Dr Yashdeep Singh/ Voicing the Trauma of a Paradise That Got Lost

Dr Yashdeep Singh

Assistant Professor

Department of English

Lovely Professional University

Punjab, India


Salman Rushdie is reputed world-wide for his boldness and bluntness as a literary crusader, who uses his genius as a novelist to raise voice against injustice and subjugation. His novel Shalimar the Clown is a chronicle focusing on the trauma of the ‘common man’ in Kashmir. This essay highlights these concerns that are encapsulated within the narrative of this heart-touching novel and pleads the international community to save Kashmir from dirty-diplomatic games that have ruined the lives of its innocent rustic inhabitants.

Key words: Paradise, Kashmiriyat, victimization, brutality, forced migration, degeneration, rubble.

“Agar firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast,

Hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast . “

[If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this. – Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s famous utterance about the Kashmir Valley.]

“Books should make you stop and think”…. Salman Rushdie has always remained committed to these words that he spoke in an interview given to Jonathan Noakes on July 8, 2002.Every literary work flowing out of his pen creates turbulence both in literary and non-literary circles and quite often than not, makes a reader- stop and think. Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown, oscillates around the themes of violence and terrorism that has brutally defaced the heaven-like ambiance of Kashmir valley and converted it into an inferno. Through the fictional tale of an ordinary Kashmiri village girl “Boonyi” and her husband “Shalimar”, this novel delves deep into the root-causes that facilitated the spread of terrorism in Kashmir valley and presents a realistic eye-opening account of how the Eden of Kashmir got converted into an infernal hub of militants.

Getting its name from the ancient Indian sage “Kashyap” Kashmir valley has been a beautiful piece of land blessed by nature where ‘Sufism’ bloomed, where Hindu and Muslim customs conglomerated and blended to nurture a cultural mélange-“ Kashmiriyat” , that used to be too important to a Kashmiri Hindu and a Kashmiri Muslim alike. For centuries, in the pristine valley of Kashmir, there prevailed a synthesized milieu, where the words “Hindu” and “Muslim” were merely descriptions, not divisions, as they all revered the same local saints, spoke the same dialects, savored the same cuisines and lived in similar manners in day to day life.

With the outburst and spread of terrorism since 1989, “Kashmiries” – both Hindus as well as Muslims have suffered victimization, and the brutality is appalling. It has been a peculiar narrative style of Rushdie to take historical events and real-world incidents or situations as the basic framework within and around which the fabricated fictional tale develops and revolves, and this method of narration has been substantially employed in Shalimar the Clown, with a special focus on the real-world Kashmir. At its core, the novel is an ode to the simple, rustic life of the Kashmir valley, the land of Rushdie’s maternal roots, with special emphasis upon the conception of “Kashmiriyat”. The fictional villages of Pachigam and Shirmal have been portrayed as typical Kashmiri villages, situated in serene surroundings. When the villagers of Pachigam come to know about the love-knot between Boonyi, the daughter of a Kashmiri-Hindu Pandit Pyarelal Kaul and Shalimar, the son of a Kashmiri-Muslim named Abdullah Noman ; they uphold the values of ‘Kashmiriyat’ and bless the young- couple by accepting their marriage. By welcoming this marriage between Boonyi and Shalimar, the religiously and ethnically mixed, pastoral populace of the village of Pachigam reveal their conviction that “we are all brothers and sisters here… . There is no Hindu-Muslim issue” (138). Kashmir thus becomes an idealized place, representative of how ethnically diverse societies can create a legacy of tolerance and brother-hood, and it is this attitude of Kashmiries that attributes qualities of Paradise to it. Happy and contented, the people of this village live their lives in blissful oblivion, only to wake up to the harsh realities of life, when insurgency first rears its ugly head in the Kashmir-valley in the form of Kabailis from Pakistan, followed by radical preachers of fanaticism like the novel’s fictional character Bullul Fakh, the ‘iron mullah’. Increasing influence of alien presence on the Kashmiri landscape, slowly started eroding and gradually degrading the harmonious values of the valley and the once prevailing concept of ‘Kashmiriyat’ — which earlier used to unite the entire Kashmiri populace as “One-cultural entity”, notwithstanding the differences of religious-faiths. The seeds of distrust and hatred sown by the fundamentalists and extremists like the fictional character Maulana Bulbul Fakh —who preaches hatred, revenge and communal intolerance to the Muslims of Kashmir, gradually take enormous forms and engulf the whole valley in its communal fire. Appreciating the poignant and convincing nature of the narrative in Shalimar the Clown, David Myers states:

