Because of the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses (1988), Salman Rushdie became known all over the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In those days he was often the lead story on television news broadcasts and in newspapers. Rushdie, however, was already well known among English-language writers since the publication of Midnight's Children (1981) and Shame (1983). He has continued to add other significant works to his oeuvre since The Satanic Verses and has emerged as a major presence in the contemporary literary scene.
Born on 19 June 1947 in Bombay--now Mumbai--in India, to wealthy Muslim parents, Ahmed Salman Rushdie grew up in affluence. Rushdie's father, Anis Rushdie, had been to Cambridge, was a barrister, and had a taste for owning books. He possessed the gift for telling stories and loved to do so for his children. A greater paternal influence on the Rushdie family, however, was Rushdie's maternal grandfather, Ataullah Butt. A medical doctor, he held enlightened views. He did not enforce purdah laws--laws requiring Muslim women to put on headdress--on his daughters. He accepted the wedding of Rushdie's parents even though when Rushdie's mother, Negin Butt, met Anis Rushdie she was a married woman; Anis himself was divorced from his former wife. Their wedding occurred at a time when romantic nuptials in India were rare, let alone marriage between two divorced persons. It should be pointed out that Rushdie's family saga finds a parallel in the Sinai family in Midnight's Children.
Rushdie received an elite education, first in Bombay and then in Rugby, England. At Rugby, at the age of thirteen, he expended considerable effort in conforming to the typical image of an English public-school student. As a result, he graduated with high honors, with the Queen's Medal for History, the highest award in the subject. Rushdie's family immigrated to Pakistan at about this time. Rushdie was not pleased at the move, but after graduation he went to Pakistan to live with his family. He did not adjust well to Pakistan's political and intellectual climate, however. Soon he returned to England to study history at King's College, Cambridge.
Rushdie did not do as well in college as he had done in school, perhaps because he had become involved in theater production by this time and had set acting as his career goal. After graduating from Cambridge without distinction, he went home to Pakistan but refused to take charge of his father's towel factory. Instead, he returned to England to pursue an acting career. Secretly, though, Rushdie wanted to be a writer. His father did not think much of this pursuit. When Rushdie appeared during the Michigan residency of the dramatization of Midnight's Children by the Royal Shakespearean Company, he recalled his father's reaction to his decision to opt for the theater: "What will I tell my friends?" What is more, as an actor Rushdie did not do well. When the stage seemed to offer him an uncertain future, he tried his luck as a copywriter for successive advertising agencies. During this period he worked also on a novel, "The Book of the Pir." Completed in 1971, this work is about a Muslim spiritual leader who is appointed the ceremonial president of a country by a corrupt military regime to legitimize its misdeeds. The work was rejected by several publishers.
Rushdie was more fortunate with his next literary venture, Grimus (1975), which tells the story of Flapping Eagle, an American Indian, who seeks out his sister Bird-Dog, a captive of Grimus, a European magician, on a Mediterranean island. Though no significant acclaim followed the publication of Grimus--it received serious critical attention only after Rushdie's later works had made him famous--it is a rich combination of science fiction and folklore. Grimus includes technical elements Rushdie developed more effectively in his later fiction. The fantasy in Grimus bears a resemblance to the "magical realism" Rushdie used with great success later in Midnight's Children. Magical realism is a mode of narrative in which fantastic phenomena occur in a realistic, matter-of-fact setting. Deftly used by South American authors such as Miguel Angel Asturias , Alejo Carpentier , and Gabriel García Márquez , this method allows the author a great deal of subversive potential, a potential Rushdie exploits fully in Midnight's Children and Shame.
Rushdie, meanwhile, was living with Clarissa Luard, later his first wife, who came from an upper-middle-class background. After Grimus was accepted for publication, they went on a trip to India and Pakistan. Apparently, the idea for a novel about India came to Rushdie on this trip, and he felt that he could write with great confidence if he chose his native home and its history as his subject. Rushdie called his new novel "Madame Rama" after its central character, who resembles Indira Gandhi. The work was rejected. Although disappointed, he was intent on doing a better job. He felt that changing the narration from third to first person would give him a better handle on the experience and events he wanted to tell in this novel.
Rushdie completed the manuscript of Midnight's Children in 1979. Meanwhile, he and Clarissa had gotten married in 1976. Their first child, Zafar, was born in 1979, soon after Rushdie completed Midnight's Children. This work, Rushdie's first major novel, considered by some his best and acknowledged by many a masterpiece of world literature, brought him worldwide recognition. A sprawling work of more than 550 pages, Midnight's Children narrates the story of three generations of an Indian Muslim family that migrates to Pakistan after the independence of the Indian subcontinent and its partition into two countries along religious lines in 1947. Saleem Sinai, the narrator/protagonist, recounts his family's experience of events spanning from 1915 to the late 1970s in the region. Personal history merges with political history in the novel, which is set against a mythic backdrop gathered from Indian and Middle Eastern sources. The mythic dimension allows Rushdie to do justice to the ambitious purpose he set for himself in the novel. The tale told in Midnight's Children, which spreads out over more than six decades and includes personal as well as major political events, indicates the scope of his ambitions.
Saleem uses flashbacks and flash-forwards, which are continuously juxtaposed. The narrative strategy creates indeterminacy, compelling the reader to question the narrator's reliability. Saleem's confession in the last chapter confirms the suspicion that his representation of events has been less than authentic. He reminds his readers that "since the past exists only in one's memories and the words which strive to encapsulate them, it is possible to create past events simply by saying they occurred." Such doubts cast uncertainty on the narrative; nevertheless, it has a coherent, linear plotline. Aadam Aziz, Saleem's maternal grandfather, is a German-trained medical doctor in Kashmir. Reminiscent of Dr. Aziz in E. M. Forster 's A Passage to India (1924) and named in Arabic after Adam, the arch father, Aadam Aziz suffers a psychic wound from his encounter with the West, "a hole . . . a vacancy in a vital inner chamber," which continuously baffles his attempt to define and redefine his place in the universe. Saleem's father, Ahmed Sinai, marries Aadam's daughter, and the family moves to Bombay, where Saleem is born at the exact moment of Indian independence, a feat he accomplishes ahead of several other children who are born slightly later than midnight. For being so fortunate, he receives a letter from Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, who pronounces that Saleem's future will be "a mirror" to the nation. Saleem is not, however, the biological son of his presumed parents, because he was swapped at birth in the nursing home by one of the nurses. Though he does not resemble his father closely, he shares one impressive trait with his maternal grandfather: an oversized nose, considered by many the mark of blue blood. Yet, Saleem's nose has a non-Indian origin: an Englishman departing from India in the wake of independence fathered him when he seduced Vanita, the wife of a poor street performer. The Englishman's nose was not entirely English, either; it was, in fact, "the legacy of a patrician French grandmother--from Bergerac." Rushdie's reasons for giving Saleem such murky roots are several. First, it demystifies the notion of origin based on physiognomy; second, it stresses his hybridity and status as a mongrel; last, it suggests the multiple religious and ethnic ancestries of India--Muslim and Arab, Hindu and Aryan, Christian and European--since Saleem, allegorically, represents the modern nation of India.
