Reflections on “Shalimar the Clown” during a Cold Day in Early Spring

A quote from Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown seems to me to capture the political reality under which we live.  Perhaps the reality under which we’ve always lived; at least those of us deluded into thinking we’ve lived in a democracy:

…in this occult soil the seeds of the future are being planted, and the time of the invisible world will come, the time of the altered dialectic, the time of the dialectic gone underground, when anonymous spectral armies will fight in secret over the fate of the earth.

It involves an observation set in 1968, that magical year when everything seemed possible and we were set on changing the world for the better, when we profoundly believed that in our time, the phrase “idealistic utopian” would cease to be a pejorative; the time before the 70s and then the 80s when most of us were tamed by the traditional responsibilities of family life and children and all that that entails and we unexpectedly and suddenly became our parents and grandparents and other things less positive, the things against which we once thought we fought.

Perhaps, based on his own all too interesting life, Rushdie may have been reflecting on that unstructured structure that constantly strives, as do memeplexes of diverse flavors, to survive and grow and amalgamate everything around it, and, as around becomes grander, perhaps merely everything.  Perhaps, even unbeknown to himself, that is what he felt when he published Shalimar the Clown in 2006.  During that 2006 when a deep state within a state within many states, ironically already feeling itself all powerful, or at least more powerful than ever (after the convenient events of September 11, 2001), still concealed, was extending its tendrils through shadows and echoes and deep, dark smog. 

Shalimar the Clown focuses on a paradise gang raped and despoiled by rising powers but mirrored in other places today.  It tastes and smells of divided India invading the body of divided Kashmir and there planting its seed of mixed Jewish and French and American chromosomes in a metaphorically paradisiacal womb generating a disturbing progeny, kin to disturbing progenies planted in too many elsewheres.  Too many times.

As in all of Rushdie’s books, it is rife in sensorial splendor with sights and sounds mixed with flavors and aromas and caresses and blows in a stew of historical facts and philosophical speculations spiced with peppers and in this case, Himalayan salt.  A book in which to lose oneself and wake wiser.

A book certainly worth reading and rereading and rereading again, as I’ve done, as are all of Rushdie’s gifts to us.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at and much of his writing is available through his blog at

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