I admit I’ve done a bit of a disappearing act of late. Which is why it’s so fitting for me to have spent my time reading about one thousand and one magical kids in Sir Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. The book was published in 1981 and won a bunch of illustrious awards, including the Booker Prize.
… Anyway, let’s go back to the magic powers bit. Some of the characters had the ordinary abilities (time travel, animal transformation, etc.), but there were some bizarros in there, too. Changing genders every time you are immersed in water, anyone? Having some really strong knees capable of throttling someone to death? Yes, I said knees. It all makes sense in the end, I promise.
Except for the murderous knees bit.
As for me, I think I’d like invisibility as my superpower (I demonstrated it so aptly to you this past week and a half). Contemplate the endless possibilities: robbing banks, sneaking into music festivals, cheating on exams… Oh, how rude of me; which power would you like to have?
To redeem myself in your eyes, and sound halfway intelligent, I suppose I’d better tell you more about what Midnight’s Children is about. Themes: magical realism and post-colonialism. Subject: India’s history and, in particular, the after-effects of the country’s independence from Britain.
The subject was a bit ‘meh’ for me; sure, I have a history kink, but I tend to avoid anything about colonialism and modern wars. Reading such stories is tedious: plenty of people die, I end up feeling sorry for everyone, and wondering what, exactly, it is that I should be getting out of the book? A moral lesson? Well, duh, it’s not like I don’t already know that it’s wrong to whip up an Australian army and claim New Zealand.
Luckily, the book was the fictional autobiography of Saleem Sinai and focused mostly on the life of the telepathic with the (literally) powerful nose. Saleem was born, like the rest of the thousand children, on midnight, 14 August 1947, at the moment of India’s independence. Henceforth, his existence was irrevocably, and intricately, tied up with the young nation; as a mirror, or perhaps even a twin, because our Saleem believed that India’s history was all his fault.
He was also a little self-obsessed.
But the writing! It turned uninteresting (to me) subject matter into something mystical and exotic. The story twisted one way, then another; often, and simultaneously, pulled me in opposite directions; described the macabre with nary an eyebrow raised, yet lingered on every angle of the mundane until it became misshapen and peculiar. It was, my dears, absolutely divine.
Rushdie described his style as a “literary idiolect that allowed the rhythms and thought patterns of Indian languages to blend with the idiosyncrasies of ‘Hinglish’ and ‘Bambaiyya’, the polygot street-slang of Bombay [now Mumbai].”
It would seem that Rushdie’s literary idiolect was a success: Westerners viewed Rushdie’s novel as fantasy, whereas Indian readers often saw it as nigh on reality. My previous experiences with India were, truthfully, limited to call centres and Slumdog Millionaire, and not particularly positive (I know it’s both politically correct, and in vogue, to rave about Slumdog, but I distinctly recall abandoning the movie halfway through to do my homework). After reading Midnight’s Children, I decided that the novel was my positive experience, and chosen superhero, of India.
Especially after I learned of the bounty placed on Rushdie’s head by religious extremists.