In Shalimar the Clown Rushdie constructs the myth of a golden age of inter-religious and inter-racial harmony. This golden age is located in the fabled valley of Kashmir. Chronologically it may be located at the power peak of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century, or again at the time of the Sikh emperors in the 18th century. But paradoxically, the golden age reaches its peak not in the palaces of the powerful, but in the humble Kashmiri villages of Pachigam and Shirmal, two villages which engage in friendly rivalry but which never descend to the barbarity of hatred and war, even though Pachigam is co-inhabited by Hindu pandits and the Muslims led by Sarpanch Abdullah Noman. (Myers 21)

How well- mixed the lives of Hindus and Muslims have been in the valley in olden times, prior to the Kabaili insurgency that took place two-months after the partion of 1947, this has been aptly articulated through the cheerful remark made by novel’s character Pandit Pyare Lal Kaul, on the morning of Dussehra festival:

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. What is more, two plays are to be performed: our traditional Ram Leela, and also Budshah, the tale of a Muslim Sultan. Who tonight are the Hindu? Who are the Muslims? Here in Kashmir, our stories sit happily side by side on the same double bill, we eat from the same dishes, and we laugh at the same jokes. (Rushdie 88-89)

The narrative is at many places, supplemented with authorial commentaries through which Rushdie laments at loss of those good old days. After revealing intricate details about the beautiful aspects of Kashmiri life and culture, the novel also presents a realistic, though horrifying picture of its unfortunate derogation, after being plagued by terrorism, violent extremism and communalism as well as harsh counter-terrorism measures. The soliloqual murmuring of the fictional character Pandit Pyarelal Kaul depicts most pithily the degeneration of Kashmir valley.

O! Those days of peace when we all were in love and the rain was in our hands wherever we went. No, he would not ride out into Kashmir, did not want to see her scarred face, the lines of burning oil drums across the roads, the wrecked vehicles, the smoke of explosions, the broken houses, the broken people, the tanks, the anger and fear in every eye. Everyone carries his address in his pocket so that at least his body will reach home. (Rushdie 381)

The forced migration of hundreds of Kashmiri-Pandits from the valley due to the onslaught of terrorists has been mentioned in a documentary vein, but with a blend of thought provoking authorial commentaries that evoke sympathy and pity. The exodus of Kashmiri-Pandits from 1989 onwards has been the unfortunate consequence of organized and systematic campaign by militant groups coupled with the apathy of the government machinery in helping the Hindu Pandits. This ruthless act of ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been described by Rushdie through a breathless authorial commentary in the novel:

Three hundred and fifty thousand pandits, almost the entire pandit population of Kashmir, fled from their homes and headed south to the refugee camps where they would rot, like bitter fallen apples, like the unloved, undead dead they had become. In the so-called Bangladeshi markets in the Iqbal Park-Hazuri Bagh area of Srinagar the things looted from temples and homes were being openly bought and sold. …Why was that thousands of the displaced died because of inadequate food and shelter why was that maybe five thousand deaths because of intense heat and humidity because of snake bites and gastroenteritis and dengue fever and stress diabetes and kidney ailments and tuberculosis and psychoneurosis and there was not a single health survey conducted by the government why was that and the pandits of Kashmir were left to rot in their slum camps, to rot while the army and the insurgency fought over the bloodied and broken valley, to dream of return, to die while dreaming of return, to die after the dream of return died so that they could not even die dreaming of it, why was that why was that why was that why was that why was that. (Rushdie 369-71)

