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Saturday, November 7, 2009

“Magic and reality collide from midnight”: a brief glance at Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

It is difficult to deny the burden on the back, it’s prickly
and heavy and how much we try to shrug it off, it sticks on harder….it’s the
historical burden of the past. The language I am writing in right now, is
essentially not mine, but borrowed from another land, my ways are not those of
my people but an amalgamation of what I have and what I have borrowed. Thus it
was never very difficult to understand this lingering sense of borrowed past,
this impossible burden of past as I flipped through the first few pages of
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

Salman Rushdie, has a made a name for himself as a
controversial novel writer. All his novels are characterized by an epic sweep
of narration, a plethora of allusions to real events, real people, mythological
and literary characters, and hilarious, often ribald humour reminiscent of
Tristram Shady.

Rushdie has written eleven fictions- Grimus(1975), Midnight’s
Children(1981), Shame(1983), The Satanic Verses (1988), Haroun and the Sea of
Stories (1990), The Wizard of Oz (1992), 
East, West (1994), The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), The
Ground Beneath Her Feet
(1999),  Fury
(2001),Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992 - 2002 (2002),Shalimar
the Clown
(2005) and The Enchantress of Florence (2008). And most of
them speaks of good overcoming the evil force, or at least survives. Perhaps for
this one might be forced to agree that Rushdie is a romantic who uses the medium
of satire, much like his Indian counterparts and in his own way presents a
story where past and present overlap to give a blurred future.

Midnight Children expresses an historical connection through
the literary journey. This journey is again not singular; it is the journey of
self and a nation. Born at the dawn of Indian independence and destined, upon
his death, to break into as many pieces as there are citizens of India, Saleem
Sinai manages to represent the entirety of India within his individual self.
His is the writer-protagonist, a son of an Englishman who has seduced the wife
of a Hindu street singer. He is educated at the Cathedral and John Connon’s
Boy’s School in Bombay. He is the ‘
Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha and
Piece-of-the-Moon’, who rise and fall is linked miraculously to the faith of a
new born country.

The Mexican critic Luis Leal has said, "Without thinking
of the concept of magical realism, each writer gives expression to a reality he
observes in the people. To me, magical realism is an attitude on the part of
the characters in the novel toward the world," or toward nature. He adds,
"If you can explain it, then it's not magical realism."

Writers like García Márquez, who use magical realism, don't
create new worlds, but suggest the magical in our world. And Marquez’s A Hundred
years of Solitude had a great influence on Rushdie’s take on Midnight Children,
especially in the context of the theme.

The theme of magic reality, the combination of the two heavy
words makes its presence felt almost in every page of the novel, a sense of
overlapping entities that further tries to invade the identity of the reader
itself. Saleem Sanai talks of 365 voices jostling and shoving each other inside
him. And as the reader travels along the course of the story, he finds himself
becoming a part of those persistently chattering voice. This is magical, yet an
undistinguished reality. For, even if a reader is born much after the main
events supporting the novel, has occurred, its sweeping history has become his
own history; an important identity that cannot be considered a ganglion and
amputated right away. The above observation lies true when we are to recall the
gory Jalianwala barg massacre, the pains of the Emergency period, the terrorist
attacks and the Bangladesh war. At one point, in Midnight’s Children, Saleem,
makes use of the metaphor of a cinema to explain his peculiar business of
perception. The same can be used to understand the profound use of magic

‘Suppose yourself in a large cinema, sitting at the first in
the back row, and gradually moving up,… until your nose is almost pressed
against the screen. Gradually the stars’ faces dissolve in the dancing grain;
tiny details assume grotesque proportions; … it becomes clear that the illusion
itself is reality.’

The movement towards the cinema screen is the metaphor for
the narrative’s movement through time towards the present.

Thus Salaam Sinai is handcuffed to history. Rushdie has
carefully drawn numerous parallels between the protagonist and his country, right
from his face which resembles “the whole map of India” to his fortune which is “indissolubly
chained to those of my country.  
Soothsayers had prophesied me,
newspapers celebrated my arrival, politicos ratified my authenticity. I was
left entirely without a say in the matter.”

This is exactly the problem of modern man who is driven by
the whirling chaos around him. Salaam is just one such victim who stands in the
middle of disturbance and turmoil and like a speechless witness chronologically
tries to reproduce history. But his memory fails to maintain the accurate
dateline. And factual errors are prominent symptoms.
He frets over the accuracy of his
story and worries about future errors he might make. Yet again continues in his
own rhythm adding metaphors and images that increase the authenticity of the
notion, India is a land of illusion, where magic and reality reside side by
side, and quite often intermingle to give a renewed identity to the mundane


Timir's said...

a perfect touch of magician, u r showing your true colors now :) . a glimpse of ur professional sight. it was lovable and i wd say a research is lied within, english is very powerfull lang, if you use it in perfect way and m preety sure u ll rock, all the best for ur new venture... a journalist is born, and a celebrity s still waiting to be( kud be if i get interviewed :( )

Karthik said...

I never took up Salman Rushdie, for I've always thought that award winning authors are boring. But after reading your views on Midnight's Children, I might be wrong after all.
Such a thorough analysis of the book! Phew! That was splendid. I know it's not an easy job to review a book. Kudos!
And I was going through your archive and read the post 'Investigative Journalism.' It was very interesting. Didn't know so many things. Well, are you a journalist? I think I'm right.
That's an added advantage for you I guess. Your language is superb and your experience in journalism might provide good source to write Frederick Forsyth's kinds of novels. Hope you write such a novel someday(and also hope you don't write a silly chick-lit novel). I'm waiting.
And hope to read short stories and more prose on your blog. :-)
Also thank you so much for visiting my blog and commenting. :-)