In such a city there could be no grey areas, or so it seemed. Things were what
they were and nothing else, unambiguous, lacking the subtleties of drizzle,
shade and chill. Under the scrutiny of such a sun there was no place to hide.
People were everywhere on display, their bodies shining in the sunlight,
scantily clothed, reminding her of advertisements. No mysteries here or depths;
only surfaces and revelations. Yet to learn the city was to discover that this
banal clarity was an illusion. The city was all treachery, all deception, a
quick-change, quicksand metropolis, hiding its nature, guarded and secret in
spite of all its apparent nakedness. In such a place even the forces of
destruction no longer needed the shelter of the dark. They burned out of the
morning's brightness, dazzling the eye, and stabbed at you with sharp and
Her name was India. She did not like this name. People were never called Australia, were they, or Uganda or Ingushetia or Peru. In the mid-1960s her father, Max Ophuls (Maximilian Ophuls, raised in Strasbourg, France, in an earlier age of the world), had been America's best-loved, and then most scandalous, ambassador to India, but so what, children were not saddled with names like Herzegovina or Turkey or Burundi just because their parents had visited those lands and possibly misbehaved in them. She had been conceived in the Eastconceived out of wedlock and born in the midst of the firestorm of outrage that twisted and ruined her father's marriage and ended his diplomatic careerbut if that were sufficient excuse, if it was okay to hang people's birthplaces round their necks like albatrosses, then the world would be full of men and women called Euphrates or Pisgah or Iztaccíhuatl or Woolloomooloo. In America, damn it, this form of naming was not unknown, which spoiled her argument slightly and annoyed her more than somewhat. Nevada Smith, Indiana Jones, Tennessee Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford: she directed mental curses and a raised middle finger at them all.
"India" still felt wrong to her, it felt exoticist, colonial, suggesting the appropriation of a reality that was not hers to own, and she insisted to herself that it didn't fit her anyway, she didn't feel like an India, even if her color was rich and high and her long hair lustrous and black. She didn't want to be vast or subcontinental or excessive or vulgar or explosive or crowded or ancient or noisy or mystical or in any way Third World. Quite the reverse. She presented herself as disciplined, groomed, nuanced, inward, irreligious, understated, calm. She spoke with an English accent. In her behavior she was not heated, but cool. This was the persona she wanted, that she had constructed with great determination. It was the only version of her that anyone in America, apart from her father and the lovers who had been scared off by her nocturnal proclivities, had ever seen. As to her interior life, her violent English history, the buried record of disturbed behavior, the years of delinquency, the hidden episodes of her short but eventful past, these things were not subjects for discussion, were not (or were no longer) of concern to the general public. These days she had herself firmly in hand. The problem child within her was sublimated into her spare-time pursuits, the weekly boxing sessions at Jimmy Fish's boxing club on Santa Monica and Vine where Tyson and Christy Martin were known to work out and where the cold fury of her hitting made the male boxers pause to watch, the biweekly training sessions with a Clouseau-attacking Burt Kwouk look-alike who was a master of the close-combat martial art of Wing Chun, the sun-bleached blackwalled solitude of Saltzman's Moving Target shooting gallery out in the desert at 29 Palms, and, best of all, the archery sessions in downtown Los Angeles near the city's birthplace in Elysian Park, where her new gifts of rigid self-control, which she had learned in order to survive, to defend herself, could be used to go on the attack. As she drew back her golden Olympic-standard bow, feeling the pressure of the bowstring against her lips, sometimes touching the bottom of the arrow shaft with the tip of her tongue, she felt the arousal in herself, allowed herself to feel the heat rising in her while the seconds allotted to her for the shot ticked down toward zero, until at last she let fly, unleashing the silent venom of the arrow, reveling in the distant thud of her weapon hitting its target. The arrow was her weapon of choice.
Excerpted from Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie Copyright © 2005 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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