Saleem is aware that he is "mysteriously handcuffed to history." While he grows up in affluence and is treasured by not only the neighborhood but also the country, the true son of Sinai, Shiva, struggles with poverty. When Saleem is a little older, he discovers that he has the power of telepathy, derived apparently from his auspicious birth. It turns out that all children born in the hour of Indian independence have supernatural powers and that Saleem is able to communicate with all of them. He forms an organization for them, which he calls Midnight Children's Conference, or MCC (a well-known acronym in cricket-loving countries for Marleyburn Manchester Cricket Club). Saleem himself presides over this association, thereby symbolically assuming the role of the consciousness of postindependence India and embodying its promise and potential.
Faced with hostility from the government, from the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, and from regional separatist movements, the Sinai family moves to Pakistan in the late 1950s. Saleem witnesses all the major events that follow in the next two decades in Pakistan as well as in India. He plays a behind-the-scenes role in the military coup in Pakistan in 1958, records the Indo-Chinese war of 1962, becomes wounded and develops amnesia in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, serves as a field agent of the occupying Pakistani army in Bangladesh in 1971, and finally, loses his telepathic power during the state of emergency declared by the Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.
Regarded as a key postcolonial text, Midnight's Children has generated and continues to generate substantial critical attention. The work rewards the scholar who wants to study Rushdie's intertextual strategies or his allegorization of the history of the subcontinent. The author's ability to tell an Indian tale so effortlessly in English has led some scholars to look for sources for the innovations in the text. Many attempts have been made to place the work in the Indian/Middle Eastern tradition of storytelling as well as the British/Western tradition of nonlinear narrative such as that of Laurence Sterne 's Tristram Shandy (1760-1767). Clement Hawes points out that both works include the motif of a prominent nose and that both condemn the quest for origin, thus parodying the discourse of physiognomy. Rushdie himself acknowledged, in a 1982 interview with Jean Ross for Contemporary Authors (reprinted in Conversations with Salman Rushdie, 2000), that when writing Midnight's Children, he was aware of the intertextual link between Saleem's nose and Shandy's. He indicates, however, that the nose is the most prominent feature also of the Hindu deity Ganesh, who is supposed to have been endowed with an elephant's trunk. In the same interview Rushdie claims that he conflated the two traditions to create "dual reverberations." Saleem likens himself to Scheherazade, the teller of stories in The Arabian Nights who is only one bad story away from execution. Like Scheherazade, who tells her stories to her husband, the king, Saleem tells his to a live audience, Padma, an illiterate coworker in the pickle factory where he has found employment after his long ordeal.
To enhance the comic potential of Saleem's nose, Rushdie at one point in Midnight's Children compares it to the Deccan Peninsula, a prominent landmark on the Indian map. This passage suggests to many scholars the allegorical implications of the text, and allegory in Midnight's Children has engendered a growing body of criticism dwelling on the way the text treats nationalism, politics, and history. Neil Ten Kortenaar, in his essay "Midnight's Children and the Allegory of History" (1995), demonstrates how through its use of dead metaphors, Rushdie's allegory in Midnight's Children offers an alternative to official Indian history. A good example of such a metaphor would be the bruise that Aziz suffers in the Amritsar massacre, because it exhibits "a literalization of the metaphor, so common as to be dead, of the wound that never heals." Similarly, Nadir Khan, who lives in a cellar in Aziz's house to hide from Muslim fanatics seeking his blood, illustrates to Kortenaar that "the memory of those Muslims who supported a secular state characterized by religious tolerance has been rudely shoved 'under the carpet.'"
A major thrust in criticism of Midnight's Children is to examine Rushdie's ability to mingle English with words and idioms from different Indian languages. Rushdie's borrowings are primarily from Urdu, the preferred language of Indian Muslims--a derivative of Hindi, Arabic, and Persian--though echoes of other languages can be detected in Midnight's Children as well. The special flavor of his prose, on the other hand, does not derive only from the Indian words he uses but also from the way he handles the language to convey non-English, Indianized idioms. Michael Harris, in his Outsiders & Insiders: Perspective of Third-World Culture in British and Post-Colonial Fiction (1992), observes that the technique is consistent with Rushdie's narrative strategy in Midnight's Children, which struggles to lend coherence to a ruptured reality: "[All] such syntactic efforts to hold things together also imply, by their very presence and nature, the centrifugal force of the diversity that makes them necessary, as do the equally frequent foreshadowings and recapitulations." On the other hand, Anita Desai , who in her introduction to the 1995 Everyman's Library edition of Midnight's Children calls the novel "a modern epic," sees both "the 'great' and 'little' traditions of India" in the language of the text. She notes that the two traditions represent "the classical and the folk, the learned and the popular, the parochial and the universal." While the "great" tradition--to which belongs Sanskrit, the language of the Brahmin or the pedant--often claims to be the official, the "little" tradition is composed of local dialects and customs. The two feed each other, and Rushdie "tapped into . . . [the] unquenchable vitality and fecundity created by just such fluidity and interconnectedness." Indeed, English in Rushdie's hand became a "'chutney' made up of English, Hindi, Urdu, Konkani, Marathi, Gujrati and various dialects thereof." Desai rightly observes that Rushdie's style is "eclectic," that it does not care for the "purity of race or tongue," and that his many borrowings from Indian and Western popular culture, combined with his "Babble," "form a cacophony, a Bakhtinian 'heteroglossia.'" Similarly to Desai, Michael Gorra examines Rushdie's handling of English in Midnight's Children in his After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie (1997) and shows that with his telepathic ability Saleem himself is the "site" where innumerable voices vie for expression. Hence, Rushdie's narration, according to Gorra, has strong subversive potential. Thus, Rushdie, "in whose sentences Bombay street slang continuously flirts with Oxbridge English," ensures that truth is not absolute; instead it is "multiple, overlapping, conflicting." At the same time, the liberties that Rushdie takes with the English language, in Gorra's view, also suggest "a challenge to the idea of proper English, the King's English, and therefore to British colonialism."
Midnight's Children made Rushdie a world-famous writer. Translated into more than a dozen languages, the novel won the prestigious British Booker Prize in 1981 and in 1993, the "Booker of Bookers" Prize, the special prize given on the occasion of the silver anniversary of the Booker to the best of the twenty-five previous prizewinners. Showing its continuing appeal, a drama adaptation based on the novel has been produced by the Royal Shakespearean Company.
