(Credits: The quote is from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. The poster is by Brett Thurman on Behance. Click for better image resolution)
A series of forced overtimes at work has eaten away at my reading time for the past two weeks and frankly, I’m still too busy stewing in my resentment, so this will be a short post. It’s already March but Dostoevsky will have to wait a few more days. : (
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold in Saleem Sinai’s childhood world. While far from idyllic, the Methwold Estate has given him considerable protection. However, his entry into puberty leads to a series of ruptures. Saleem discovers an aspect of his mother’s past that enrages him and his own family manages to inadvertently cut him off from the rest of the Midnight’s Children. These breaks culminate to his family’s ruin in India and their eventual migration to Pakistan.
In this part of the novel, Saleem’s hand on several historical events take on a more active dimension. He becomes a catalyst for a sensational murder involving a decorated soldier and national hero and he is party to the planning of a successful coup in Pakistan. The tension between the two countries, whose similar dates of birth make them twins, has been hovering in the background of Midnight’s Children but it is now completely at the forefront as the events leading up to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 comes to a head. Saleem’s affluent Muslim family finds it easy to slide into a Pakistani’s way life and they end up affecting history in that part of the subcontinent. Everybody except for Saleem, that is, who misses Bombay’s energy and resents Karachi.
The parts that bogged down the story for me were Saleem’s exile to his Uncle Hanif’s house and his subsequent teenage lust towards his Aunt Pia, the Bollywood actress. Ditto the part where the houses of Methwold Estate were systematically bought up and destroyed by a group of enterprising women. These parts were embedded into very important plot points, however, so I can’t definitively say that they’re unnecessary. I was wary of where the story will go once they arrive in Karachi, but I actually appreciate the uncomfortable places to which the narrative took me. Particularly the part where Saleem falls in love with someone he really shouldn’t (!!!!).
Part 2 ends with the events of the Indo-Pakistani War and a loss of cataclysmic proportions for Saleem. The last pages of this section reminds of the final pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, with everything of consequence to Saleem’s existence quite literally falling around his ears.
It is not an attempt at disingenuousness when I say that I’m not capable of giving Midnight’s Children the intellectual rigor it requires. My life is too fraught with concerns, my attention too fractured, to be able to unpack everything that’s in the text. The only other Rushdie I’ve read is The Moor’s Last Sigh and from my recollection, that particular novel flagged significantly in the last 100 or so pages. Sufficed to say, I’ve had a difficult experience with the way Rushdie ends things. I’m hoping that this wouldn’t be the case with this one, now that I’m reading about the aftermath of Saleem’s ultimate self-immolation.