While terrorist activities took a toll on the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits, the counter-terrorism measures proved far more fatal to Kashmir. Rushdie’s microcosmic depiction of the character named General Hammirdev Kachhwaha , pithily expresses the atrocious and arbitrary nature of those army officials who brutally mistreat the Kashmiri populace in the name of counterterrorism activities. General Kachhwaha is in a way, a symbolic representation of those officials of army who hold the opinion like him that “Every Muslim in Kashmir should be considered a militant. The bullet was the only solution” (363). The Indian Army was deployed to suppress terrorism, not to humiliate the villagers of Kashmir, not to rape innocent Kashmiri women, not to shoot Kashmiri youth .But the enforcement and implementation of AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Powers Act] has given the Armed forces and even non-commissioned officers, unrestricted and unaccounted powers to shoot, arrest, search houses at odd hours, and even kill on the basis of mere suspicion; and even FIR cannot be launched against such atrocious actions. Rushdie is very even-handed in his condemnation of the brutalities of both the military and the militants, and by raising a series of questions, as in the aforementioned passage, the narratorial voice scornfully spotlights how the common Kashmiri populace is maltreated not only by Pakistani terrorists but even by the Indian Army. The most profoundly outrageous and meticulously drawn scenes of this novel are those that depict the humiliation, murder, rape and destruction of the fictional village of Pachigam at the hands of Army-men. Charged with the accusation of harboring extremists, this village is doomed to suffer complete destruction and bear the full brunt of the shameless inhuman atrocities of the armed forces following which the village of Pachigam gets completely devastated, existing merely in official records. The author-narrator questions the justification of such actions and is surprised at such methods of counter- terrorism executed by the armed forces deployed by the Indian Government with the intention of protecting and safeguarding the natives of the valley. By adhering to a peculiar   questionnaire style, Rushdie draws a pen-portrait of military atrocities:

Who lit that fire? Who burned that orchard? Who shot those brothers who laughed their whole lives long? Who killed the sarpanch? Who broke his hands? Who broke his arms? Who broke his ancient neck? Who shackled those men? Who made those men disappear? Who shot those boys? Who shot those girls? Who smashed that house? Who smashed that house? Who smashed that house? Who killed that youth? Who clubbed that grandmother? Who knifed that aunt? Who broke that old man’s nose? Who broke that young girl’s heart? Who killed that lover? Who shot his fiancée? Who burned the costumes? Who broke the swords? Who burned the library? Who burned the saffron field? Who slaughtered the animals? Who burned the beehives? Who poisoned the paddies? Who killed the children? Who whipped the parents? Who raped that lazy-eyed woman? Who raped that grey-haired lazy-eyed women as she screamed about snake vengeance? Who raped that woman again? Who raped that woman again? Who raped that dead woman? Who raped that dead woman again? (Rushdie 384-85)

The role of fanatic militants, separatists and terrorists, funded and aided by Pakistani agencies has been shameful no doubt, but we cannot shy away from accepting the brutal truth that the role of Indian Army within the Kashmir valley has been no less controversial, and in certain cases, a matter of national shame. The humiliating treatment of Kashmiri folk by the Armed Forces has rather acted as a catalyst in the deterioration of faith of masses in the Indian democratic system of governance and made a mockery of those noble democratic virtues, which are fundamental and essential ingredients of Indian social order. It is no hidden fact, that Pakistani agencies have been incessantly trying to fuel anti-India sentiments among the natives of Kashmir valley and brain-wash them by spreading propaganda against India, but violent methods resorted to by the Indian army has itself made the work of Pakistani agencies easier. The atrocious behavior of Indian Army in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’ has rather acted as a catalyst to the widespread deterioration of faith in Indian governance among the Kashmiri populace in the valley and cemented their hatred towards India. Commenting on this aspect of the novel, Andrew Teverson remarks:

Here too we see the annihilation of the idea of Kashmir as it is caught between violent and opposing political interests. Here too  it is the ordinary village Kashmiris who suffer and die as a result of   antagonisms that are fostered and manipulated by distant national leaders in pursuit of equally distant national ideals.(Teverson 218)

Thus sandwiched between Pakistani terrorists and Indian Army the ‘common man’ of Kashmir has always been at the receiving end of bullets from both of them and all that comes to his fate is anguish, frustration and fear. The Hindus of Kashmir valley have lost their homes and suffered displacement, while the Muslims have lost their peace of life. Altogether, all they have gained is loss, loss and loss. Kashmir, once described by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan as “firdaus” i.e. paradise has degenerated today and turned into a rubble, nothing less than a paradise that got lost; and it is this loss that Shalimar the Clown laments.

 Works Cited

Myers, David. “The Pitfalls of Magic Realism and the Fall from Paradise: The Rape of Kashmir in Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown”. Contemporary Commonwealth Literature. Ed. R.K. Dhawan. New Delhi : Prestige,2006.Print.

Rushdie Salman, Shalimar the Clown. New York: Random House, 2006. Random House International Edition.Print.

Teverson,Andrew. Salman Rushdie- Contemporary World Writers .Manchester: Manchester University Press,2007. Print.



Drop your message here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s