Rushdie’s art of story telling in Midnight’s Children

Why do I read? More specifically, why do I read fiction (when not doing it to write a paper on)? Why do I write at all? More specifically, why do I write on something impersonal? Moreover, can there be any writing, even about impersonal things, in the field of literature that is totally free of the “taint” of the writer’s personal style and way of thinking? Through a substitution of “I” for the variable x, and then, by putting the value “Rushdie” in it – only after the answers have been fully explored with “I” – there may appear a new opening to the heart of Midnight’s Children (henceforth, MNC). So, let there be some analysis.

I read because for an average, educated, white collar employee it is quite essential in order to perform various information imbibing and data churning activities. The kind of reading we are interested in here, the one that deals with the very next question in the series, is reading for entertainment and edification. I read fiction, when not with some ulterior motive, because I enjoy(ed) it. Even when doing it to write a paper, there are times when fiction works its magic and I do enjoy it, despite my purpose being dryly academic and strongly established. I read to live, even if for a few moments, after losing the “I” in me. Those few moments of intense and joyful loss of self are the central pull drawing me time and again towards my favourite activity: reading. It does happen sometimes, even now. I write for many professional reasons. Some of them I hate to acknowledge (and will not, at least here), some of them dry and boring. Then I write about myself and mine, but the kind of writing we are finally interested in is the impersonal one, e.g. writing an article on Rushdie’s MNC. It’s the conventional wisdom that has seeped into my system and tells me not to let my “me” part enter my academically oriented writing – if I really intend it to be published somewhere. Even the reader-response theory tries to steer clear of “I” through its use of impersonal pronouns and syntax. Despite all conventionalities and social mimicries, it’s quite useless to attempt to hide what is clearly, obviously and spectacularly visible to all who introspect. I write because that’s my gift, like it was of many before me. No, I don’t dare to acknowledge the anxiety of influence kind of Oedipal links, even tenuously with the greats of the past. I write because I suspect that it is one human activity or field in which I may excel. I don’t see any other field where I can be even a little above the ordinary. Yes, T. S. Eliot is turning in his grave; red with rage, I know. Yet, I must write because I have failed (without even attempting actually – only by doing it all in my mind) in every other possible area of human endeavor open to me. All my eggs are kept in one basket, in the basket of writing, or shall I rephrase it: all my writing is in one folder. Well! Whatever it is, I write therefore I am and will be. No, there’s no plagiarism, paraphrase, cryptomnemics or plain lifting involved. Just like the last part of the penultimate sentence, I do use the popular and easily recognizable ideas of others (in the present case, Descartes’) sans the marks of quotation , and then show the license of intertextuality. Jargons and theory aren’t always set against an outsider or a newcomer. They, in addition to performing their intended and explicit function of deeply and darkly laying out the boundaries of the field, may also be used to breaches into it. Writing is my passport to the land of glory, and hopefully, very liberal humanistically, a state tending to an eternal virtual life. Although an eternal kind of real-physical life beats all, it being unattainable at the present level of scientific development, I’d settle for the virtual, even if very distant and unsure kind. So, I write to live beyond the four dimensions of my insignificant and ephemeral life and times. It is a valiant attempt (allusion to Shelley?) to gain in a way what one’s sure to lose eventually.

In the very beginning of this section I had written of an “I-X-Rushdie” substitution with a naïve assumption that you have all writers of any kind you want, as long as they write for glory only. Well, it was wrong. Some are born with the itch to write, some contract it and some are pushed unknowingly and unsuspectingly into the (quag-) mire. How can there be only one scriptor then? The professional and the accidental writers rub shoulders with the natural and essential (pardon me, o spirit of the postmodern times) ones with no two bits kind of clear cut belonging to any distinct category in a time proof capsule. People, reasons, motivations and types may and do change with the passage of time. So, a Browning laments the conversion of Wordsworth from one type to another. It’s complicated: the whole “writing-talent-glory” business. Yet, fools rush in etc.

So, I intend to wade forward and introduce my central theme: Rushdie, so late on these pages. Some readers may suspect here a mimicry of MNC’s technique of late introduction of the main subject. Any honest pledge of mine, any solemn assurance of unintetionality and mere coincidence, will only make their resolve firmer to blame it on my unconscious. Yet, it really is an accident. Just like Saleem’s being handcuffed with history was the kind of accident that determines the destiny. Or, the accident of grandfather Aziz’s long nose rising (allegedly) atavistically and trickily in Saleem, and what was the meaning? Nada. It is even turning aleatory, this paper, an interminable rambling. Thinking in written form on the paper has always been like this. I don’t have, or expect to have, a Boswell to record all that crosses the line that separates the unexpressed domain from the expressed one. So, I’ll play the roles of both Dr. Johnson and his Boswell.

