“To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world” ~Salman Rushdie
There’s something to be said about digressions, about the chaos of thoughts one after the other, mingling and colliding like waves of an uneasy ocean. Thoughts disjointed and devoid of sense in their individuality, yet in the end meaningful to each other, like various little pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle where two pieces could be as different as structurally possible and yet in the end complete each other and ultimately give that final reward ‘Meaning’, ‘Sense’ and of-course the feeling of accomplishment as we gaze at the full picture. The phrase “Learn how to see, Realize that everything connects to everything else” by Da Vinci comes to mind.
The narration of Saleem Sinai in this book gives truth to these words. Before delving into the story and its symbolism then, lets take a look at its structure, there are books written in First person style or a Third person style, this uses both of them, sometimes Saleem refers directly to himself, sometimes still referring to himself he takes a third person approach, this amalgamation of narration gives this book a unique advantage, it can take philosophical detours and yet stay true to the story, it skews the events keeping the protagonist (in his delusion, truth , fallacy, we never really truly care) at the center of everything . Our hero (for the lack of a better word) is truly fickle in his tale and he admits it freely. This delving into the mind, sifting through thoughts, one moment at the start of something, the next revealing the end prematurely, connecting invisible dots, impossible theories. And you never really question any of it. Continuously in the tale he will give away the end, then delve back through much of his own musings of fantastic philosophies and start the story from the beginning, summarizing for our benefit all that transpired and how it connects (or seems to connect for him). Books that can successfully pull this off are hard to find (maybe “I, Lucifer” by glen Duncan or “The slow regard of Silent things” by Patrick Rothfuss), harder to read as well, not for everybody, the ramblings of a madman truly appeal to the mad, or do they? just to the mad? The enormous success of this book decorated with “Man Booker Prize (1981), The Booker of Bookers Prize (1993), The Best of the Booker (2008) would suggest otherwise.
Magical Realism or Fabulism call it what you will, was a concept with which I had a passing acquaintance, courtesy of Neil Gaiman & his books “American Gods” and “Anansi Boys“, but to experience it so profoundly was a first, perhaps because I was familiar with the setting (India, Independence and its struggles) or perhaps Salman Rushdie is just a master of this world and his book an absolute masterpiece of this genre. And so we delve into the story which mixes realty and magic and cares not for the truth because “What’s Real and What’s true aren’t necessarily the same“. So,on 15th Aug 1947, when Nehru declared to the world “….At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…”, along with India awoke 1001 new born children, as special and full of possibilities as the newborn country itself. Midnight’s Children with fabulous potential and special powers of which Saleem perhaps was the greatest. But yet the story doesn’t start there, no sir, it takes 32 years and 170 pages to reach there, the story starts in 1915 Kashmir among rubies, diamonds and a spectacular Nose. With Saleem’s grandfather. To truly understand a person you have to swallow the world indeed. Or as he aptly summarized in the book.
“Who What am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”
You are getting the allure, aren’t you. And so, you hear him out from Kashmir to Bombay to Karachi to Dhaka to Delhi, you hear him out and all the lives that he touched or that touched him. The greatest of which was the nation itself, a life which rivaled history in its incredulity. The symbolism in the story might not be apparent to some, to me it was, but I can totally understand the confusion. The story travels with India on its journey to independence to partition to its flirtations with socialism communism to corruption to its wars of 1947 ’65 ’71 to its period of emergency 1975-77. Narrated by the person who shoulders the responsibility for everything and when I say everything I do mean everything.
The prose style Rushdie has used is marvelous, I have not read many post modern books but, this multitude of awesomeness has convinced me to pay more attention. The literary significance of this work would be apparent to almost everybody who read it. Frustrating is a word I am trying to avoid because generally frustrating books don’t keep me up at nights, when only the inability of my eyes to not stop burning force me against my wishes to give it a rest. So frustrating ,No, complex, Yes, maddening at times, Definitely, Goddamn this book is off the chain, a capital YES. And so this book will have a rare honor in my library, having a 5 star rating and a ‘mind-boggling’ tag. In one of the many reviews I read “This book is Rushdie’s love letter to India” and I concur, that is a most apt analogy, as this book not only celebrates the ‘crowd’ and multitude of concepts that form my country but also embraces the dark side of it, and shows that hope though not always but many a time trumps hate and when it does the result is a chaotic beauty of infinite proportions. I urge everyone to pick this one up, fully realizing that perhaps not everyone will be able to. So, to everyone who does the rewards would be fantabulous but beware ‘Here there be Dragons’.