Archive for December, 2005


Just out in Agra (India), seeing the light in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, is volume 4 (January-December 2005) of the critical journal PEGASUS (chief editor: Dr Usha Walters Kishore, Head of the Department of English Studies and Research, Agra College). It includes, among other things, articles on Amitav Ghosh (Jaydeep Sarangi), Arundhati Roy and D.H. Lawrence (N. Jaradhanan), Shashi Deshpande (Ranjini Jyothi Singh; Nazneen Khan), Rudyard Kipling (Jaya Lakshmi Rao), Emily Dickinson (Ajay Kumar Jha) and Robert Frost (M. Rameshwor Singh). It also has the full text of my own review of the study by Dora Sales Salvador, ‘Puentes sobre el mundo: Cultura, traducción y forma literaria en las narrativas de transculturación de José María Arguedas y Vikram Chandra’ (‘Bridges over the world: Culture, translation and literary form in the narratives of transculturation of José María Arguedas and Vikram Chandra’) (see other mentions on this blog).



I have just finished Salman Rushdie’s ‘Shalimar the Clown’ (NY: Random House, 2005, 398 pp.) and venture the statement that – as some have already suggested – this is not just his best novel since the fatwa but, quite simply, the best thing he has ever written. I shall try to justify this objectively in ‘eleven theses’ below, and I do hope to write a full-length study in due course.
The novel moves backwards and forwards in globalised fashion between Kashmir, the US, France and Britain, and covers a period from the 1930s to the present day. It begins with the cold-blooded murder in L.A. of Maximilian Ophuls, former US ambassador to India, by a Kashmiri terrorist militant calling himself Shalimar the Clown. It is a revenge killing for Ophuls’ earlier seduction of the Muslim Shalimar’s late (Hindu) wife, Boonyi. The other main character is Max’s daughter by Boonyi, named India aka Kashmira. The book’s five sections are named: India – Boonyi – Max – Shalimar the Clown – Kashmira.
1. It is far and away Rushdie’s best-researched novel. Perhaps taking a leaf from Vikram Seth’s book, he has meticulously researched everything from Kashmiri theatre and cuisine to the details of middle-class life in pre-war Strasbourg to the horrors of death row in California. The historical context is minutely realised, with much ‘real’ detail interpolated. Certain political figures from Rushdie’s earlier novels return in the novel’s wings – Indira Gandhi, General Ayub Khan. The results of the research are far more convincing than, for instance, the highly dubious, stereotyped representation of Spain at the end of ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’.**
2. As critics have noted, magic realism is used only sparingly by comparison with, say, ‘Midnight’s Children’ or ‘Shame’. There is a woman (Firdaus) who communicates with snakes; Boonyi communes with her dead mother Pamposh; a Kashmiri Islamist cell is led by an ‘iron mullah’ made out of discarded (Indian) army scrap, who seems a terrible parody of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz (but neither having nor seeking a heart). All in all, however, it is straight realism – be it grim or poetic – that dominates.**
3. The book is an elegy for ‘the broken heart of Kashmir’ (247). The old Kashmir is seen as a relatively tolerant, eclectic society crushed from all sides by ‘the new zero-tolerance world’ (290). Popular traditions flourished; the burqa was almost unknown; Hindus, Muslims and indeed Jews lived side by side, and Boonyi and Shalimar’s marriage is even a Hindu-Muslim match; humans lived in harmony with nature among honey-bees and peach-trees. Rushdie’s evocations of this lost Kashmir recall similar lyrical passages in ‘Midnight’s Children’ and ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’.**
4. Militant Islamism irrupts into Kashmir, with support from Pakistan’s ISI. Rushdie, as one might expect, sees this as an unmitigated disaster. The passages on forced imposition of the (culturally alien) burqa are particularly memorable (277, 301, 364).**
5. The Indian state, however, seems little better. Its centralised TV destroys the folk culture of the popular theatre; its army imposes vicious ‘crackdown’ tactics in Kashmir.**