After Midnight's Children, Rushdie published several short stories and essays in literary magazines. Among them, the article "The Empire Writes Back with a Vengeance," published in The Times (3 July 1982), expounded an ideological base of his fiction. Rushdie argued that a new form of writing in English about non-English societies and by authors from non-English backgrounds was emerging in Britain, that it was new because it had rid itself of its former imperial and oppressive baggage, and that it would create a fresh cultural identity for Britain as well as for its former colonies.
Rushdie's next novel, Shame , appeared in 1983. Set in Pakistan, Shame can be seen as a counterpart to Midnight's Children, which uses the entire South Asian subcontinent as its canvas but focuses mainly on India in the 1970s. Shame takes up the political history of Pakistan until the early 1980s and presents a marginal hero, Omar Khayyam Shakil, who never occupies the center of action but hovers on its boundary. His name, like many other names in Rushdie's novels, reminds readers of the renowned twelfth-century Persian poet and astrologer Omar Khayyam. Intended as a caricature of the towering historical figure well known in Islamic societies, Shakil resembles the famous person only in name and not in gift or vision. Like Saleem, he is the bastard child of an Englishman, but unlike Saleem, whose maternity is never in doubt, Shakil has three mothers who are sisters. They never tell him who his true mother is, so the dishonor of giving birth out of wedlock can be borne equally by all of them. The mothers give Shakil an excellent survival mechanism in a society where having an Angrez or English father, known or unknown, is worse than having none--no sense of shame. Hence, he never experiences the emotion and does well in his career as a doctor. Like Saleem, Shakil too is an allegorical figure. If Saleem with his power to consume many consciousnesses represents the psyche of postindependence India, Shakil is narcissistic, completely lacking in a sense of honor as well as a conscience. Pakistan is no dream of Shakil, or it is his flawed dream at best, because the country is rife with religious fanaticism, political corruption, and military despotism. As the Shame narrator puts it, "Pakistan, the peeling, fragmenting palimpsest, increasingly at war with itself, may be described as a failure of the dreaming mind."
Shame shows how deep a sense of shame exists in Pakistan. The narrator goes on to explain that the English word shame lacks the "encyclopaedias of nuances" that its Urdu counterpart, sharam, possesses; he uses it for lack of a better equivalent. In the novel, shame operates on many levels in Pakistani society. It obliges the rulers of Pakistan to pretend that everything is in order though corruption of their own making is eating up its innards--reaching a proportion that resembles Shakil's shamelessness. Shame also leads the ruling elite to suppress women. Rushdie shows the extent of the misogyny of Pakistani society on many occasions in his book. For example, in the "Sind Club in Karachi . . . there is still a sign reading 'Women and Dogs Not Allowed Beyond This Point.'"
One of the two rulers of Pakistan, Raza Hyder--modeled after a military dictator who ruled Pakistan in the 1970s and 1980s--becomes a national hero by capturing from the enemy (unnamed, but it can be only India) Aansu Ki Wadi, "a mountain valley so high and inaccessible that even goats had difficulty in breathing up there." Though some claim that there was actually no battle because the enemy did not bother to defend this useless terrain "where your spit froze before it hit the ground," Hyder receives high renown for adding to the honor of the country. His glory turns to shame, however, when his wife fails to deliver a male child. Despite Hyder's attempt to prove otherwise in the military clinic, the doctor tells him the baby's protruding genitalia has the "not uncommon postnatal swelling of the female"; Hyder accepts the fact with undisguised chagrin. His deep shame causes Sufiya Zinobia to blush right after her birth, a habit that does not go away even when brain fever affects the growth of her mind, rendering her a child for life.
Sufiya, too, represents Pakistan, a country created from the collective shame of the Muslims at being a minority in a land of Hindus. Though Sufiya and Shakil are polar opposites, they are married despite their huge difference in age. The occasion that brings them together is interesting to explore. Sufiya is put in the hospital during a life-threatening illness under Shakil's care. The disease is of immunological origin, manifesting in "a hot flush spread from scalp to the soles of her feet," possibly brought by Sufiya upon herself as a "plague of shame." Shakil seems the right consultant to treat her not only because he is an immunologist, but also because he is one with no shame--the best curer of shame being the shameless.
As a political satire, Shame, in its critique of the society it treats, goes beyond Midnight's Children. Rushdie's unflattering portrait of Pakistani politicians promptly led to the banning of Shame in Pakistan. Shame was acknowledged as another masterpiece everywhere else and consolidated Rushdie's reputation as a major contemporary novelist. It too was short-listed for the Booker Prize, although the prize eventually went that year to J. M. Coetzee for his The Life and Times of Michael K. Nevertheless, Shame demonstrates Rushdie's further maturing as a writer. Its unnamed narrator--clearly Rushdie himself--controls the narrative with remarkable self-assuredness. Even his unreliability is never in doubt, as when early in the novel he insists that he is not writing about Pakistan, "not quite," because he finds a certain "off-centering to be necessary." The narrator in Shame, on the other hand, is angrier than Saleem of Midnight's Children; consequently, as James Harrison notes in Salman Rushdie (1992), Shame is the "darker" book. Harrison also notes that while fragmentation in Midnight's Children "become[s] a feature of the creative process . . . in Shame fragmentation is given an immediate narcissistic role . . . [whose] implications are neither ontological, nor psychological, nor even stylistic, but strictly satiric." Aijaz Ahmad, a Marxist literary scholar of Indian/Pakistan origin--much like Rushdie himself--has, however, taken Rushdie to task for his representation of women in Shame. According to Ahmad, they appear in a "sexually overdetermined" light, the prime example of such characterization being Sufiya Zinobia. Despite her blushes and her retarded childish mind, she is capable of inflicting unimaginable horror on her prey when the incubus rules her in her nightly prowls. Though Rushdie's overt intention in Shame is to expose misogynous tendencies in Pakistani culture, Ahmad finds the book derogatory of women, who are associated with violence and destruction.
In the years following the publication of Shame, Rushdie traveled extensively. In Australia he met Robyn Davidson and experienced, according to Ian Hamilton in his profile of Rushdie for The New Yorker (25 December 1995-1 January 1996), "love at first sight." His relationship with Davidson was stormy. Some critics think that she appears as the character of Alleluia Cone in The Satanic Verses--which, however, is not a negative portrait. The affair continued for the next two years; Rushdie had separated from Clarissa, meanwhile, and divorced her in 1987. That same year Rushdie met the American author Marianne Wiggins, and they married in 1988.
In 1986 Rushdie went to Nicaragua as a guest of the Sandinista government. The three-week trip yielded a travelogue, The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey, published in 1987. Rushdie's account of his Central American trip treats his communist hosts in a favorable light--though Rushdie does provide a mild warning to them about censorship. By this time he had begun working on The Satanic Verses. Word of the project spread, and Rushdie changed his publisher when Viking Penguin paid him $850,000 for his new book, causing a sensation among writers and publishers. When the novel finally appeared in 1988, it amazed readers. Robert Irwin commented in TLS: The Times Literary Supplement (9 September 1988) that if readers thought that Rushdie's storytelling power would diminish after Midnight's Children and Shame, they were in for a surprise because actually there had been "an alarming increase."
