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Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Birth Of Shalimar The Clown

"In 1987, I was making a documentary in India about the 40th anniversary of independence. We did a section in Kashmir in which we actually met the village of these traveling players [actors and folk performers like the character Shalimar]. I spent a week or 10 days with them and was very struck by them, very touched by their lives and by this vanishing art form. But the problem was we couldn't use the sequence in our film because we couldn't get them to tell the truth on camera. Every time we switched the camera off they'd tell us amazing stories about their lives, but the moment there was film running they were obviously so worried about reprisals from one side or the other that they said their lives were just fine, thank you. So I dropped the sequence in the end. But these people really stayed with me. That's really where it was born."

That's Salman Rushdie, in an interview with Vanity Fair. (Yes, it's the issue with the fetching photograph of Jennifer Aniston on the cover.)

Having reached halfway through the book, I think there's little doubt that it's India that still has a hold on Rushdie's imagination and is the wellspring of his literary legerdemain -- the sections of Shalimar that are based in other parts of the world simply aren't as compelling and vivid as the ones set in Kashmir. Nevertheless, as Uma mentions in an e-mail, "it feels good to listen to him again." It certainly does.

Rushdie goes on to speak of his belief that the novel is alive and kicking (thank goodness):

"What fiction can do is 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.…[novelists] can make you feel what people's lives in those situations are like, and make that part of your reality. That's what literature can do, and in these days, when we really do need to imaginatively understand the world, I think the novel can be getting to be a very important thing again."

(He repeats this direct rebuttal of V.S. Naipaul, in a conversation with Rahul Jacob of The Financial Times: "“It’s a long time since I bothered with his literary views, but I think fiction is unusually important at a time like this because we need people who can make imaginative leaps into reality. I set myself the challenge of understanding the way people become jihadis.”)

And he seems to have the same problem that one has when it comes to finding time to read:

"I like Vikram Chandra and Vikram Seth; I like Rohinton Mistry. I like Anita Desai and her daughter, Kiran Desai, a lot. I like Jhumpa Lahiri. But there's so much these days that you can't keep up, in a way."

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