Saturday, February 17, 2007

Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie

Shalimar the Clown - Salman Rushdie

If you have ever had occasion to read a work of Salman Rushdie, you will know what a challenge that can be. Rushdie is not for the mentally lazy.

However, if you take the time to get into his work, you will be rewarded with stories that are rich, imagery that is breathtaking and characters who are multidimensional. All three of these are present in Shalimar the Clown.

Shalimar traces the life of an ordinary theatre performer who grew up in the dipsuted Kashmir province of India (or ...Pakistan) an area that is frequently described throughout the novel as a mountainous winter wonderland. All is good with Shalimar, the main character and his life seems perfect when the family of the beautiful Boonyi accept his marriage proposal.

However, life takes a turn for the worse for Shalimar at the same time as Kashmir is plunged into darkness through war end ethnic conflict. Boonyi is seduced by the American Ambassador to India, Max Ophuls, whose own life Rushdie describes in a historical context that keeps the reader rivetted. Boonyi would bear the Ambassador a daughter, with whom the novel both begins and ends. As his village is engulfed in the violence that was and is the India-Pakistan conflict - exacerbated by the newly-minted Indian general, Hammirdev Kachhaha, whose affections Boonyi had spurned years before, Shalimar swears his revenge.

The non-linear novel reads like a Quentin Tarantino film, jumping in parts from one historical period to the other; beginning with modern-day Los Angeles and Shalimar's ultimate vindication over his romantic rival, Max Ophuls, jumping back to Second World War Vichy France and the coming-of-age of the German-born Ambassador, to the interim decades in peaceful and then war-torn Kashmir, and then coming full-circle to modern-day Los Angeles and the realization of India/Kashmir Ophuls of the checkered history of her family.

As difficult as the story is sometimes to follow - again, the reader must be patient and attentive with Rushdie, it is a fantastic story for those who are interested in modern Asian (and European) history and for those who just like a good story of love, betrayal and revenge.

French immersion

Recently, there was a successful lobby to establish French immersion programs in both Dundas and Waterdown. Classes are scheduled to begin this fall.

The decision by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board attracted modest media attention. Cathy, Liam and I got on Board after hearing about the efforts indirectly at the Dundas Cactus Festival this past summer. We signed up, attended some meetings and intend on enrolling Liam for September 2011 (he's only six months old at this point).

Discussion around French immersion has brought out the usual types who oppose anything French and believe it cripples kids' ability to function in English (please!). Have a look at this gem of a letter to the Hamilton Spectator from someone in Burlington (go figure) who feels that its good enough for people to "get by" with English, and who needs any other language:

Letter from Burlington man opposed to French immersion

Naturally, I was compelled to respond. I kept my comments brief, as I know they prefer it that way in the editorial room at the Spec. Its times like this I wish I was still writing for the Spec's Community Editorial Board:


I beg to differ with the letter writer who decried the "abysmal lack of proper English usage" in his objection to the revival of interest in French immersion in Hamilton.

I would hope that we, as parents and teachers, aspire to more for our children than having them simply "get by quite well with just English". Granted, the international language of business and technology may becoming more and more anglicized, but the imminent linguistic genocide of other languages, like French, is a little further away than the letter-writer seems to have suggested.

Employment in the public service, even employment prospects themselves, need not be the primary motivator for enrolling one's son or daughter in French immersion. Becoming conversant in French is of unquantifiable advantage in a country like Canada, or in a world where it is the second most influential language. Promoting French is not only a matter of national unity, but a shot in the arm for global citizenship. Or am I in the wrong country? Or on the wrong planet?

Furthermore, the fact is literacy skills in a second or third language complement, and in even enhance those in the first language. The letter writer needn't worry about French sucking the life out of English language skills. It isn't a zero-sum proposition. So, call me a snob but my son starts immersion in September 2011. I'm sorry the letter writer's children (or grandchildren) may miss out.

I hope they print my letter, too.