Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children as a Permanent Plight of an Individual Identity In Salman Rushdie, India has produced a glittering novelist-one with starting imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual storytelling. -The New Yorker Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is a British Indian Novelist and Essayist. He first achieved fame with his second novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), which won the Booker Prize. Much of his early fiction is set at least partly on the Indian Subcontinent. His style is often classified as magical realism, while a dominant theme of his work is the long, rich and often fraught story of the many connections, disruptions and migrations between the East and the West. His other novels are Grimus (1975), Shame (1982), The Satanic Verses (1988), Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), The Moor’s last Sight (1995), The Ground beneath Her Feet (1999), Step across This Line (2003), Shalimar the clown (2005) and Luca and the Fire of Life (2010). A Marvelous epic. Rushdie’s prose snaps into playback and flash- forward…..stopping on images, vistas, and characters of unforgettable presence.
Their range is rich as India herself. -Newsweek Midnight’s Children is a book about India’s transition from British Colonialism to Independence and the partition of India. Saleem Sinai, the narrator of the novel, opens the novel by explaining that his birth takes place on midnight, August 15, 1947, at the exact moment India has gained its Independence from British rule. Now nearing his thirty-first birthday, Saleem believes that his body is beginning to crack and fall apart. Fearing that his death is imminent, he grows anxious to tell his life story. Padma, his loyal and loving companion, serves as his patient, often skeptical audience. Midnight’s Children sets in motion a self- perpetuating process of the creation of a particular language, a form of discourse, namely speculative gossip, which uses history as both a pre-text and a pretext. Rushdie himself seems well aware that much of his treatment of history could be criticized for exploiting these deep fissures in the national psyche created by the turmoil of history. Rushdie defuses such criticism in his novels by symbolically admitting to the ‘guilt’ of gossiping.
He begins in Midnight’s Children by offering a metaphor for the plentitude as well as the prurience of gossip in his description of Durga, the washerwoman “She was a full of gossip and tittle-tattle as she was of milk…She represented novelty beginnings, the advent of new stories events complexities” (Rushdie 445). Lacking power over events, Rushdie’s protagonists, narrators and readers may make imaginative connections where they will, transmitting historical fiction into visionary fact and vice-versa. When Rushdie’s characters gossip, they blend reality with imaginative truth, giving semantics, a system of meaning, to the teeming events of history. Saleem Sinai is India and India’s history between 1947 and 1975 is literally written on Saleem’s body. He carries India’s history between dream and nightmare. This is delineated through the complexity and the stratification of several strands of reality which impart a fragmentary look to the novel. The several strata of the novel symbolize Saleem’s gradual amputation and loss of freedom, sainty and individuality.
This novel becomes a symbol of man’s fundamental human conditions that of the alienation of the self. Saleem Sinai, the narrators-protagonist defines himself by identifying his lot with the fate of his country. Born at midnight on August 15, 1947, the date on which India emerged as an Independent state, Saleem from birth has greatness prophesied for him because of this nexus. In the course of his story, he discovers that he is not the center of India’s history but only a small and an insignificant factor in larger forces of history. He gradually realizes that history is not men’s consciousness and that he does not form a single center for society. A native alien and a hopeless and hapless victim of history, he leads a life of anguish and isolation. Since he cannot undo the historical injustices and establish his “rootedness”, he takes recourse to fantasy and myth to discover his “imaginary roots” which lies here and everywhere dispersed and scattered. Saleem sees the isolated facts of history only as they relate to him as an individual, only a fragment of the societal self and not to society as a whole.
Rushdie remarks in his Bandung File interview “The one thing you learn as a historian is just how fragmented and ambiguous and peculiar the historical record is” This fragmentation is represented in Midnight’s Children by the metaphor of the “Perforated sheet” through which Saleem’s grandfather Dr. Aadam Aziz originally glimpses parts of a patient of his, who later becomes his wife. Shifting, Changing, Mirage like dreams constantly defamiliarize the contours of history. Throughout the novel Saleem’s inner life is a function of the historical forces affecting his state. He is, in his own mind, the latent, elusive center of India’s history. His parodying the history of India makes the entire narrative a historiographic metafication. From seeing himself as the center of the state, he begins to look upon himself as an integral and an inalienable part of the state. His hold upon reality comes form a view that the reality of the state is fragmented and dispersed in the consciousness of all individuals and not in the consciousness of any one individual. Saleem is doomed to lead the life of a social outcast, an exile. Throughout his life, he remains “adrift in this haze of anticipation of a better life” (Rushdie180).
But till the end he remains consigned to the margins, “the peripheries of history” (Rushdie 470). Reduced to fragments by forces beyond his control, he is consciousness of the loss of his historical centrality which is dispersed to many individuals. Without a clear sense of purpose, he develops uneasy symptoms of schizophrenia. Saleem’s story is a fragmented and frustrated quest for meaning in life. Saleem’s fragmentation of self occurs partly due to his abnormally morbid nature and partly due to his nurture and inheritance. The whole household was very often torn by the conflict between grand-paternal scepticism and grand-maternal credulity. His struggle to tell his story and India’s is an attempt to achieve self-consummation or rather to make whole his fragmentary private existence. Saleem is linked to history by different modes of connection, through manifold relationships, both literal and metaphorical.
He is its twin companion- its creator and its victim. Like the other midnight’s children, he is the metaphor of Indian society and the “very essence of multiplicity” that is constantly haunted by the phantasm of a partitioned man, “a broken creature spilling pieces of itself into the street” (Rushdie 552). Saleem, the narrator-protagonist is not a lucid reflector of history but a whimsical and capricious refractor of reality and thus the episodic and fragmentary nature of his self-revelation and self-projection which ironically helps us towards a better understanding of contemporary society and history. He is at the center of things instead of a victim at the periphery and he realizes his centripetal role in recreating history in the phantasm of his psyche when he rhetorically questions himself, “Am I so far gone, in my desperate need for meaning, that I am prepared to distorts everything” (Rushdie 166). And verily Saleem distorts everything, subverts everything in his own lacerated self still clinging to the center desperately.
