Day 70 – 202
By Salman Rushdie
One of the most difficult books I’ve read to date. There! I’ve made the admission. I mean look at the number of days on the clock!
But, in the interest of full disclosure, it’s not entirely the book’s fault. Reduced attention span and a rather recently developed taste for Wham! Bam! And it’s done…stories also contributed to the difficulty.
Now that that’s done, let me talk about the book. Midnight’s Children is something. It’s definitely something. It draws you in with its wit and its humour which flows through the narration like silt in water. It’s not readily apparent, but it’s there. It makes you smile from time to time; it behaves like a sustained release dopamine capsule.
The story is all over the place. It’s a rambling narration with no consideration for linearity or chronicity or the reader’s sanity. The thing is it questions all of these human constructs through the dramatic thought processes of its protagonist- Saleem.
Saleem believes that because he was born at the stroke of midnight of 15th August 1947- the date of the day that India achieved independence from its English invaders, his life is intricately associated with the country’s past, present and future. To which extent you’ll believe this assertion, to what extent you’ll take his conclusions seriously is left entirely up to you- the reader. What that does is it leaves the reader in the most unique position of judge and executioner. Will you dismiss the narration as the ramblings of a madman on the verge of entirely losing his hold on reality? Or, will you believe him?
In fact, that’s the position that Saleem finds himself in all his life. He’s been on trial ever since the day he got a letter from the prime minister hailing his birth as a milestone in the future of India. All he’s ever wanted was for someone to believe him, to trust in his words and in spite of them, love him.
Midnight’s Children was a difficult book to read because ultimately it’s a sad story. He writes by cloaking his fatalism with reality- his version of reality. So, when you read this book, don’t expect it to a book where kids come together to change worlds. This is rather the story of how people, even kids, corrupted by the adults in their life, fall apart, lose hope and lose lives. This is a book driven by the nostalgia for an ideal childhood that the narrator never got to have. He talks about his dreams and immediately tells you not to expect them to be fulfilled; because he doesn’t want you to catch the optimism disease that ultimately drove this country to the brink of a horrifying reality.
Don’t read this book if you want to know India’s history either. What this gives you rather, is a story that very cleverly uses history as a tool, as a plot point to drive the narrative forward. It gives you the author’s fantasy set in India’s history. That’s all it is.
Finally, don’t read this book if you’re a beginner, if you’ve just started reading, if you like your stories to make sense, or if you prefer your narrator to be reliable. Salman Rushdie seems to have written this book in order to teach his readers to expect less, expect nothing and at the same time, expect the world to be at their feet. You see, how much ever he tries to hold himself back, to not give in to hope, Saleem, time and again, catches that dreaded optimism disease and I think that’s what made me pick up this book again and again even though I couldn’t read it for more than two hours at a time.
This was a massive book. A massive undertaking. And I’m giving myself a massive pat on the back finishing it. Honestly, I’m also massively happy for having read it, for having experienced Saleem’s life in his vivid metaphorical descriptions. Salman Rushdie knows how to make his world real for his readers while maintaining that nostalgic sepia tone of your favourite fictional cities. So, while you indulge yourself in this freshly yellowed world, I urge you to lose yourself in it. And to it.