What happens when one uses commonly used words and syntax in an uncommon manner? What happens when one finds the “occult tyrannies of those blandly saluting clocks” (1) on a page of MNC? What kind of aesthetic response does this overdeterminism with the excess of meaning due to the heavy use of modifiers produce? The occult nature of the tyrannies of clocks isn’t a kind of fact one reads or hears every day. It’s a novelty: shocking as new, or, shocking and new, or, shocking but new? That tyranny wouldn’t have been new and shocking had it not been parceled out with the antithetical phrase: “blandly saluting”. Not all will find the sublime in the same object. Neither will all who find a thing sublime (including the amply – rightly or wrongly – analyzing me) be able to reach an agreement about the elements and mechanism of its achieving the effect: the aesthetic satisfaction. Following the threads of the same thought, one reaches that part of the paragraph that’s “heavily embroiled in fate – at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement” (1). Being embroiled in “fate” isn’t a very common idea and it is followed by nearly contrasting shades of meaning with “best” juxtaposed with “dangerous”. Rushdie’s wit dazzles. Or, is it Saleem’s? he knows how to generate and sustain interest. It only has to be seen whether content accompanies style on the passages and pages to come. A story he does tell, and the way he tells it generates interest, irrespective of and independent from the actual events taking place. Real is closely followed with unreal, possible with impossible or, at least, improbable. Yet, the reader willingly suspends all disbelief for the span of time he is experiencing the magic of MNC. Its enumeration – meticulous and detailed – of facts and figures, takes it close to realism, and its matter-of-factness is maintained in its unreal parts too. Thus, the narrator’s “trick of filling in the gaps of … [his] knowledge” (6) is accepted sans hesitation on the reader’s part. Heis already hooked to the narrative – like Padma, the reader’s representative and the live critic of the common sensical type, provided as a continual touchstone. The narrator’s sparkling wit and new ways of looking at the old phenomena and things, and of dressing new ideas in old garbs and vice versa, call it innovation or use of the Coleridgean fancy, creates magic viz. “India – like Radium – had been ‘discovered’ by the Europeans” (2). It is heavily ironical, placed across through the persona of a newly Westernized man of science in the Orient: Dr. Azizi. In the initial phase of Westernization, the ready acceptance of not only the ideas but also the weltanschauung is quite common. That’s what had happened to the good doctor and the pattern is repeated on various scales in its readers too.

Here I’ll introduce the second element that generates interest in a story – characters. Rushdie succeeds in creating characters that successfully sustain the reader’s interest. They may not agree with them, but they find then real enough to express disagreement. How can one fail to feel a kind of intellectual kinship with the vacillations and uncertainty of a man “unable to worship a God in whose existence he could not wholly disbelive” (2). In his journey from life to death man searches for stories and creates some, consciously or unconsciously, to explain the end of the journey to himself. Of course, it is not about those who don’t deserve the application of the species part of homo sapiens, which is nearly a majority that doesn’t have the inclination and/or power to introspect or to sustainably think about anything that threatens to turn abstract and eternal. So, a reader’s quest for an all explaining myth has been eternally present in human beings. This explains his love for stories for as long back as history can remember. The modern times took the sense of awe away from myths – and in doing so, killed them. The modern man doesn’t believe with the firmness of, say, a medieval man. The modern man has only one central myth that nearly explains all to him – the myth of scientific progress. Nothing is wrong in that, but it tends to monopolize and annihilate the modern man’s capacity to tolerate any alternative or parallel myths. Yet, the old habits surface at times, with the accompanied willing suspension of disbelief, whenever a master story teller is around. Rushdie succeeds in generating enough interest to suffice for the reader to turn into an accomplice in turning the fantastic into believable, and his disarming narrative honesty makes him say: “I mustn’t reveal all my secrets at once” (3). He is nearly on first name terms with his reader. So, there’s already an intimacy that’s been presumed from the very first word of the novel and is confirmed by the time one reaches the end of the first page, and by the time he reaches, with Dr. Aziz, the stage where they finally arrange all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle “to have a picture of Naseem … a badly fitting collage of her severally inspected parts” (9). The young and bashful doctor finds ready acceptance in the reader’s mind; so does Naseem, beautiful in parts: and, one wishes for the doctor, also when assembled. Rushdie’s success is complete with the creation of characters, both major and minor, who sustain the interest of the reader. The minor characters are actually made so interesting that their impact on the reader’s memory is major. Who can forget the “watery Caliban” (4) who also happens to be the “living antithesis … of the inevitability of change” (4)? And Ilse Lubin, Ghani, those women with biceps of wrestlers, and… .

The way a story is told is more important than the actual content of the story. MNC proves this true. The way it links, with special events of human history, the personal histories of various characters, rivets the central events in the reader’s mind. The mechanism had been put in action when the midnight of 15 August 1947 was used to fix the hero’s birth. It goes on to touch the beginning and the end of the two World Wars and the in between events viz. the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Even if one does not have the historically oriented eyes, one still does enjoy it. “Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence” (6), accepts the reader along with the paradoxically inclined narrator, and then acquire the eyes of the seer vicariously. Of course, hard determinism of one’s actions and fate is not a thing that everybody finds palatable. Yet, the idea is appealing: fatalistically and very Orientally so. Somebody who holds such views, viz. Saleem Sinai, has a heavily slanted vision of the world and what happens in it – with reasons and consequences arranged neatly. How could such a person be trusted? Who needs trust when one is enjoying the story already? Who needs to trust a story teller like Tai? Tai, who is older than even Tiresias, has seen it all and been there too. From Jesus to Jahangir, he’d met them all persionally and had strange stories to tell about many of them: stories that interested despite their unreliable source, or, probably because of their unreliable source. His used to be a company that had to be washed away with painfully scalding water, yet Aziz returned for more. He always did. So does the reader.

References:

Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. Scribd.com. 12 October 2012. Pdf. [MNC in the text.]

 

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