri characters seems to be aware of these tumultuous events, although Boonyi’s mother can speak of “sexual politics” and the “emancipation of women” and Shalimar in his Kashmiri village appears to be as enraged as a character in a Godard film by the American bombing of Vietnam. More puzzlingly, although Rushdie makes much of Kashmir’s “merging of faiths,” his Muslim-dominated village has no mosque, and though Muslims revere Hindu gods, neither they nor their Hindu compatriots spare any time for Allah.”





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