Literature Meme, Midnight’s Children

I discovered Midnight’s Children in a bookstore in Mumbai eight and a half years ago and was more than pleasantly surprised as soon as I began reading it on the train from Agra to Delhi. Back then, my knowledge of Rushdie was limited to the controversy after the fatwa and I must say I am quite angry with the whole cacophony that has shrouded the beauty of his writing.

For you ignorant readers out there, a meme is defined by Wikipedia as “cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another”. According to Richard Dawkins, who can take the credit as the person who coined the term, a meme is a replicator. I think I like this succinct description better.

In this case (practically speaking) a meme is an incentive to get bloggers to write. And as you can see (in this case) it works.

Two days ago I was memed by @radiognome who asked me to write about and quote from a piece of literature that I find interesting or perplexing. Radiognome blogs in English, and I take this as a chance to write in English and test the loyalty my English audience who usually end up here to read about “ladies sangeet“.

Speaking of sangeet and India, I was thinking I’d pick a paragraph from one of my favourite books, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Click here to read what I’d written about it long ago (in Turkish).

I discovered Midnight’s Children in a bookstore in Mumbai eight and a half years ago. Once I started reading it on the train from Agra to Delhi, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Back then, my knowledge of Rushdie was limited to the controversy after the fatwa and I must say I am quite angry with the whole cacophony that has shrouded the beauty of his writing.

This Also Happens To Be The Cover Of The One I Got From Mumbai

The novel begins with the story of a Doctor Aadam Aziz in Kashmir in 1915. One morning as Dr Aziz is attempting to pray, he happens to hit his huge protruding nose against the frost hardened earth. Three drops of blood plop out of his (left) nostril and harden instantly in the brittle morning air. Later he finds out that the tears of pain have also solidified on his eyelashes. At that moment he decides “never to kiss earth for any god or man”. This decision creates a hole, a vacancy in him leaving him “vulnerable to women and history”.

Later on, Dr. Aadam Aziz, who happens to be the narrator’s grandfather, is called upon to the mansion of Mr. Ghani the landowner who has a daughter prone to fall sick. However Ghani is a decent man and his daughter – obviously – is a decent girl who “does not flaunt her body under the noses of strange men”. Therefore, Dr. Aziz is only permitted to see the patient through a crude seven inch hole pierced in an enormous white bedsheet, yet unstained.

The girl Naseem ends up contracting “a quite extraordinary number of minor illnesses in the following few months and years…. Initial stomach ache is succeeded by a very slightly twisted right ankle, an ingrowing toenail on the big toe of the left foot, a tiny cut on the lower left calf… Her stiff right knee… Illness leapt upwards avoiding certain unmentionable zones… Skin flaking off her hands, weakness of the wrist bones, attacks of constipation (cured with laxatives since there is no question of administrating an enema)… Fevers and subnormal temperatures…”

Slowly there are minor contacts of the flesh: “A slight case of tineachloris in the armpit” which requires rubbing of a powder “gently but firmly” which leads to: “soft secret body shaking and quivering” and Dr. Aziz “heard helpless laughter coming through the sheet.”

“So gradually Doctor Aziz came to have a picture of Naseem in his mind, a badly fitting collage of her severely-inspected parts. This phantasm of a partitioned woman began to haunt him, and not only in his dreams. Glued together by his imagination, she accompanied him on all his rounds, she moved into the front room of his mind, so that walking and sleeping he could feel in his fingertips the softness of her ticklish skin or the perfect tiny wrists or the beauty of the ankles; he could smell her scent of lavender and chambeli; he could hear her voice and her helpless laughter of a little girl; but she was headless, because he had never seen her face.”

After some time, “the landowner and the daughter become willing to lower certain barriers.” So the daughter has a lump in the chest during her time of the month, a pulled muscle in the back of the thigh…

Finally the narrator concludes, “my grandfather had fallen in love, and had come to think of the perforated sheet as something sacred and magical, because through it he had seen the things which had filled up the hole inside him which had been created when he had been hit on the nose by the frost hardened earth…”

Dr. Aziz is a western educated man living in the east. His training leads him to assume that the parts add up to more than the whole. Unfortunately is not the case in the east most of the time. He makes the mistake of falling madly in love and this turns out to be the beginning of a catastrophic end.

So here I shared with you a tiny piece of this grand novel which left me perplexed. I cannot say the book is not tiring. I cannot guarantee that your dictionary will have all the words that you seek (unless you have an anglo-indian one close-by). I cannot say the reading’s going to be short and painless. It sure is not beach reading. However I guarantee you will agree that Rushdie did deserve to win the Booker of Bookers. And I hope he will do so once more this year, this time winning the award for the first 40 years.

I abide by the rule of memeing on the web which expects me to meme two people who should in turn do likewise after they write about a piece of literature they enjoy.

Hikmet and divadeiwob, please comment here after you are done.

3 thoughts on “Literature Meme, Midnight’s Children”

  1. hey Emin
    thanks for playing with the rules of meming and thanks for this wonderfully written post 🙂

    i myself was very eager to start Midnight’s Children but very lazy to complete it. Still, I just love this bit:

    “I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world”

    Beautifully written…

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