Thursday, April 17, 2008

#186: Pretending Their Favorite Book is Midnight's Children

The world of South Asian diasporic literature is as populated as India itself. There's Masti Chick Lit, Alternative Identity Lit, Plagiarized Lit, Overwrought Lit, Wait is Zadie Smith Black or Pakistani Lit, Who's Monica Ali Lit, and Sweet Lakshmi Please Have My Baby Jhumpa Lahiri Lit. Above and beyond all these words, pages, paperbacks and epigrams, though, there is only one forefather of South Asian diasporic literature. Sorry, Naipal, but his name is Salman, and Indians like lying to people that they love his books.

Depending on your degree of precociousness and the extremes of your post-adolescent identity crisis during which you threatened to change your name to Steve and convert to Christianity, you probably picked up your first Rushdie book around middle to late high school. Most likely this was Satanic Verses since you vaguely remembered something from when you were 8 about a revolution in Iran and a fatwa on a fat man. Or maybe it was Midnight's Children, which you stumbled across on the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading table while looking for Confederacy of Dunces. Either way, whatever you read you didn't understand and it took you seven years to finish.

It doesn't matter that you turned the last page of Midnight's Children by the time you finished college. It doesn't matter that you bought The Ground Beneath Her Feet, or that you thought the plot sounded a lot like the movie Taal. It doesn't matter if you watched Rushdie speak, or that he signed your copy of Shalimar the Clown. You didn't read it, but you tell people you did.

On Friendster, Facebook, Orkut and Linked In pages all around, Indians claim their favorite books are some sort of combination between The Interpreter of Maladies, The Kite Runner, Digital Fortress, On Beauty, The God of Small Things and Midnight's Children. Most likely that last one is an equivocation. You may have read Midnight's Children but can you remember it? Can you describe Salim? Can you tell me why he ended up in some spitoon on the Kashmiri border? Can you explain why his left nostril always ran? Neither can I. But, damn, I love that book.


Anonymous said...

I'm an Indian who definitely claims Midnight's Children as one of my favorite novels. In response to your queries:

You may have read Midnight's Children but can you remember it?

Absolutely. Rushdie's magical realism is brilliant.

Can you describe Salim?

Actually, it's spelled "Saleem" in almost every version I've seen. Saleem is the megalomaniacal narrator (and leader of the titular Midnight's Children) who feels that, based on the time and the circumstances of his birth, his life (that he does not deserve, that he stole from Shiva) mirrors that of India's history. One example is how his being "cracked up" symbolizes India's lack of unity -- there are several others. He attempts to preserve his life in Padma's pickles in order to record it, but finds himself crumbling prematurely.

Can you tell me why he ended up in some spitoon on the Kashmiri border?

Poverty and insanity, basically. But spittoons are a common symbol throughout that novel -- they keep Saleem tied to reality.

Can you explain why his left nostril always ran?

His nose was the location from which he derived his psychic power as a Midnight's Child. Notice that once it was drained completely for the first time, he lost his ability to communicate with the other children in his mind.

But, damn, I love that book.

True that.

So, keep in mind that not quite _all_ of us are frauds -- just most. This article was still hilarious, though :-)

Mahotma in Herre said...

whackman, can i get those Spark Notes when you're done?

Honey Dip said...

wow .... homeboy took the time to answer the questions!

Honey Dip said...

and whackman said "true that" with a 'T'

Mahotma in Herre said...

Honey Dip, we can't all be black. We wish we could, but apparently we can't.

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this is affliction will continue for another couple of generations it seems..,,2290062,00.html

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