The Satanic Verses begins with its two airborne heroes defying the law of gravity. Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta, who were on a scheduled commercial flight until their plane was blown up by terrorists, are falling, or rather gently wafting, down on Sussex, England. A remarkable process sets in as they drop: Saladin develops hooves and horns and Gibreel a halo, thus metamorphosing into the devil and the angel Gabriel, respectively. Like other events of major concern in a typical Rushdie novel, the midair explosion of an aircraft is based upon an actual crash of an Air India plane caused by Sikh terrorists in the mid 1980s, when the Sikh separatist movement was at its peak in India. Figuratively, on the other hand, Saladin and Gibreel's flight symbolizes the condition of migrancy Rushdie treats in this book.
While The Satanic Verses is a novel about South Asian immigrants in England, other narratives are to be found in Gibreel's dream sequences in the book. One takes place in seventh-century Arabia, describing the birth of Islam, and the other in modern India, recounting the journey of a group of devout Muslims led by a woman prophet who believes the Arabian Sea will part to make their passage to Makkah. Other tales, such as one about Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian spiritual leader in exile, are woven into the main story. Though apparently unrelated, they bring into focus issues related to women, censorship, exile, police brutality on immigrants, popular art, and movies, giving the novel its distinctive texture.
Because of the blasphemy controversy, other features of The Satanic Verses, such as Rushdie's distinctive humor, are often ignored. For example, his portrait of the Sufyan family suggests mirth without satire. Muhammad Sufyan, proprietor of the Shaandaar ("Glamorous") Café, has just returned from Makkah with the distinct marks of a hajji. He is the "seen-it-all type, least doctrinaire of hajis and most unashamed of VCR addicts, ex-schoolteacher, self-taught in classical texts of many cultures." He had to flee from his home in Dhaka, former East Pakistan--that is, present-day Bangladesh--because he angered certain generals in the Pakistani regime by becoming a member of the Communist Party. His wife, Hind, disliked leaving home because of the cultural and religious differences they were having to negotiate, but Sufyan has no problem in adjusting. Weaker in some ways and stronger in others than his wife, he is a full two inches shorter than she, and she attributes her failure to have sons to his lack of sexual prowess, though her own attitude toward sex is that of a puritan. An intelligent man who has cultivated the mind at the expense of the body all his life, Sufyan is passive by nature. Indeed, passivity characterizes everything he does--including sex: "Sufyan appeared to get through it all with an absolute minimum of action, she took it . . . that the two of them were of the same mind on this matter, viz., that it was dirty business, not to be discussed before or after. . . . that . . . [the children] both turned out to be girls she refused to blame on Allah, preferring, instead, to blame the weakling seed implanted in her by her unmanly spouse."
About the alleged blasphemy in the text, the list of Rushdie's offenses against Islam varies according to the detractors' points of view. The chapters on Muhammad--whom Rushdie calls Mahound, a disparaging label applied by Christians when Islam first began to spread--develop as Gibreel's dream sequence, thus insinuating the fictive origin of Muhammad's life. Two issues that Rushdie raises in these chapters form the crux of the accusation against him. One is his insinuation that the revelation that Muhammad received was not of divine origin, and the other is his treatment of the Prophet's polygamy. The former gives the book its title. Rushdie uses an apocryphal source to show that some verses of the Qur'an were deleted later because Satan, in the guise of Gabriel, had inspired them. If such deception had resulted in the creation of some of the chapters of the holy book, Rushdie implies, could not the authenticity of the entire text be doubted? Rushdie's other offense, the one dealing with Prophet Muhammad's polygamy, is highly insulting to Muslims since he depicts a brothel where prostitutes take up the names of the Prophet's wives.
Some critics, on the other hand, have noted that Rushdie's critique of Islam in The Satanic Verses in fact comes from a distinctive sense of belief and that what he depicts as fiction should not be seen as his view of history. Sara Suleri's comment in her 1992 essay "Salman Rushdie: Embodiments of Blasphemy, Censorships of Shame" can be examined to illustrate the point. Observing that "Rushdie has written a deeply Islamic book," she goes on to show that "blasphemy can be articulated only within the compass of belief." Suleri discusses some of the Indian influences on Rushdie's style in The Satanic Verses, such as Urdu ghazal poetry and Sufism, and explains that both traditions allow remarkable freedom in the expression of resentment against doctrinaire preaching of religion. Such readings of The Satanic Verses, though, are possible only by sophisticated literary analyses, acts many Muslim readers of Rushdie's works are unable or unwilling to perform.
The violent consequences following the publication of The Satanic Verses helped reconfirm the stereotypes about non-Western cultures that Rushdie attempted to dismantle in the novel. After its publication, the book raised a storm in many Muslim countries. At least six people were killed in India and Pakistan in street agitations that often turned violent and led to clashes with the police. The Japanese translator of the book was murdered, the Norwegian and Italian translators were seriously wounded, and Muslim intellectuals who came to Rushdie's defense faced threats from terrorists. In 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini, who figures in the book as a nutty but dangerous spiritual leader, proclaimed a fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death. Rushdie immediately went into hiding. For several years he lived in thirty to forty safe houses protected by the British police. Initially, the Iranian government offered a bounty of $1 million to Rushdie's assassin; the amount was raised to $5 million subsequently. Although after the death of Khomeini in 1989, the Iranian government tried to distance itself from the promise of a reward to Rushdie's murderer, other fanatic Islamist groups underwrote the bounty with private donations.
Not surprisingly, Rushdie's next literary venture deals with the issue of censorship. Published in 1990, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a children's novel, tells the story of a father and his son and of two cities: Gup (Chatter) and Chup (Hush). The motif also appears in East, West: Stories, which he published in 1994. Rushdie's most significant work in these years, however, was Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1991, published in 1991. In it Rushdie selected more than seventy essays he had previously published. The topics are varied and range from politics and literature in the South Asian subcontinent to comments on contemporary authors. A few deal with Rushdie's response to the debacle following The Satanic Verses. "In Good Faith" explains that his intention in writing the novel was neither to insult Muhammad nor denigrate Muslims; rather, he had sought to portray the plight of immigrants in Britain. In a telling metaphor in "One Thousand Days in a Balloon," Rushdie compares his self-imposed confinement to escape assassination with living in a "hot-air balloon [that] drifts slowly over a bottomless chasm."
In spite of the constraints that the fatwa placed him under in the early 1990s, Rushdie was able to write a major novel, The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), which also prompted a backlash, albeit on a much smaller scale. Since The Moor's Last Sigh parodies a fundamentalist Hindu political leader of Bombay, it was unofficially banned in that city. Bal Thackeray, the leader of the Shiv Sena Party, an extremist political organization for fanatic Hindus, appears as Raman Fielding, a caricature in which he resembles a frog or a "mainduck." Thackeray soon responded by forbidding local bookstores to carry the novel.
The Moor's Last Sigh tells the story of Moraes Zogoiby, whose lineage derives from several non-Indian religions and cultures. His mother, Aurora da Gama, the last in her line, comes from a family of prosperous spice traders of Portuguese origin, with links to the explorer Vasco da Gama himself. Da Gama, who discovered the sea route to India via the Cape of Good Hope and reached India in the late fifteenth century, was followed by other European adventurers. They began as traders but became rulers of India as well as several other Asian countries.
Moraes's paternity is a reminder of the Middle Eastern influence on India, since the Zogoibies were members of a little-known Jewish community in south India who fled from Spain when the last Moorish king, Sultan Boabdil, fell to Christian powers. Boabdil acquired a Jewish mistress in exile after the loss of his kingdom. She stole his crown and headed toward India on a ship, carrying his child in her belly, when the conquering Christians deported the Jews from Spain. Named Abraham after his birth, Moraes's father learns the secret of his mother's family in a serendipitous find. He takes up the name Zogoiby--meaning unlucky--the same name his Moorish ancestor assumed after he lost his kingdom.
Abraham marries Aurora, moves to Bombay--the center of the Indian economy--rises phenomenally in business, and also becomes the undisputed ruler of the underworld. In a curious confluence, Abraham and his son, Moraes, represent the three major Western influences on India--those of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Like other Rushdie characters, Moraes, the narrator, has strong allegorical resonances. Though he is not a player in the events, he witnesses the major upheavals that rocked India in the 1980s and early 1990s. Crucial in his experience is the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, leading to the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayoddha and the terrorist bomb attacks on Bombay that came as its backlash. Moraes is unnaturally big and suffers from a disease that ages him at twice the normal rate, which hints at the hollow economic growth of a decolonized country. Political leaders in decolonized third-world countries impress themselves with tall buildings and large cities; certainly, the sprawling city of Bombay illustrates the phenomenon. Bombay is enormous but lacks the civic amenities to serve its huge populace. Nor does it have an equitable political system to settle differences between its multiple ethnicities. It is no coincidence that Abraham, through kickbacks and influence peddling, bags lucrative construction deals in postindependence Bombay. A good part of the narrative describes how he and his Hindu counterpart, Raman Fielding, stir up religious sentiments to assume control of the city.
At the end of the tale, Moraes, the last in the Zogoiby clan, leaves a burning Bombay and returns to his family's point of origin, Spain. Bombay is burning because religious extremists have used explosives to eliminate each other and wipe out public places. Moraes's journey to Spain is to retrieve the priceless paintings done by his mother but stolen by Vasco Miranda, her former lover and a rival painter. Vasco puts Moraes in a prison tower; often called the "Moor" in this chapter, Moraes spends long days and nights accompanied by a Japanese woman, a fellow prisoner, who specializes in restoring palimpsests to their original state. Vasco needs her to reconstruct Aurora's paintings, because she has hidden her true work under layers of lesser ones. Under these circumstances, Moraes writes his tale. Reviewers of The Moor's Last Sigh saw biographical echoes in the work; Moraes's anguish was taken to be Rushdie's own because he wrote The Moor's Last Sigh during the darkest days of the fatwa. Rushdie revealed later, however, in a 1996 interview with Charlie Rose (collected in Conversations with Salman Rushdie) that Aurora represents him more than Moraes does because she is an "encyclopedic painter" and that "the kind of painter she is is a little bit the kind of writer I would like to be."
Recognized as another masterpiece, The Moor's Last Sigh raises complex issues of imperialism, nationalism, migration, and hybridity. But while Saleem in Midnight's Children, despite all the shifts in his narrative, is able to sustain a coherent vision of his nation through the end, Moraes's India is torn apart from within. "While Saleem is a crumbling figure of national allegory," Laura Moss argues in her 1998 essay "'Forget Those Damnfool Realists!' Salman Rushdie's Self-Parody in The Moor's Last Sigh" that "Moraes is forced into a migrant position beyond the nation." Moraes's last words in the narrative do not fully wipe out the possibility of a better future, however, because he "hope[s] to awaken, renewed and joyful, into a better time." Such a reawakening, according to Stephen Baker in his "'You Must Remember This': Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh" (2000), "remains as [a] reminder to us too that we need not surrender the imagination to models of historical inevitability or resign ourselves to the fact that there is no alternative."
While Midnight's Children treats imperialism obviously as exploitation, The Moor's Last Sigh depicts it with a great deal of ambivalence. While the spice trade was instrumental in drawing the Portuguese to India, many in the Portuguese community felt that they possessed as much nationalistic fervor as did other Indians. It is in fact Aurora who grows critical of her da Gama ancestors when she recalls why they came to the Indian "sub-condiment": "'They came for the hot stuff, just like any man calling on a tart." Her paintings in palimpsests are a rich metaphor suggesting the many imprints left on India by peoples of disparate origins. These influences bear the promise of a vibrant multicultural society, which India seemed to be becoming before the chaos of sectarian strife. Such a society also existed in the Spain ruled by the Moors, who too were its former invaders. The expulsion of the Moors after the Christian conquest of Spain led to a monolithic society. Imperialism, thus, can be liberating as well as limiting; in The Moor's Last Sigh, Rushdie does not treat it as evil per se. Paul Cantor's remark on the issue in his 1997 essay "Tales of the Alhambra: Rushdie's Use of Spanish History in The Moor's Last Sigh" well explains Rushdie's position. Cantor notes that in The Moor's Last Sigh, "Rushdie views religious conflict as marking the inevitable limit to the success of cultural hybridity"; but Rushdie, Cantor states, also realizes that religious differences cannot be eliminated by mere "aestheticizing" because they are "the fundamental beliefs that give meaning to life."
Perhaps on some intellectual level, Rushdie understands the ire of the Muslims he enraged with The Satanic Verses, but his emotional response to a life of confinement they placed him under has been angry desperation. In 1990 he made a public announcement that he had "embraced" Islam, but the fatwa was not lifted, and Rushdie's gesture of appeasement went unheeded by the zealots out for his blood. His marriage with Wiggins broke up in 1993; she found it difficult to adjust to a life filled with terror.
