“At the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world,” says Saleem Sinai in the 1981 novel Midnight’s Children written by acclaimed author Salman Rushdie.
These words are just a sampling of the prose and story that enchanted millions when the book was first released. The book has since been adapted into film by Oscar-nominated director Deepa Mehta and is set to be released in theaters Nov 2.
Midnight’s Children is an allegorical recounting of the historical events of India’s independence and its partition into two religious states: the Dominion of Pakistan and the Republic of India. It is told by Saleem, who was born exactly at the stroke of midnight on the day of India’s independence and is therefore exactly as old as the Republic.
In this fictionalized and fantastical rendering of India’s history, Saleem represents the entirety of India. His telepathic conference with the other children born at midnight the day of India’s independence reflects the political and personal conflicts that consumed citizens of India at the time. Saleem attempts to imbue his personal narrative with all the themes and stories of his country eventually overwhelms him and he disintegrates, much like the united country of India disintegrated during the partition.
According to Dr. Jill Didur, the chair of the department of English at Concordia, Saleem’s telepathy is meant to play on the Western idea of Indian mysticism.
“Saleem’s telepathic powers have been seen by critics as a gesture by Rushdie to appropriate Orientalist assumptions about Indian culture and satirize them through exaggeration [while] signaling them as a creative choice rather than simply reproducing a stereotype about India.”
The novel was extremely popular during its initial release in 1981 garnering itself the Booker Prize, the English Speaking Union Literary Award and the James Tait Prize. Furthermore it was also awarded the Best Of The Booker in 2008 when the Booker committee was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the award.
Midnight’s Children is considered groundbreaking in its use of an imagined form of Indian English —a mix of accented English and Hindu, its employment of magic realism to relate historical events and its postmodern literary style. The novel integrates the past and the present and spans a great number of years, beginning in 1915. It will be interesting to see whether the master craftsmanship of Rushdie’s writing can be effectively translated into the medium of film.
With files from Amanda L. Shore