In fact, Saleem has no real self- image. He exists only on the metafictional canvas of historiography. Too romantic to be rational and too subjective to be polemical, he is a veritable post-modern hero that fits squarely into the mode of post-modernist fantasy in this ability of splitting into doubles and multiples. The theme of fragmentation runs throughout. Even it is perceptible in Saleem’s personal appearance especially his grotesque face indicates his lack of the unity of being, his disorderly and split existence. Fragmentation of identity in an alien world is pursued through motifs of compartmentalization of the self – pertaining to each generation of Saleem’s family which relegates him to the margins of history. Midnight’s Children thus illustrates the permanent plight of individual identity in the hostile modern world, which makes it impossible for anyone to remain an island but compels every one to be part of a continent, with the result that the individual is inevitably ‘handcuffed to history’.
Born at the dawn of India’s 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. The notion that a single person could possibly embody a teeming, diverse, multitudinous nation like India encapsulates one of the novel’s fundamental concerns: the tension between the single and the many. The dynamic relationship between Saleem’s individual life and the collective life of the nation suggests that public and private will always influence one another, but it remains unclear whether they can be completely equated with one another. Throughout the novel, Saleem struggles to contain all of India within himself—to cram his personal story with the themes and stories of his country—only to disintegrate and collapse at the end of his attempt. Politically speaking, the tension between the single and the many also marks the nation of India itself. One of the fastest growing nations in the world, India has always been an incredibly diverse.
Its constitution recognizes twenty-two official languages, and the population practices religions as varied as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Buddhism, among many others. Indian culture is similarly hybrid, having been influenced by countless other cultures over the millennia of its development. At the same time, however, maintaining India’s sprawling diversity in a peaceful fashion has often proved difficult: India’s division into the Islamic nation of Pakistan and the secular, but mostly Hindu nation of India—a process known as Partition—remains the most striking example of the desire to contain and reduce India’s plurality. In Midnight’s Children, the child Saleem watches as protestors attempt to do divide the city of Bombay along linguistic lines, another attempt to categorize and cordon off multiplicity. Factual errors and dubious claims are essential aspects of Saleem’s fantastic narrative. He willfully acknowledges that he misplaced Gandhi’s death, an obviously seminal moment in India’s history, as well as willfully misremembers the date of an election. He frets over the accuracy of his story and worries about future errors he might make.
Yet, at the same time, after acknowledging his error, Saleem decides to maintain his version of events, since that’s how they appeared to occur to him and now there can be no going back. Despite its potential historical inaccuracies, Saleem sees his story as being of equal importance as the world’s most important religious texts. This is not only his story but also the story of India. The errors in his story, in addition to casting a shadow of doubt over some of what he claims, point to one of the novel’s essential claims: that truth is not just a matter of verifiable facts. Genuine historical truth depends on perspective—and a willingness to believe. Saleem notes that memory creates its own truth, and so do narratives. Religious texts and history books alike stake their claim in truth not only because they are supported by facts but also because they have been codified and accepted upon, whether by time or faith. The version of history Saleem offers filtered through his perspective, just as every other version of history filtered through some alternate perspective.
For Saleem, his version is as true as anything else that could be written, not just because this is the way he has arranged it, but because this is the version he believes. Throughout the novel, the past finds ways to mysteriously insinuate itself into the present, just as Saleem’s personal compulsions and concerns find themselves inexplicably replicated in national, political events. Perhaps inspired by his own constantly running nose, Saleem uses the term leaking to describe this phenomenon. The lines separating past, present, and future—as well as the lines separating the personal and the political, the individual and the state—are incredibly porous. When Saleem begins having dreams about Kashmir, for example, the stirring images of his dreams seems to seep into the national consciousness, and India and Pakistan begin to battle over possession of the beautiful region. In Midnight’s Children, the interplay between personal and public, past and present, remains fluid and dynamic, like leaking liquid. Saleem later discovers that all children born in India between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. on that date are imbued with special powers.
Saleem, using his telepathic powers, assembles a ‘Midnight Children’s Conference’, reflective of the issues India faced in its early statehood concerning the cultural, linguistic, religious, and political differences faced by a vastly diverse nation. Saleem acts as a telepathic conduit, bringing hundreds of geographically disparate children into contact while also attempting to discover the meaning of their gifts. In particular, those children born closest to the stroke of midnight wield more powerful gifts than the others. Shiva “of the Knees”, Saleem’s nemesis, and Parvati, called “Parvati-the-witch,” are two of these children with notable gifts and roles in Saleem’s story.Saleem was born with telepathic powers, as well as an enormous and constantly dripping nose with an extremely sensitive sense of smell. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other ‘midnight’s children’, all born in that initial hour are endowed with magical gifts.
Narrative synopsis provide Saleem with a means of compensating for this sensationalism by imposing order and significance on past events, but these synopsis also slow the narrative pace, thereby functioning to retard exposition and abet concealment. Rushdie employs the art of suspense in this novel not just to titillate his audience, but to salvage Saleem’s desperate narrative act from absurdity and, in so doing, to risk delivering a powerful political and literary message. To conclude, Saleem thinks that the country is responsible for his struggles in his life. Through this novel, Rushdie illustrates the permanent plight of an individual identity in the hostile Modern world. An individual is constrained to be a part of a continent; he or she cannot remain as an island. This novel gives the result that the individual is inevitably manacled to history.
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