6. Nor does the West appear as any kind of humane alternative. Here there is a sharp turnaround from ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ and ‘Fury’, where Rushdie seemed all but given over to US mass-cultural superficiality and the writing, especially in the latter, was often dangerously one-dimensional. Here, the LA passages too read as one-dimensional, recalling Thomas Pynchon’s ‘The Crying of Lot 49’, but that now seems a deliberate strategy. Max’s seduction of Boonyi appears as cynical exploitation; the whole Californian police, judicial and prison machinery exposed in the death-row scenes at the end comes across as just as oppressive and inhuman as the Indian army’s methods. The French section, set in Strasbourg and Clermont-Ferrand, focuses on Nazism, Vichy, the Shoah and a highly ambivalent French Resistance, and, to say the least, does not glorify the West at all. Rushdie’s ‘Indian’ visiting of France is a far cry from Raja Rao’s dialogic encounter with French culture in ‘The Serpent and the Rope’. **
7. Rushdie has said in a recent interview that he believes in multiculturalism but not in cultural relativism. It is clear from this novel that he stands by the intellectual’s duty to criticise oppression everywhere (the burqa or the US death penalty), be it in Western or non-Western societies.**
8. A single episode contains a devastating critique of American political correctness and the counterproductive effects of its rule-governed mindset. On p. 381, India-Kashmira borrows a pair of night-vision goggles from a security guard who is breaking his employer’s ‘draconian new rules of engagement’ by speaking to her on non-business matters. Had he not disobeyed the rules, it is clear that on p. 398 she would have been killed. This episode is in its way as powerful a critique of PC as all of Philip Roth’s ‘The Human Stain’. This and the previous point also serve to demarcate Rushdie from a certain cultural-relativist, politically correct Anglo-Saxon ‘left’ – in fact from those who abandoned him at the time of the fatwa.**
9. The world of this novel is globalised but violent. Cruelty, oppression and superficiality seem ever more deeply rooted in India, in the Islamic world and in the West. No culture comes out unscathed.**
10. Rushdie has been accused in the past of peddling Orientalist stereotypes to Western readers seeking the exotic. An episode like the burning spicefields or ‘world’s biggest curry’ in ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’ might bear out such a claim. However, ‘Shalimar’, with its lovingly detailed accounts of Kashmiri food, crafts, music, etc (‘fenugreek-scented cottage cheese and tomatoes …’ – 104) , escapes such strictures. We should recall that Rushdie has an Indian readership too and that when he writes about the West he could be seen by some as reproducing ‘Occidentalist’ clichés. This may be true of ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ (fashion, hedonism, rock celebrity lifestyle, etc), but again such a charge does not stick here. It is also worth noting that the West in its darkest aspects (Nazism/the Shoah/World War II) has been the recent subject of ‘Occidentalist’ treatments by other leading IWE figures – Anita Desai in ‘The Zigzag Way’, Vikram Seth in ‘Two Lives’.**
11. So is there any redemption anywhere in Rushdie’s fictional world? The book’s ending is open-ended, ambivalent. Throughout, apparent victories metamorphose into defeat: to give but one example, Boonyi cures herself of dire bulimia by a magical effort of self-healing, but in the long run that cure does not preserve her life. The reader may find redemptive glimpses in popular creativity (albeit destroyed), in natural beauty (even if man ravages it), in the lost cultural hybridity of the old Kashmir, and, of course and as always, in the creative resources of language in Rushdie the novelist’s hands, in the words on the page. As to Rushdie’s universe of globalised violence and dogma where human values – ‘old-time tolerance and hope’ (282) – still struggle to prevail, we may sum it up In the words of Bob Dylan, a Literature Nobel candidate whose poetic songwriting we know Rushdie admires: ‘It’s an everlasting battle / For a peace that’s always torn’.

Lorca, POET IN NEW YORK – bilingual production in the Big Apple

According to the French publication VOCABLE – ESPAGNOL (‘Lorca vuelve a Nueva York’ – ‘Lorca returns to New York’, 15-20 December 2005, p. 29), 2006 will see the premiere at an off-Broadway venue of a dramatised version of Federico García Lorca’s major poem-sequence, POETA EN NEW YORK (POET IN NEW YORK), written in 1929-1930 and published posthumously in 1940. The show will be bilingual, performed on alternate nights in Spanish and English. This exemplary bilingual gesture seems especially suited to a work which is not only about an intercultural encounter but was actually first published (in the USA) in a parallel-text bilingual edition.