Rushdie met Elizabeth West , an editor, in 1994; they married in 1997, and a son, Milan, was born to them the same year. Rushdie and West coedited a selection of Indian prose, The Vintage Book of Indian Writing, 1947-1997, which came out also in 1997. Some statements Rushdie made in the introduction to the anthology--he wrote it himself and had published it in The New Yorker earlier (23 June 1997)--provoked many Indian authors and academics to denounce him and question his credentials to pass judgments on Indian literature. They were deeply disturbed by Rushdie's claim that in India, literature written in English is far superior to those in the local languages. Rushdie's response to their anger was dismissive. He explained to Dave Weich of Powells.com that his statements had provoked Indian authors because he had been "politically incorrect" and that he had become a victim of their "envy aimed at writers in English because they make more money, they get published around the world."
Rushdie increased his public appearances in the mid 1990s, embarking on book tours, granting interviews, and moving somewhat more freely. During the years immediately after the fatwa, airlines, even British Airways, had refused to carry him. In 1993 Rushdie became an honorary professor of humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His meeting with President Bill Clinton the same year paved the way to greater recognition of his plight from other world leaders. Pressure from the European Union, in particular Britain, forced the government of Iran to relent and rescind the execution order in 1998. The Iranian foreign minister categorically stated that his government would not reward Rushdie's assassin with the millions it had promised. The nature of a fatwa is such, however, that only the religious authority that issued it has the power to revoke it. Since Khomeini has died, no authority is competent enough to cancel his fatwa. Still, the withdrawal of a government-backed bounty for his head has lessened the threat to his life.
In 1999 Rushdie published a major novel, The Ground beneath Her Feet. Nearly six hundred pages long, the work is markedly different from his previous fiction in that it does not dwell on political issues but focuses, instead, on love and music. Ormus Cama, a rock star from India, makes it big in the West, especially the United States. His lover, Vina Apsara, is equally gifted as a singer. Rai Merchant, the narrator, on the other hand, is a professional photographer. Not gifted musically, he is Vina's other lover and also Ormus's friend. Rushdie utilizes the age-old motif of a lovers' triangle in The Ground beneath Her Feet. The motif of music in the novel, on the other hand, derives from the Orpheus myth--overlaying which is the Kama-Rati myth, pertaining to the Indian divinities of love and desire. True to the spirit of this synthesis is the multireligious interaction in the book. Ormus is a Zoroastrian; Vina has a mixed Hindu-Christian background; and Rai is a Muslim. All of them grew up in Bombay--a city Rushdie found distinctive in its tolerance of many faiths when he was growing up there in the 1950s and 1960s.
An odd twist in The Ground beneath Her Feet is that it exists in a parallel reality. In this alternate universe, John F. Kennedy survives the assassination attempt in Dallas, but both he and Robert Kennedy are killed in a dual assassination in Los Angeles; and there are novels such as Catch 18 and The Watergate Affair. Such mingling of fact and fiction suggests the possibilities of other realities. While The Ground beneath Her Feet does not build on the political ramifications of these possibilities, it creates uncertainty by hinting at them. The fluid reality is made even more unstable by the earthquakes that occur frequently in the alternate realm of the novel. Vina disappears in the first chapter when a mammoth earthquake swallows her in Mexico. As Rai tells her story in flashback, the lives of all three main characters unfold. Rushdie adds to this vision of alternate dimensions and earthquakes by utilizing the motif of twins. Both Ormus and Vina had twins who died at birth and who haunt them in the twin world in which they dwell. In a 1999 interview with Peter Kadzis for the Boston Phoenix, Rushdie himself summed it up best: "[I]n this novel, the character has a shadow self running through the corridors of his mind. . . . I may have pushed it to the limit with two sets of twins and, indeed, a twin world, a parallel world as well as the real world." The fact that Ormus survived while his twin died at birth links him to singer Elvis Presley; Rushdie also compares him to Bob Dylan and John Lennon, while Vina is a mix of both Madonna and Princess Diana. Ormus's dead twin, presumably from the real world, communicates rock classics to him through telepathy: "Yesterday," for example, and "I Got You, Babe." Lyrics written by Rushdie himself also turn up in The Ground beneath Her Feet, including some that were adopted by the band U2.
The Ground beneath Her Feet nevertheless disappointed many Rushdie readers. Writing for The Sunday Times (5 April 1999), Peter Kemp noted that the book marked "a steep literary downturn" in Rushdie's career. Pankaj Mishra, in the New Statesman (4 September 1999), rated The Ground beneath Her Feet poorly and even worried that it was the portent of "an alarming new kind of anti-literature." Many critics agreed that the chapters in which Rushdie describes the young Ormus, Vina, and Rai in Bombay are well written--in contrast to those set in New York, where Cama and Vina are adult celebrities, addicted to drugs and prisoners of their own fame.
Rushdie wrote the New York chapters of The Ground beneath Her Feet in England, based on notes he had taken during his trips to the city. His interest in the United States, particularly New York, grew in the 1990s. A possible reason could be he felt more secure making public appearances in the United States than in Britain. Several of his books came out in the 1990s, which made travel necessary for book tours. Another reason was his increasing dislike of British politics and its social and cultural establishments. The news media in Britain had often expressed concerns over the government money spent on protecting the controversial author and had even insinuated that he contributed to his misfortune himself. In an interview with D. T. Max of The New York Times (17 September 2000), Rushdie praised New York because it had "less of the 'backbiting and incestuous' literary culture of London." Rushdie's observation caused a huge uproar in Britain. He had, meanwhile, moved to New York and had been living with Padma Lakshmi, an Indian model and cookbook author, whom he had met at a party. (The couple was married on 19 April 2004). According to Max, at the time, Rushdie's marriage with West was still continuing, and Rushdie frequently returned to England to visit her, their son, and his other son--it is likely that he had separated from West by this time but was not legally divorced. News of Rushdie's lifestyle raised eyebrows in Britain. Baroness Uddin, a female Muslim labor M.P. (member of Parliament), declared that Rushdie had discredited Muslims and had not been grateful enough of the protection he had received from the British government. She was joined by another Muslim labor M.P., Lord Ahmed--both of whom are from South Asia--in urging the government to withdraw Rushdie's security and spend the money (£1,000,000 per year) elsewhere. In a strong rejoinder, Rushdie clarified that he had never discredited Muslims, that his lifestyle in New York had been grossly exaggerated, that the amount spent on his security was not what it had been alleged to be, and that whatever money the British government had spent on his security had been amply repaid by him through his income tax.
Rushdie was drawn to New York also because of the history of migrants that distinguishes the city; the teeming ethnicities reminded him of his childhood Bombay. In the interview with Max, he, in fact, described New York as "a western rewrite of Bombay." While only a part of the action in The Ground beneath Her Feet happens in New York, Rushdie's next novel, Fury , is set almost entirely in New York; it appeared in 2001. Malik Solanka--no other Rushdie protagonist is closer to the author than this one--was born in Bombay, lived in London, and now resides in New York. In Bombay, he grew up in the Methwold Estate, the same neighborhood where several well-known Rushdie characters, such as Saleem Sinai, Saladin Chamchawalla, and Moraes Zogoigby, spent their childhoods. A professor at King's College, Cambridge, Solanka was living with his second wife and a four-year-old son--until his departure to Manhattan. Derided by his colleagues for his interest in doll making, Solanka struck it rich when one of his dolls became immensely popular. Known as Little Brain, it earned him huge fame from television appearances in a variety of manifestations: first a doll, then a puppet, then an animated cartoon character, and finally an actress and talk-show host. Solanka got rich from the royalties he earned from these creations, but he was pursued by demons or furies. When one possessed him, he found himself holding a knife at his sleeping wife and baby boy--hence his parting from his family.
