One month has passed since I have joined my blogger friend and her friends and her extended friends to read Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”. I can be a slow reader when the topic gets heavy and indeed, I am happy to have completed my reading in time for the closing of this read-along activity. When did I finish reading it? The time is important too. I could have crossed the finishing line on Saturday evening. But I was too tired. A fine book like this does not deserved to be rushed through. So one fine Sunday morning, to the best of my recollection, the moment has arrived. Hooray!
Instead of reading Author’s note upfront, I saved it to the end, after I have devoured 647 pages worth of literature. I wanted to read the book with a rather clean slate of mind, and then I look upon his note for validation. I don’t find “Midnight’s Children” an easy read at all. I suspect quite a few friends of mine would have said the same. When I read the author’s note, this bit struck me.
In the West people tended to read Midnight’s Children as a fantasy, while in India people thought of it as pretty realistic, almost a history book.
I am not from the West. Neither am I from India. I don’t see it as a fantasy book because I live in Southeast Asia. Nor do I possess sufficient tradition and background to understand the Indian history. Had I read it purely from the fantasy perspective, it would have been quite a fascinating read. Unfortunately, I was unable to suppress my inquisitive mind. There is so much I wish to learn and understand – the history of India and the rhythms and thought patterns of Indian language. I could tell you in plain English that in “Midnight’s Children”, the author attempts to tell the history of a nation and the population of hundreds and millions through one character and leaving the readers to imagine the rest. That was my expectation before I started reading the book. But nothing beats actually experiencing it and to really understand what it means by that. In that sense, this book is a masterpiece. While “Midnight’s Children” appears to lack in entertainment value (the character or characters are hardly lovable, no offence to India as a nation) – most likely due to the fact that I am neither from the West nor from India and I am neither reading it as a fantasy nor a history book – the construct of the plots and the characters and the carefully researched materials that span a few nations, a few decades; putting this concept in writing that is of a high literature value is respectable.
In book three, Saleem Sinai has moved to Bangladesh. The story is dark, bloody, and gloomy. Have a brief and closer look into Bangladesh’s modern history, you can see why this part of the book is written as such. Book three is also the section whereby the historical figure Indira Gandhi is introduced. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of the Republic of India for three consecutive terms from 1966 to 1977 and for a fourth term from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, a total of fifteen years (taken from Wikipedia). Now that I have read the brief note on Indira Gandhi and the related historical events, this entire book makes so much sense. If the main character Saleem Sinai born on August 15, 1947 denotes the metaphor of the birth of a nation, his son born on June 25, 1975 signifies the Emergency – one of the most controversial times in the history of independent India when a state of emergency was declared. Now you can see why Indians would read this like a history book while the Westerners may read it as a fantasy. In my personal life, I have enough Indian friends and colleagues that make me wanting to know more about the Indian culture. Hence the steep learning curve I am willing to endure.
Back to the author’s note, it is evident that some of the characters in “Midnight’s Children” are inspired by Salman Rushdie’s family and friends. Is this an autobiography? Although the author was born pretty close to the birth of India (57 days earlier), I still think that Saleem Sinai is India, more than Salman Rushdie. What do you think?
External Link: Biblojunkie’s Week 3 Wrap-Up