An Interview with Salman Rushdie on Kashmir

"Shalimar the Clown" is set for the most part in Kashmir, and you did a lot of research for this book and on Kashmir in particular. Now, while it has been possible for you to go back and visit India on many occasions, you were not able to return to Kashmir? You mean visiting Al-Qaeda training camps? (laughs) No, I didn't do that. But I know a lot of people who have specialised in that subject over the years and who have been in that very strange borderline area, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, between Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir, so I had lots of people to give me guidance, information and tell me where to go to find yet more information. Yet the physical landscape of the place I know very well. I've been to Kashmir a lot in my life, on the Indian and on the Pakistani side. Like many Muslim families, my family was divided. One part of the family went to Pakistan, another part stayed in India. So like many Muslim families we were cut down in the middle. But that meant that during my childhood and as an adult I often visited Pakistan, because I had family all over the place. So I do know it. What I needed to do was to find out the things I didn't know, because I had not been in the terrorist training camps, although I know where they are on the map. And I know that they do exist, which the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence] tends to deny. I know who funds them and I know what groups are there. One of the major problems now in Kashmir on the Pakistani side is that many of the people in these camps are not Kashmiris. Some of them are Afghans, some of them are Arabs, some of them are Chechens, and it makes the problem much worse because these are people only committed to the jihad, they're not committed to the subject of Kashmir at all! I just thought that when I'm going to take on that subject, general knowledge will not do. I have to get as much knowledge as I can get and then allow imagination to take over. So I would strongly suggest not to read the book purely as journalism. But in general, in the spirit I would say it is a truthful portrait of what's going on there. The passages in which you describe the violence in Kashmir are among the most vivid and powerful in the book, and there seems to be a strong sense of anger underneath the surface of the narration. Yes! And the violence really is documentary, many of the cases referred to in the book about attacks on this village and that village and what happened there, etc. concerning attacks by both the Indian army and from jihadists. It is an attempt to say this really happened. The particular attack on the fictional village of Pachigam [Boonyi's and Shalimar's village], that, obviously, is dramatized and fictionalised. But many such things really have happened. The phrase of "crackdown" that the Indian army uses really is a euphemism of mass destruction. And rape. And brutalisation. That happens all the time. It's still happening now. And so, yes, I am angry about it! The decision to treat all Kashmiris as if they're potential terrorists is what has unleashed this, the kind of "holocaust" against the Kashmiri people. And we know ourselves, from most recent events in Europe, how important it is to resists treating all Muslims as if they're terrorists, but the Indian army has taken the decision to do the opposite of that, to actually decide that everybody is a potential combatant to treat them in that way. And the level of brutality is quite spectacular. And, frankly, without that the jihadists would have had very little response from the Kashmiri people who were not really traditionally interested in radical Islam. So now they're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, and that's the tragedy of the place. In "Shalimar the Clown" you came up with the character of "The Iron Mullah"… Yes, I'm very fond of it. He is the only directly allegorical character in the book. And really what I was trying to do was say exactly that the attraction of the jihad in Kashmir arose out of the activities of the Indian army. One of the most obvious facts about Kashmir is the gigantic amount of military equipment that's there everywhere: tanks, trucks, howitzers, bazookas, huge arms depots, endless arms convoys which go up these little mountain roads for six hours at a time from one end of the convoy to the other - and God help you if you're stuck behind it (laughs), because there's no way to pass it. And a lot of the equipment, when it screws up, is thrown away, and there are all these dumps, and just the idea that all of the scrap metal coming to life and becoming the enemy of the tanks is a straight-forward allegory to say that one thing rises out of another. In this novel, which I think is not really allegorical, the Iron Mullah is an allegorical figure, and then I just started liking him, enjoying his horribleness. The two horrible people there in the Kashmir story are the Indian army general and the Iron Mullah, who are really two opposite sides of the same coin. Courtesy : Levis Gropp