Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

Posted: July 11, 2014 in Book Notes

When Firdaus asked, “What do you have to thank Durga for? You worshipped her for nine days and on the tenth she took your wife.”

Pandit Pyarelal replied, “When you pray for what you most want in the world, its opposite comes along with it. I was given a woman whom I truly loved and who truly loved me. The opposite side of such a love is the pain of its loss. I can only feel such pain today because until yesterday I knew that love, and that is surely a thing for which to thank whoever or whatever you like, the goddess, or fate, or just my lucky stars.

  • No mysteries here or depths; only surfaces and revelations.
  • Again with the religious imagery. New images urgently needed to be made. Images for a godless world. Until the language of irreligion caught up with the holy stuff, until there was a sufficient poetry and iconography of godlessness, these sainted echoes would never fade, would retain their problematic power, even over her.
  • … a frontierless newfound land of infinite possibility.
  • [The words Hindu and Muslim] were merely descriptions, not divisions.
  • … her ravenous longing for something she could not yet name, and that as she grew older her life’s insufficiency would only grow harder and more painful to bear.
  • Thus power does its work by stealth, and the powerful can subsequently deny that their strength was ever used at all.
  • … not only discretion and seriousness but also complete docility, absolute compliance, maximum attentiveness, exceptional eagerness to please and unlimited access…
  • It is not easy to look down on others when one’s own position lacks elevation.
  • All that remained between them was death, but the deferment of death was life.
  • He went into his blighted apple orchard, seated himself cross-legged beneath a tree, closed his eyes, heard the verses of the Rig-Veda fill the world with beauty and ceased upon the midnight with no pain.


The Palace of Power

“The palace of power is a labyrinth of interconnecting rooms,” Max once said to his sleepy child. She imagined it into being, walked towards it, half-dreaming, half-awake. “It’s windowless,” Max said, “and there is no visible door. Your first task is to find out how to get in. When you’ve solved that riddle, when you come as a supplicant into the first anteroom of power, you will find in it a man with the head of a jackal, who will try to chase you out again. If you stay, he will try to gobble you up. If you can trick your way past him, you will enter a second room, guarded this time by a man with the head of a rabid dog, and in the room after that you’ll face a man with the head of a hungry bear, and so on. In the last room but one there’s a man with the head of a fox. This man will not try to keep you away from the last room, in which the man of true power sits. Rather, he will try to convince you that you are already in that room and that he himself is that man. If you succeed in seeing through the fox-man’s tricks, and if you get past him, you will find yourself in the room of power. The room of power is unimpressive and in it the man of power faces you across an empty desk. He looks small, insignificant, fearful; for now that you have penetrated his defences he must give you your heart’s desire. That’s the rule. But on the way out the fox-man, the bear-man, the dog-man and the jackal-man are no longer there. Instead, the rooms are full of half human flying monsters, winged men with the heads of birds, eagle-men and vulture-men, man-gannets and hawk-men. They swoop down and rip at your treasure. Each of them claws back a little piece of it. How much of it will you manage to bring out of the house of power? You beat at them, you shield the treasure with your body. They rake at your back with gleaming blue-white claws. And when you’ve made it and are outside again, squinting painfully in the bright light and clutching your poor, torn remnant, you must persuade the skeptical crowd- the envious, impotent crowd- that you have returned with everything you wanted. If you don’t, you’ll be marked as a failure forever.”


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