In this literary essay, Ramlal Agarwal takes us through Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children calling it a saga set in the backdrop of Partition traversing three generations of a liberal Kashmiri Muslim family which moves from Kashmir to Amritsar, to Agra, to Delhi, to Bombay and to Karachi.
Midway through Midnight’s Children, Rushdie, in an aside, wants to know from Padma, his muse, “Can any narrative stand so much so soon?” Padma was stunned by the query but Rushdie does not wait for her answer and plunges headlong into his narrative of so much so soon. He tells multiple stories in multiple styles and walks away triumphantly with the Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers Prize. The novel received rave reviews. Malcolm Bradbury in The Modern British Novel observes,
“In several senses Midnight’s Children marked a new narrative start. The book turns on the moment of India’s post-imperial rebirth.”
Before Rushdie, the Indian novel in English was hamstrung by the hangover of colonial conscience. But, by the 1960s the colonial clouds cleared and a band of new writers emerged who had acquired extraordinary competence in the use of English language and the confidence to be independent. Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children set the trend.
Jaipur Literary Festival, 2019
Every January, India hosts the largest literary festival in the world — the Jaipur Literary festival. Founded in 2006, it gathers the glitterati of the literati in the Diggi Palace Hotel in the heart of the historical city. The festival directors are writers Namita Gokhale and Willian Dalrymple.
This year, it stretched from 23rd to 27 th January and hosted around 300 writers. Speakers this year include well-known names like Nobel laureate (2019) Abhijit Banerjee, Javed Akhtar, Madhur Jaffrey, Aruna Chakravarti, KR Meera, the controversial Shashi Tharoor, Magsaysay award-winning journalist Ravish Kumar and many more. Authors from other countries included Man International Booker Prize Winner (2019) Jokha Alharthi, Elizabeth Gilbert, Paul Muldoon, Stephen Greenblatt and Christina Lamb. More than 200 sessions stretched across five days with writers from 20 countries and literature in more than 25 languages.
Earlier, it had hosted names like Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and more big names. Subjects like climate change, the water crisis, history, economics, politics, feminism, fiction and non-fiction all came under discussion in these sessions. Even the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz that created such a stir in India was under discussion. Read more
Anuradha Kumar, the author of Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories, in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty
Anuradha Kumar has been writing for two decades and in that span of time has authored eight novels, including Letters for Paul (2006), It Takes a Murder (2013) and two works of historical fiction written under the psuedonym of Adity Kay: Emperor Chandragupta (2016) and Emperor Vikramaditya (2019). She also writes for younger readers, and contributes to Scroll.in, Economic and Political Weekly, thewire.in, theaerogram.com, and other places. She was awarded twice (2004, 2010) for her stories by the Commonwealth Foundation, and has received awards from The Little Magazine and Hindu-Goodbooks.in. Recently, she has brought out a novel, Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories. In this exclusive, she tells us more about her journey as a writer.
You have written eight novels and children’s stories/books. How many years of your journey as a writer does that span?
About two decades. I’d my first collection of short stories out from Writers’ Workshop in 2002. What I remember is the lovely handwritten note Prof. Lal (who set up the workshop) sent me in acceptance of my manuscript; that, and a translated copy of his Avyakta Upanishad. I sort of remember what he wrote in that note. For a long time, those words encouraged me. I forgot them at times, but early words of encouragement and support stand by you, especially in not so good times.
Can you tell us about your latest book, Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories? How did it come about? You have been living overseas, did you return to Mumbai and then write it? Read more
By Murali Kamma
The cyclist at Church Square didn’t attract much attention initially, even though he was just going around in circles. Back then, in the era before cellphones and the internet, Church Square was an unsupervised, if not a seedy, public square — a sprawling, unevenly grassy open island where it wasn’t unusual to see gossiping idlers, walkers, yoga practitioners, and teenagers playing cricket or flying kites. Occasionally, people gathered there for a raucous political rally. A cyclist was perhaps less common, but even in the case of Rama—or Cycle Rama, as he became known—it was only after a few hours that he started drawing a crowd. And the reason for that was the amazing tricks he’d begun to perform on his black Hero bicycle.
At first, when he stopped pedaling and raised his legs without losing balance, while the bike continued to move steadily, it was unclear why he was doing it. But soon, there were murmurs of excitement when the onlookers realized he was a performer, an entertainer.
The growing interest didn’t faze Cycle Rama and he barely looked at anybody. Between his acts, he continued to pedal, going around in rough circles—and then, without a warning, he built up his momentum and became a stuntman again. There were whoops from the swelling crowd, but his poker face remained unchanged. As the news spread, a cricket match on the other side of Church Square broke up and Cycle Rama became the only draw in the area. The routines he performed were varied and he did them without stopping the bike or slowing it down drastically. On that first day, his ride ended only after it became dark and the crowd dispersed. Read more
Cover illustration for the London edition of Miguel Cervantes Don Quixote
In 1981, Salman Rushdie’s second novel, Midnight’s Children, with its focus on Partition won a Booker Prize. And now, more than four decades later, his new novel Quichotte, due for release this September, has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2019. But this time, his book is a take-off on Don Quixote, immortalised by sixteenth century Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes and often labelled as “the first modern novel”.
