Shalimar the Clown
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Shalimar the Clown was published in September 2005 and has attracted significant attention, comparable to his earlier publications, particularly The Moor's Last Sigh and Midnight's Children. Shalimar the Clown derives its name from Shalimar Gardens, in the vicinity of Srinagar, one of several Mughal Gardens, which were laid out in several parts of undivided India when the Mughals reigned over the subcontinent. Shalimar is the name of one of the characters featured in the novel.
The title refers to a character in the story, a Kashmiri villager named Shalimar, who performs a tightrope act for amusement.
The central character, India, is an illegitimate child of a former United States ambassador to India, Maximilian Ophuls. Although a number of narratives and incidents in the novel revolve around Kashmir, the novel opens in Los Angeles, U.S.A. Max Ophuls, a U.S. diplomat who has worked in the Kashmir Valley, is murdered by his former chauffeur, Shalimar.
Several flashbacks take the readers to the past, and one learns that Shalimar, the clown, was once full of affection, love and laughter. He lived in the Kashmiri village of Pachigam. His skill on the tight rope earned him renown in his village and the name Shalimar the clown. At a young age, he falls in love with a beautiful Kashmiri Pandit girl, named Boonyi. The village elders agree to the marriage and all seems fine, except that Boonyi doesn't want to remain stuck in this small village. Things come to a turn when Maximilian comes to the village and becomes enamored of Boonyi. With the help of his assistant he gets her a flat in Delhi, and an affair blooms. A scandal erupts when Boonyi gets pregnant and Max is forced to return. The child, India, is brought to England by Maximilian's wife.
Shalimar was deeply in love with Boonyi and couldn't bear her betrayal. The rest of his life had as major purpose to take revenge on the people that were the cause of his unhappiness. For this purpose he joins up with various Jihadi organisations and becomes a renowned assassin.
Maximilian, raised in France, following the death of his parents in a Nazi concentration camp becomes a hero of the French resistance. A fictionalized account of the Bugatti automobile company plays a role in his escape from the Nazis. Following the war, he marries a British aristocrat, and eventually becomes American ambassador to India. This appointment eventually leads to his unspecified role in relation to American counter-terrorism. The appointment is more important than his ambassadorship, but its exact role is vague.
Shalimar receives training from insurgent groups in Afghanistan and the Philippines, and leaves for the USA. He murders Max on the day he resigns as his driver. Shalimar evades the authorities and eventually returns to India's home, with the intention of killing her.
The story portrays the paradise that once was Kashmir, and how the politics of the sub-continent ripped apart the lives of those caught in the middle of the battleground.
A number of readers and critics feel that the title and the theme of the book is not exactly about Kashmir; nevertheless, Kashmir is certainly a reference point of the novel.
The historical person Max Ophüls was a German filmmaker. Besides the birthplaces in the border region between Germany and France, the fictional Max Ophuls in the novel seems to have nothing in common with his historical namesake.
- Tze Ming Mok Never Enough October 15–21, 2005 Vol 200 No 3414 New Zealand Listener http://www.listener.co.nz/issue/3414/artsbooks/4851/never_enough.html