One reason I haven't been around much lately is I have been (finally) reading Salman Rushdie's latest 2005
1997classic Shalimar the Clown.
Like all great writers Rushdie tends to be ahead of his time, sometimes far ahead. Just as his Satanic Verses presaged the new Age of Blasphemy, and made Rushdie itself was one of the first victims, so Shalimar describes a national suicide that could yet befall America.
Rushdie's subject is his beloved Kashmir, whose suicide remains an ongoing tragedy. His theme is that intolerance, not tolerance, is the norm, and that no one is immune. His final scene, in fact, takes place in a Beverly Hills bedroom.
There is no way for me to spoil this for you. Rushdie is the greatest writer living in the English language, because he knows so many forms of English. When he writes from India, his sentences are long, filled with the fragrance of allusion, often hilarious. When he writes from America his sentences become shorter, his adjectives fewer, his immigrant wonder clear. When he writes from Europe everything becomes action. I know of no other writer who can truly become different places like that. Some can become different people, Rushdie becomes the flavor of places.
The heart of the book is one page-long paragraph that starts on page 296 of the hard cover edition, after India has decided that the only way to end the crisis over Kashmir is to destroy its people. I'm going to quote only one sentence, and I hope it doesn't violate fair use (because it's a long sentence). Suffice it to say you want to read the first half of the paragraph, along with this, and then you'll be ready for a good, long cry:
There was one bathroom per three hundred persons in many camps why was that and the medical dispensaries lacked basic first-aid materials why was that and thousands of the displaced died because of inadequate food and shelter why was that maybe five thousand deaths because of intense heat and humidity because of snake bites and gastroenteritis and dengue fever and stress disabetes and kidney ailments and tuberculosis and psychoneurosis and there was not a single health survey conducted by the government why was that and the pandits of Kashmir were left to rot in their slum camps, to rot while the army and the insurgency fought over the bloodied and broken valley, to dream of return, to die while dreaming of return, to die after the dream of return died so that they could not even die dreaming of it, why was that why was that why was that why was that why was that.
The utter destruction of a people, because they got in the way of others' ambitions, the continued destruction of decent, tolerant people by the intolerant and their intolerance, is the great theme of Rushdie, the great theme of our time, and the great evil we must fight, every day, in our own hearts and minds, in those of our children, in those of our neighbors.
We must fight this evil in our churches. We must fight it in our politics. We must fight our leaders when they display it. We must fight our own manipulation through their use of propaganda. Because if we lose that fight, if enough of us lose that fight, then the whole temple of America comes crashing down on our heads, we will self-destruct in an orgy of hatred for the other and there will be nothing left here but land.
To quote another writer, T.S. Eliot, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.
When will the Nobel committee have the nerve and wisdom to give this man what he deserves? Why is that why is that why is that?