Solanka's Manhattan apartment hideout, although costing him $8,000 a month, does not protect him from the furies. There is a psychopath at large, known as the concrete killer, who bludgeons his victims to death with a lump of concrete, and Solanka wonders if he commits those crimes himself during alcoholic blackouts. Assailed by blackouts and explosive bouts of rage, Solanka muses on his reconstructed life and how it fits in his new environment. Though he thinks he is done with women, a beautiful Serbian woman, Mila Milo, dressed as his Little Brain, befriends him and educates him on computer culture. Solanka, however, dumps Mila in favor of a ravishing Indian beauty, Neela, a television producer, whose appearance in Central Park literally stops men in their tracks. Neela's political activism leads her to Lilliput-Blefuscu, a country in the South Pacific experiencing a civil war, and Solanka follows her. In the end he is back in London, making his presence felt to his son by shouting at the top of his voice at the sky. It is unclear if this gesture brings them closer to a reunion.
Fury is overloaded with references to American national events and notable figures at the turn of the century, including the "Gush-Bore" presidential election; Elian Gonzalez; the 2000 Puerto Rican Day incident in which gangs of boys and men sexually assaulted fifty women in Central Park; Monica Lewinsky; Meg Ryan; Dennis Quaid--the list runs long. The technique enables Rushdie to write what unmistakably is an "American novel," though he risks dating the novel for later generations of readers. The Americanness of Fury is indelibly stamped also on Rushdie's English, which now conforms to American usage, both in spelling and idiom. Like Solanka, Rushdie tries hard to fit.
If Solanka succeeds somewhat in adapting himself as a New Yorker, however, Rushdie has not necessarily been able to convince others that he can grasp American culture and politics. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he wrote several journalistic articles in The New York Times and The Guardian that expressed, somewhat superficially, his optimism and assumptions about the United States. Step across This Line: Collected Nonfiction, 1992-2002 , which he published in 2002, reprints many of these articles. Though Rushdie admits in an interview with Weich that "I don't feel American, but I do feel like a New Yorker," Step across This Line demonstrates that Rushdie blurs the boundary between New York and the United States in essays he has written since the 1990s. Michiko Kakutani, who had admiringly reviewed Rushdie's other works (except The Ground beneath Her Feet), wrote in The New York Times (13 September 2002) that "when it comes to discussing specific aspects of America . . . Mr. Rushdie can sound decidedly naïve or glib." Kakutani points out the solution Rushdie proposed during the 2000 presidential election impasse: a coalition of both George Bush and Al Gore, the two men being president and vice president and switching roles midterm. This piece appears as "December 2000: A Grand Coalition" in Step across This Line and ends with a footnote that Rushdie attached on hindsight. In it he expresses dissatisfaction at the Bush administration for being "a hard-line, ideological, right-wing regime" and laments his "columnist's fate to be rendered absurd by events." Curiously, Rushdie seems unaware of the absurdity of his election fix.
Rushdie appears critical of the Bush administration for its conservative propensities in the above statement, but its policy toward the Islamic world in the wake of 11 September 2001 receives his full endorsement; he, in fact, recommends a harsher approach in dealing with Muslims, making no attempt to distinguish between the fanatics on the fringe and the moderates in the majority. His leftist orientation, which dates back to the 1960s when he participated in peace marches to protest the Vietnam War, goes through a drastic shift. In "November 2001: Not about Islam?" Rushdie unequivocally expresses his loathing of Islam and justifies it with a sampling of rabid Muslim opinions on the attack on the World Trade Center. In essays such as "October 2001: The Attacks on America" and "February 2001: Anti-Americanism," he strikes at the Western intellectual establishment that, after 11 September, sought to examine the sociopolitical causes of anti-American feelings in the Islamic world and to determine if U.S. foreign policy had unwittingly contributed to such a virulent brand of Islam. In the introduction to a special issue of Twentieth Century Literature (Spring 2001), which is appropriately titled "Reading Rushdie after September 11, 2001," Sabina Sawhney and Simona Sawhney postulate that perhaps on 11 September, Rushdie experienced an echo of the fatwa and that this reminder accounts for his reaction to the catastrophe. They recall Rushdie's earlier views on Palestine and Kashmir, indicate his changed perspectives on these issues since 2001, and describe Rushdie as "not the first writer to present us with a set of political writings incongruent with the general trajectory of his work." Both critics, however, feel that Rushdie's fiction still preempts any accusation that the excitement of writing about the United States has thoroughly blinded him to its ills. They point out "the caustic description of American imperialism in Fury, " the work immediately preceding Step across This Line.
Indeed, articles on literature and authors in Step across This Line present a Rushdie who is eccentric as well as perceptive. The essay on J. M. Coetzee , for example, is quite unusual. About the South African author's novel Disgrace (1999), Rushdie writes: "The book unquestionably fulfills the first requirement of a great novel: it powerfully creates a dystopia that adds to the sum total of the imagined worlds at our disposal and by doing so, increases what is possible for us to think." In addition to such indeterminate pronouncements, Rushdie calls Coetzee's language in Disgrace "bone-hard" and opines that the novel is "coherent enough--coherent in its privileging of incoherence, striving to make of its blindness a sort of metaphoric insight." Hermione Lee of The Guardian (14 December 2002) suggests that this "occasional mean streak" in Step across This Line, Rushdie's "grudging reaction to Coetzee's Disgrace, " occurs because it "beat Rushdie to the Commonwealth prize."
Nevertheless, Step across This Line balances such want of critical breadth by offering fine essays on the motion-picture version of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and on authors such as Angela Carter , Arthur Miller , and Edward W. Said . Equally beautifully written are Rushdie's reflections in the section "Messages from the Plague Years," where he recounts his days under the fatwa. Rushdie is an avid proponent of freedom of expression in the third world and is always willing to lend his support to a persecuted author. He has come to the defense of other controversial writers and activists--for example, Michel Houellebecq of France, Taslima Nasrin of Bangladesh, and Ken Sarawiwi of Nigeria--and has written to champion their right to dissent. The letter he wrote to espouse the cause of Nasrin is republished in Step across This Line. "A Dream of Glorious Return" describes his trip back to India in 2000 after the fatwa--the title, Rushdie does not forget to remind his readers, echoes words from The Satanic Verses. The trip was an emotional one to Rushdie because he went back to India after thirteen years; it was memorable also because his son Zafar accompanied him.
