Three years ago, when Kim Kardashian got divorced after an epically brief 72-day marriage, Salman Rushdie sportingly tweeted a knarled limerick that raised eyebrows - and his twitter following:
The marriage of poor kim #kardashian
was krushed like a kar in a krashian.
her kris kried, not fair! why kan't I keep my share?
But kardashian fell klean outa fashian.
Since Kardashian's marital break inspired verse, will another limerick be forthcoming if her bottom manages to "break the Internet" as it has valiantly threatened to do?
Unlikely. Rushdie reassured his followers his first Kardashian limerick would also be his last: "my once-only, never-to-be-repeated Kim #Kardashian Limerick." The distinguished novelist, however, knows a thing or two about bottoms, and this is a good time as any to excavate that marvelously comic scene from Midnight's Children that features a blushing specimen.
Readers may recall that early on in the novel, a wily Kashmiri landowner named Ghani summons Aadam Aziz -- a tall, big-nosed and blue-eyed doctor -- to attend to his daughter, Naseem. Naseem has no health problems to speak of. The real motive behind Ghani's request is to lure the eligible and foreign-educated Aziz into marrying her. Everyone sees through his little ruse except the guileless Aziz. Most unusual of all is Ghani's snare: a perforated sheet.
Ghani insists that in order to protect his daughter's modesty, Aziz should examine her through a veil -- or, in this case, an enormous white sheet with a circular seven-inch hole, a homely contraption that proves more alluring than the sheerest chiffon. Aziz agrees, and soon a medical drill is in place. Three women attendants hold up the sheet through which a demure -- or not so demure -- Naseem proffers a malingering body part for Aziz to inspect and cure.
Ghani's ploy works beautifully. Soon Aziz is absolutely bewitched and walking around in a lather of "unhippocratic excitement." Over the course of three years, he attends to a twisted ankle, an ingrowing toenail, flaky finger skin, damaged wrists, an injured calf, and even an itchy armpit (which he inadvertently tickles). This coy choreography allows him access to Naseem's whole body -- almost.
The climax of this peepshow is to be Naseem's face, which she finally and mischievously displays through the aperture: it's a soft face, "a cushioned setting for her glittering, gemstone eyes." But before it appears, another upholstered body part is revealed on the day she pulls a muscle in the back of her thigh:
"And there, in the sheet, weakening the eyes of Aadam Aziz, hung a superbly rounded and impossible buttock...And now Aziz, 'Is it permitted that...' Whereupon a word from Ghani; an obedient reply from behind the sheet; a drawstring pulled and pajamas fall from the celestial rump, which swells wondrously through the hole. Aadam Aziz forces himself into a medical frame of mind...reaches out...feels. And swears to himself, in amazement, that he sees the bottom reddening in a shy but compliant blush.
"That evening Aziz contemplated the blush. Did the magic of the sheet work on both sides of the hole?"
It evidently did. Aziz and Naseem marry, and their grandson turns out to be Saleem Sinai, the garrulous and big-nosed protagonist of Midnight's Children. But his grandparents' marriage is an unhappy one.
Ghani's snare has worked too well - the perforated sheet is a siren as irresistible and disappointing as click bait. It manipulates Aziz into falling in love with Naseem-behind-the-hole rather than Naseem-as-a-whole. Haunted by "the phantasm of a partitioned woman" - a metaphor for the more catastrophic subcontinental partitions that are to come - he is unable to find happiness.
Whatever the larger lessons, for thousands of readers, the enduring appeal of the "mutilated sheet" scene will always be that lovely moment when an impossibly round bottom saw its healer and blushed - a delicacy Kim Kardashian's gleaming posterior seems completely innocent of.