Midnight’s Children was given not just a Booker Prize but also a “Booker of the Bookers” Prize (1993) with its story set around the Partition of India and steeped in magical realism. His fourth book Satanic Verses (1988) was a finalist for the Booker Prize. However, a ‘fatwa’ was issued against his book calling for Salman Rushdie’s death by no less than Ayatollah Khomeini one year after it was published. India had banned the book as “hate speech” against a particular religious group. Read more
(From the Times Literary Supplement. Link to the complete article is given below.)
“What, then, shall that language be? One-half of the committee maintain that it should be the English. The other half strongly recommend the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question seems to me to be – which language is the best worth knowing?” So asked Lord Macaulay of the British Parliament on February 2, 1835. He went on, of course, to answer his own question; there was no way that the natives of the subcontinent over which they now ruled could be “educated by means of their mother-tongue”, in which “there are no books on any subject that deserve to be compared to our own”. And even if there had been, it did not matter, for English “was pre-eminent even among languages of the West”. English, it was decided, would be the language that would be taught to the natives. By 1837, English replaced Persian as the language of courtrooms and official business in Muslim India and took with it the cultural ascendancy of the Persian speakers.
This sordid story of tainted beginnings is aptly recounted in Muneeza Shamsie’s Hybrid Tapestries: The development of Pakistani literature in English, which traces the history of an often vexed but always intriguing literary lineage from the nineteenth century until today. It is a tricky tale to tell, not least because the moment of origin is also the moment of imposition and conquest. The development of Pakistani literature is directly linked to those deposed Muslims and their cherished Persian, which adds further flavours of resentment and betrayal to the mixture. The Indian Muslims who had dominated cultural production until then felt the demotion, and hence the inauthenticity and subjugation of adopting a foreign language, more acutely; Hindus less so, perhaps because they were merely exchanging one set of conquerors for another. The bifurcation, with each group turning to a different vernacular language to anchor their evolving identity, would have more than just linguistic consequences: it would result in two separate nation states.
Read more at the TLS page here
The author on meeting Pynchon, why Kafka is unbeatable – and the trouble with Trollope
The book I am currently reading
I recently visited the old mansion where Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks was set, that great house with the words “Dominus providebit” inscribed over the front door, and was immediately inspired to download the novel on to my iPad and plunge in. The pleasure of re-reading Buddenbrooks was so deep that I resolved to embark on a year of re-readings, which is why I now find myself about halfway through the first book of Don Quixote, in the terrific Edith Grossman translation. This is proving to be a more complicated encounter. On the one hand, the characters of Quixote and Sancho Panza are as beautifully realised as I remember them, and the idea of a man determinedly seeing the world according to his own vision, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, feels strikingly contemporary. On the other hand, how many more times are the Knight of the Dolorous Countenance and Sancho going to get beaten up and left in pain in various roadside ditches? The “greatest novel ever written” – I voted for it myself once – turns out to be just a little bit repetitive. To make the reading easier, I’m breaking it up and reading other books by other authors after every couple of hundred pages of Cervantes. At present, that interposed book is David Grossman’s wonderful A Horse Walks into a Bar.
The book that changed my life
Truthfully, the books that changed my life were books I wrote myself, not books I read. When Midnight’s Children was published in 1981 I was hoping that a few people who were not friends or relations of mine might read and like it. I was completely unprepared for what happened. It gave me the life I had always wanted, a writer’s life, and for most of the 1980s I lived that life with real gratitude and happiness. Then in 1988 another book changed my life in another way. But in spite of everything that followed the publication of The Satanic VersesI remain proud of it. And strangely I’m grateful for it, too. Its troubled pathway has taught me a lot about how to live, and what to live for.
What makes a book tick? What keeps readers coming back to a book again and again, thumbing through dog eared pages and inhaling the cloying smell of well-worn paper? What, indeed, makes one want to re-read Anna Karenina, 1984, Midnight’s Children, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, The Great Gatsby, One Hundred Years of Solitude, On the Road, To Kill a Mockingbird, Malgudi Days, Gora, The Jungle Book, Samskara… the list is endless. What gets books into ‘Must Read’ lists? The criteria will often vary, but there are constants that explain what makes a book a treasured experience.
These are books that would be categorized as “lasting literature” that readers would not just read but reread, discovering something new each time, finding in them the sense of wonder and new interpretations, messages and meanings with each reading. These are books that continue to influence readers and writers and help them understand their own writing and the world in general a little more.
Listen to Salman Rushdie on bigthink.com: The Difference Between Pulp Fiction and Lasting Literature
In the pantheon of literature, the best novels manage to feel timeless even as they capture a snapshot of history, from Jane Austen examining Regency-era social mores in Pride and Prejudice to John Steinbeck depicting the Great Depression in The Grapes of Wrath. But writing about the present is a delicate balance — include too many gadgets, apps and cultural reference points and your story quickly feels irrelevant.
By Brittany Ruess
In times when the politically powerful attempt to smother speech, renowned author Salman Rushdie said writers often ask themselves how to keep pushing forward.
The answer is to keep writing, he said.
“If we are not making the beauty, we have nothing to defend,” Rushdie said.
The keynote speaker of the second annual Unbound Book Festival, Rushdie spoke to a crowd packed inside Jesse Auditorium on the University of Missouri campus Friday about the “ancient conflict” between writers and politicians. While both tell stories, Rushdie said, writers are upfront about their fiction and politicians often don’t tell the truth while pretending that they are. Read more
Source: Columbia Tribune