Lorca, POETA EN NUEVA YORK – espactáculo bilingüe en La Gran Manzana

Según la publicación francesa VOCABLE – ESPAGNOL (‘Lorca vuelve a Nueva York’, 15-20 diciembre 2005, p. 29), en 2006 se estrenerá, en un teatro ‘off-Broadway’ neoyorquino, una versión teatral de la gran secuencia de poemas de Federico García Lorca, POETA EN NEW YORK, compuesta en 1929-1930 y publicada póstumamente en 1940. Este espectáculo será bilingüe, tanto en castellano como en inglés, en funciones alternadas. Este muy loable bilingüismo parece particularmente adecuado a una obra que no sólo cuenta el encuentro intercultural sino fue publicada por primera vez (en EE UU) en, precisamente, un texto paralelo bilingüe.


Just out in Spain is the reissue of the Spanish-language version of Vikram Chandra’s novel of 1995, ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’ – ‘Tierra roja y lluvia torrencial’ (Madrid: Siruela, 2005). This edition has been prepared by Dr Dora Sales Salvador of the Universidad Jaume I de Castellón, who is also the author of ‘Puentes sobre el mundo’, a study partly devoted to that novel which originated as her doctoral thesis, as well as being the co-translator of ‘Love and Longing in Bombay’/’Amor y añoranza en Bombay’, also by Chandra. It offers a number of significant improvements on the previous Spanish version (translator: José Luís Fernández-Villanueva Cencio). The text itself has been improved, and, in addition, Dora Sales has added a glossary of Indian terms and an introductory note. Besides, the Spanish title (previously cut down to ‘Tierra roja’/’Red Earth’), has been changed to bring it into line with the original. The Spanish-language reading public now has a new chance to discover the fascinating and rewarding literary world of Vikram Chandra, whose next novel, ‘Sacred Games’, will be published in English in autumn 2006.



Acaba de salir, en el mercado del Estado español, la reedición de la traducción al castellano de la novela ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’ (1995) de Vikram Chandra: ‘Tierra roja y lluvia torrencial’ (Madrid: Siruela, 2005). A cargo de Dora Sales Salvador (profesora de la Universidad Jaume I de Castellón, autora de ‘Puentes sobre el mundo’, libro y tesis doctoral que incide sobre esta misma novela, y co-traductora de ‘Love and Longing in Bombay’/’Amor y añoranza en Bombay’, también de Chandra), esta nueva edición ofrece algunas importantes mejoras relativamente a la anterior (traductor: José Luís Fernández-Villanueva Cencio). No sólo que se ha mejorado el texto en sí, sino que se ha añadido un glosario de términos indios y una nota introductoria, además de que el título en castellano (en la edición anterior recortado para quedarse en ‘Tierra roja’ y basta) ha sido modificado para acercarse al original. El público lector hispano tendrá, así, una nueva oportunidad de descubrir el rico y fascinante universo literario de Vikram Chandra, cuya próxima novela, ‘Sacred Games’, saldrá en lengua inglesa en el otoño de 2006.

Georges Moustaki meets his admirers – Metz, 30 Nov 05

On 30 November 2005, the Geronimo bookshop (Metz, France) hosted an open event with the charming and gifted Greco-French singer-songwriter Georges Moustaki.  Moustaki, the author of such immortal songs as ‘Les amis de Georges’, ‘Ma Liberté’ and ‘Milord’ (the last-named recorded by Edith Piaf), is not only a remarkable songwriter and performer, but has enormous charisma as an individual. ** Photos: Moustaki signing for his admirers. ** Comment by Danièle Brunner, kindly emailed to us: ** "Bravo et merci Monsieur Jo Moustaki, vous êtes un grand de la chanson française, plein de talent et de modestie. Continuez longtemps de nous enchanter. – Danièle"