This book needs no introduction. Most of you will remember seeing this title on all “Must read” book lists, and if you are in touch with the book awards sphere you will know that Midnight’s Children has been awarded the Booker of Bookers Prize in 1993 and 2008. It is also known to be one of the great books of the 20th century. Since this book doesn’t need another serious book review, I’m going to say it like I felt it, and if its rambly, well you are only practicing for the read.
The story is about Saleem Sinai, our protagonist born at the stroke of midnight on the day India gained her independence from British Rule. Simple enough? Well, add to the pot the magical element, that Saleem is but one of a 1001 children born at this precise moment. This turn of events means that he will now be able to be telepathically be linked to the rest of the 1000 children till the end of his life. A bit complicated yea? Well add a bit of clever story telling. This is Saleem’s story, therefore we must know every before him and everything after. Prepare yourself to be carried through a kaleidoscopic tale of the beginning of the beginning to the end of the end. Also, have it with some pickles. Look out for knees and noses. And perforated sheets.
Some people hate it,
some people love it,
While others sit on the fence, spell bound by this magical tale they just ingested.
I can surely say, I’m of the latter two varieties of people in the world. Yes, I loved the book, from the front cover to the back, and yes, months after my reading it, the book still continues to awe me.
What ties us all together is that we break down, dissect and ponder over each strand of story in this book. Each character, each event and each image formed by the author’s words, contributing to this melting pot of culture and colour, the story that is India. We are all, in short, speechless for its existence, unlike the protagonist Saleem Sinai, a character with a surplus of words more than enough to fill a 600 odd page book and more.
When I say ‘The Story that is India’ I need to stress how much this book represents the ultimate Indian experience. Your senses are teased left, right and forward, by not one but many impulses. There is the colour in the clothes women wear to the food they prepare, there is the smell in the umpteen number of spices they use to the exotic smell of the streets, there is the touch of soft cashmere to coarse coir rugs and there is the sound of the street wallahs marketing their products to the shouts of the boys playing cricket in the dusty grounds. The novel brings to life all these and more. It will tug your heart with emotion. It will make you roll around in fits of laughter for I must stress at Mr. Rushdie’s sense of humour. His talent at poking fun at what he finds nonsensical, is one I’ve not come across in all my reading. It’s something so addictive and at the same time very very clever. I can see why those who were poked at (predominantly the religious and political figures) would have and still do find Midnight’s Children very insulting. If there ever were an award for most digression in a piece of fiction, hands down, we have a winner!
India is a multicultural hot pot, and Rushdie walks us through every avenue of life in this subcontinent. Be it the political path, the glamorous celebrity life, the middle class dilemmas, the beggars woes and even the trials of religious missionaries. The book is utter chaos and drama alongside intriguing characters, who are only short of crazy which will leave you bewildered sometimes. I must stress how much an understanding of the political situation at the time will help you immensely, else risk losing your sanity for a few days/weeks/months. (there’s no shame in how long you take, trust me.)
I must explain why I said that I was ‘on the fence’ regarding this book.
- A good story it will continue to be, but it was one of the most tiring reads I’ve ever attempted. In my process of reading, I have complained shamelessly on my posts at the time, as to how time consuming and physically and mentally demanding the book was. Talk about master of beating around the bush. I don’t know how anyone else who read it felt like but for me it was a mission accomplished once I was done. I felt that my reading goal for the year had been fulfilled!
- On reading, I understood why some people, and in this I mean, whole communities, would have found this book insulting and belittling. It is true that all the drama surrounding this book is not without good reason. He does make fun of cultures and their customs, but then it’s not specifically of particular religions and ways of life. As a singular reader and especially one who knows and understands why he does this, it is possible to brush off these critical points, but when the book is presented to a wider audience with no previous knowledge of the context and what he implies, yes, I do agree that it is not fair on those he pulls along for a ragging.
An excerpt to get your mind boggling:
“I have become, it seems to me, the apex of an isosceles triangle, supported equally by twin deities, the wild god of memory and the lotus-goddess of the present… but must I now be reconciled to the narrow one-dimensionality of a straight line?”
Read at your own discretion, and if you ask yourself a few times as you read along “is this worth it?” I’m hands down saying YES, persevere! there is no story like this in the past present or future.
Note: it’s one of those books, where there’s a gracious mention of my lovely country, Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. Lankan nationalists would have winced due to the context in which it was mentioned, but I must say I had a good old laugh! Also, 90% of the movie was shot in Sri Lanka too!!