Step across This Line ends with a two-part essay, Rushdie's Tanner lecture at Yale University in 2002; it is the piece that gives the book its title. In this essay--musing on boundaries, examining the compulsion of border crossings, contemplating what seems to be a postnationalist future, and meandering on many topics--Rushdie finally dwells on the plight of the immigrants in the United States and advocates globalization. Rushdie's fiction since Shame has been moving toward such a prospect. In Shame he introduces the idea that mohajirs or immigrants "come unstuck from their native land," that they "fly" and "flee" in search of freedom, that their "anti-gravity" is "anti-belonging." The Satanic Verses, which demonstrates Rushdie's powerful treatment of migrancy, depicts London as a city experiencing clashes of ethnicities and "offers," in Peter Kalliney's words in "Globalization, Postcoloniality, and the Problem of Literary Studies in The Satanic Verses" (2002), "a narrative of globalization as a cure for the ills of postcolonialism." Indeed, The Moor's Last Sigh, The Ground beneath Her Feet, and Fury, works Rushdie wrote since The Satanic Verses, deal with diasporic characters and issues of global migration. Not many would agree, however, that globalization in the form of mass migration of the third-world underprivileged into Western countries, such as Britain and the United States, can solve the ills of postcolonialism.
Rushdie shows an awareness of the complexity surrounding migrancy in Shalimar the Clown (2005). Spanning three continents--North America, Europe, and Asia--the novel treats the themes of globalization and terrorism. The title character grows up in Kashmir in a community of gastronomes and actors who, when their service is called upon, provide both food and fun for rich patrons. Shalimar marries his childhood sweetheart, Boonyi, a Hindu Brahmin teenager, but he eventually joins Muslim terrorists when she becomes the mistress of the American ambassador in India, Max Ophuls, in order to escape the confines and boredom of Kashmir. Shalimar ends up in Los Angeles years later, having murdered his wife, and he finds employment as the retired Ophuls's valet and chauffeur. Biding his time for a while, Shalimar slits his employer's throat at the doorstep of India Ophuls, the illegitimate daughter Ophuls fathered with Boonyi and raised himself. What spurs Shalimar into action is a television talk show in which Ophuls fulminates raw hatred at Kashmiri separatists receiving support from Islamic jihadists. Ophuls's rage falls on deaf ears because the interview takes place years before the attacks of 11 September, at a time when the American public did not view Islamic terror as a credible threat to national security. The violence in Kashmir received even less attention. Ophuls's claim that pre-separatist Kashmir was paradise inflames the taciturn Shalimar.
Reactions to Shalimar the Clown were mixed at best. Reviewers pointed out many flaws in the novel. Their major concern was Rushdie's style, which takes the reader on frequent digressions. Kakutani complained in The New York Times (6 September 2005) of "Rushdie's determination to graft huge political and cultural issues onto a flimsy soap opera plot." Kakutani deemed the book as disappointing as Rushdie's two preceding novels The Ground beneath Her Feet and Fury. Also writing in The New York Times (23 October 2005), Laura Miller observed that "Cascading clauses are a Rushdie trademark; they can be taken as a manifestation of abundant imagination or as a symptom of poor writerly discipline," implying that the latter is the case with Rushdie. John Updike's review in The New Yorker (5 September 2005), Marco Roth's in TLS: The Times Literary Supplement (25 September 2005), and Mishra's in The New York Review of Books (5 October 2005) expressed strikingly similar opinions on Rushdie's writing. Not only did these reviewers object to the overabundance of words in Shalimar the Clown, they also deplored the implausible characters that inhabit the tale. Indeed, both Max and India Ophuls are so outstanding in their accomplishments that they cease to be credible. Roth sarcastically noted that Rushdie's characters "[n]o longer . . . have personalities, they have resumes."
According to some reviewers, the locales in Shalimar the Clown, both Los Angeles and a Kashmir village, also appear improbable. Mishra wondered if the idealized villagers could ever have existed in any part of the real Kashmir before the separatist movement. He astutely questioned the religious harmony in the community and took Rushdie to task for making the Muslims more accommodating of Hindu customs and beliefs than vice versa. Mishra also attacked Rushdie for vastly oversimplifying the troubled politics behind the political divide, pointing out that the "anti-India insurgency" was owing in large measure to "the thwarted Kashmiri desire to embrace 'the modern' . . . and was not dominated by jihadi Islamists until the mid-1990s."
Updike explained that some of the problems in Shalimar the Clown arose from the fact that Rushdie is both "a cause célèbre and a free-speech martyr" and that the years he spent in hiding honed his interest in two topics: "celebrity and human cruelty." Less kind than Updike, Roth attributed the weaknesses of the novel to Rushdie's "pursuit of that elusive beast, the great global novel." It should be clarified, however, that, although a "global" novel, Shalimar the Clown, in contrast to the views expressed in Step across This Line, does not champion migrancy, nor does Rushdie paint terrorism with a broad brush. Shalimar's vengeful trek from his native Kashmir to Los Angeles is beset with violence and comes to a gory conclusion when an arrow shot by India, who happens to be a competent archer, hits him. Since his embrace of terrorism is to avenge a great personal loss, Shalimar can hardly be called a holy warrior with an ideological motive. Those who become terrorists, Rushdie seems to suggest, are often motivated by nonideological reasons; they accept a militant doctrine because of political instability in their native lands. Another aspect of Shalimar the Clown is its potential for allegorical interpretation. Ophuls's dalliance with Boonyi, who is also called "Bhoomi" or "the earth" and whose restive temperament leads her to the American ambassador of German Jewish origin, offers fertile interpretive ground and will occupy scholars for years to come.
Salman Rushdie remains an immense figure in postcolonial and postmodern studies. Regardless of the controversies he raises, he is an acknowledged master of storytelling, one who boldly experiments with new techniques, questions long-held beliefs, and opposes dogmatism in his fiction. The strongest evidence of Rushdie's prominence in the contemporary literary scene is the overwhelming scholarly attention he has received. Book-length studies of Rushdie alone number about twenty, while reviews of his books, critical essays on his work, and interviews of him in magazines, scholarly journals, and books are plentiful. Doctoral dissertations and master's theses that treat Rushdie or view him in relation to other authors number nearly eighty titles. Any researcher of Rushdie has to grapple with nearly two thousand items, which also include a daunting quantity of sociological and ethnic studies written in the wake of the controversy over The Satanic Verses. Such critical attention to an author is indicative of his canonical status. Especially in South Asian English writing, he is an awesome presence--so much that a whole new generation of Indian writers has been labeled as "Rushdie's Children" by Time magazine (16 December 1991) and as "India's Post-Rushdie Generation" by The New York Times (3 July 2000).