Kashmir Not Far From West: Rushdie
30 August 2005
The Times of India
London: Less than a week before his newest novel hits bookshelves here, Salman Rushdie has said that his globe-spanning epic study of what turns a 'nice' Kashmiri boy into a jihadi and a 'trained killer' underlines the 'interconnected (ness)' of today's world and the fact that Kashmiri terrorism is 'not really remote from us sitting in the West'. In a passionate plea for the global village to recognize it is incontrovertibly linked now by multiple narratives - as much as mobile telephony, email and limitless travel - Rushdie declared that the time for single-focus, monocultural, unidirectional tales was past. Rushdie, whose new novel 'Shalimar the Clown', has been exciting aficionados worldwide for its incredibly topical, continent- and-culture-hopping story, ranging from 1930s French Resistance missions to Kashmiri terrorist training camps, Indian orphanages and a Hindu-Muslim love affair, said on Monday that it was about 'a subject very personal to me - Kashmir'. He said '(Kashmir) is where my family was originally from, I've always been very exercised about what's happening there'. He said this is why he wrote a story that revolves around 'a young man whose life gets deformed by two things - by events inside his life and... ... by external forces to do with the history of Kashmir'. Critics say the novel, which addresses the now somewhat tarnished belief in Kashmiriyat, may be among the best of Rushdie's nine novels, on a par with earlier works that made his name, 'Midnight's Children' and 'Shame'. The novel has already been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rushdie, who arguably first exemplified the force of radical Islamist globalism after his 'Satanic Verses' pushed him into hiding from Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa back in 1989, is being hailed in Western capitals as a bridge- builder who has been on both sides of the fence. On Monday, Rushdie said that the novel, which opens with a blood-soaked chapter set in California, where the former American ambassador to India, Maximilian Ophuls, is murdered... ... by the novel's eponymous anti- hero, Shalimar the Clown, underlines the inter-connectedness of our age. All the stories by the world's greatest story-tellers now, he said, go back and forth across the globe. 'One of the things that this book tries to show is that these days our stories are not segregated from each other. We don't live in neat little compartments in England or America or India, but one story needs to be explained by stories from elsewhere.' Observers said Rushdie's plea for the world to recognize the inter-meshing of narratives was of a piece with political pronouncements on the same lines, including British prime minister Tony Blair's post-9-11 insistence that domestic and foreign policy were now two halves of one whole. Rushdie, currently in Britain as part of his regular Trans-Atlantic hopping visits between the New York home he shares with his fourth wife Padma Lakshmi and Milan, his young London-based son from a previous marriage, said the novel's dominant backdrop... ... was 'the question of the increasing political unrest in the Valley'. But he added, in what many believe to a key insight into the transformation of angry young men into radical jihadis that even though the 'external events' in the lead protagonist's life demonstrably 'push him in the direction of violence and a violent response to events, but the truth is that if the germ of that potential violence were not already present in him, he perhaps wouldn't have become the violent man he becomes'. He reasoned that Kashmir's cycle of violence and 'the political events had, after all, happened to many people and not all of them take the path of violence (as does Shalimar)'. Plying his pet theme, Rushdie referred to the fictitious former American diplomat's murder and said, 'In order to understand this event in Los Angeles you have to understand events on the other side of the world'. He said he had usefully employed a sort of 'double perspective' throughout his life as a writer who used India as a backdrop for his stories. 'It's been very interesting for me as a way of writing about India to be sometimes there and often away - you're able to step in and out of the frame it can give you an extra dimension.'