Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reading Travels: a quasi-historical travel

South Asia:month II, travel II,second reading
My second travel starts in Kashmir, the territory disputed by India, Pakistan and China equally. And there is a reason, as this reading travel unfolds the story of Indian independence and the births of the nation as we know it today. At the dawn of the 19th century an young, European educated doctor returns to the city of his childhood and as he is performing the rite of the morning prayer he accidentally injures his exceptional nose. Since his self is split between the local traditions and the rising foreign, mainly west European influence. And so is his marriage, as his wife preserves tradition as she preserves spices and grocery supplies in her famous pantry. But whilst Aadam's transforation into a half-and-a-halfer seems to be one of the sources of his family’s misadventures, as it was foretold by Tai, the estranged quasi -mystical boatman, it also brings a much more tolerant and liberal outlook on life.
Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children follows Aadam Aziz and his descendents from the end of world war one until 1978, as their lives are intertwined with the birth of the modern states of India and Pakistan. The history is written from the perspective of Saleem Sinai, Aadam’s alleged grand-son born on the midnight of August 15, 1947 the same moment as the one of the Indian independence. But Saleem is not the real heir of the prosperous Kashmiri families, he had been changed at birth by Mary Pereira, his future nurse and the one “mother” who is going to offer him abode during the last years of his life. Saleem is the allegory of the new-born India with its English heritage and the influence of many traditions, his many "mothers" and "fathers". As his grandfather is representative for a new generation of Indians educated abroad that are bring back with them liberal ideas as well as ideas of freedom and national appurtenance. As his son, in fact his wife’s son Parvati fathered by Shiva the new Aadam, Aadam Sinai, will represent the Indian nation reborn after the State of Emergency. An Indian nation reborn from Shiva and Parvati as it had assimilated and integrated its foreign influences and re-invented its traditions.
The rivalry between Saleem and Shiva ,at times, it mirrors the rivalry between India and Pakistan, but at its core it goes beyond it, as metaphor for a South Asian world where a new disorder replaces the ancient order of things and people. A disorder which started before the children's swap. It started even before Aadam's accident. It started with his mother's voluntary abandon of her purdah in order to be able to maintain her bedridden husband's jewelry business and support her son's studies. And the rivalry becomes metaphor as Saleem had inherited an extraordinary nose and the other, Shiva,his grandfather's knees. And whilst the nose shall guide the knees (legs), their role changes for the knees are able to overpower the nose.For Shiva is the righteous heir of pure heritage. And the book is, after all, the metaphorical story of the rebirth of two nations and cultures once they had their freedom to auto determine themselves again.
With his writing Rushdie plays as courtesan as much as he is a lover. He plays with words and images in order to lure in his reader , yet his writing is one of a lover of ideas and language. And what is first playful seduction becomes a subject of meditation which can keep one awake at night.And to this he adds a touch of magic in order to bring life to his allegorical characters, even when they are pictured as legendary heroes of unreal stories, we can still relate to their fears, pity them, feel compassion for Amina's loveless life when she seemed made to love and give, acknowledge their hopes and admire them.
But, the main reason for which I would recommend it to readers like me, who are not of South Asian descent, is Rushdie’s art. As he captures the diverse facets of South Asian culture as they emerge from a diversity of traditions, religions, historical events into which western culture had mixed its worst and best in equal measures. And he becomes the storyteller of a world full of life, dreams, superstitions, faith mixed with cynism, human weakness and feelings. And so the book succeeds to be a fantastic novel, fresco of the daily life in India, historic novel , biography and hagiography likewise. And the rightful winner of the Brooker of Brookers.
[1]The New York Times called it "A Novel of India's Coming out of Age", http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/04/18/specials/rushdie-midnight.html

No comments: