Sunday, January 11, 2009

Joy and Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

The last few weeks have been especially tumultuous . My parents have decided to move on (for the time being) from Hyderabad, and a few weeks ago I dropped off the last of my family in Hyderabad at the airport. Sort of overseeing the transition. All grown up. Hmm.. well... during this trip I visited Gitanjali, my school in Begampet. Since I have been away on college and work for a long time, I find that my memories of Hyderabad have increasing become also the memories of my school days. I hadnt been there in a long long while, and decided to poke in.

The school looked exactly the same. Nothing in the building had changed too much. Same old three storey pile of bricks and window grills that it used to be then. But, for the entire time that I was there, I was extremely aware of the vast extent to which I have changed. I guess it helps when you are at a point of reference.

The school building that inspired such awe in me back then, was just a plain old building now. The vast playing field of my memory now seemed like a much smaller, rather cramped yard. I remember flying out of class with my cronies back then, during lunch break or PT.. or on toilet breaks between classes, running down the stairs, across the stage where assembly happened. I remember the feeling of absolute joy when we cleared the stage with a leap - jumping into the field and running across to play our game of raggedy football. I felt a bit deflated that this was all it really was.

But maybe it wasn't. As a few days have gone by the memory of my recent visit has faded away, but I still remember the vast sunlit field that I ran across a several hundred times - where serious friendships and rivalries were played out everyday - away from the censure of adults. The vast brown field will always be more real the rather cramped yard that deflated me.

This post is however, not about the lost joys of childhood. Its not, really. I have recently come to realize what I think I have known for some time now. The opposite is also true. This post is, therefore, about discovering the joys of adulthood.

I had tried reading Rushdie a few years ago when I was in college, urged on by a few of my friends who were Rushdie fans back then. Midnight's Children annoyed me, I remember. I found his process of story telling too tedious, too roundabout. I wonder if there is a saying somewhere that some things in this world one enjoys better with age.

I had managed to go through my relatively sparse but rapidly expanding bookshelf of my home in Bangalore. During a visit back to Hyderabad, my grandmother, a reader with a voracious appetite, handed me Shalimar the Clown. Fueled by my memories of Midnight's Children the book spent a fair amount of time being neglected before I decided to give it a go.

In Shalimar.. Rushdie goes on talking endlessly about his characters, their thoughts, there routines, the story is made to seem almost incidental. An aberration to their daily lives. Is that not how any story really is?

I have never been to Kashmir. I have heard it being called "Paradise on Earth" before, but I have never been imaginative enough to really understand what that meant. Rushdie told me in Shalimar... He also told me, with immense sorrow, how Kashmir has been smashed between the two heavy grease coated metal plates of the Indian Army and the Pakistani terrorists. I feel a sense of loss now. Kashmir had ceased to be a paradise long before I was born and I, thus, could never experience what I envied the characters in the book for having experienced.

The book made me at once curious to visit Kashmir and see it for what it is today, and apprehensive of visiting it in a way. I was afraid, sorrowful at having lost what I never had.

The book starts off magically. And holds on to the magic until about three fourths through. It degenerates into a mere story once Kashmir has efficiently smashed. Once the iron mullahs have forced the women into wearing veils, the army has started using rape as a tactic to demoralize the population, a pogrom against the Pandits of Kashmir goes virtually unnoticed...... the magic is lost. Its impossible to hold on to it... no?

Maybe I will visit Kashmir one day, and compare what my eyes see with what I saw in Shalimar the Clown. In the meantime, I am overjoyed at the hope that there is an antidote to discovering that your childhood palaces are merely modest houses built into life.


Hari said...

You leave me with a feeling of - Sigh..

Suri said...

Well written ! There is indeed a joy in growing up. A joy that offsets the disappointment accompanying the realization that our football matches involved a majority of the players running after the one ball and kicking each other.

That said, I still (fondly) remember one of my earliest goals on that vast vast sunlit field ! It was a free kick, and I think Gautam was the keeper. I got the ball between him and the near post, the crowd loved it !

All of us should visit the school together sometime ( I will not crib this time , I promise :D ).