Skip to main content

Featured Post

2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Book Review: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

In his introduction to Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie writes –

“As I placed Saleem (born at the midnight moment of Indian independence) at the centre... I understood that his time of birth would oblige me immensely to increase the size of my canvas. If he and India were to be paired, I would need to tell the story of both twins. Then Saleem, ever a striver for meaning, suggested to me that the whole of modern Indian history happened as it did because of him; that history, the life of his nation-twin, was somehow all his fault.”

Later, he elaborates, in Saleem’s own words –

“ is Kali Yuga; the children of the hour of darkness were born ... in the midst of the age of darkness; so that although we found it easy to be brilliant, we were always confused about being good. ......”

And then –

“Reality can have metaphorical content; that does not make it less real. A thousand and one children were born; there were a thousand and one possibilities which had never been present in one place at one time before; and there were a thousand and one dead ends. Midnight’s children can be made to represent many things, according to your point of view; they can be represented as the last throw of everything antiquated and retrogressive in our myth-ridden nation, whose defeat was entirely desirable in the context of a modernizing, twentieth century economy; or as the true hope of freedom....”

That, in a nutshell, is what the book is about.

To elaborate a bit more, and get on with my review, here are some thoughts I had, as I read the book.

To begin with, it is not an easy read. I am usually a fast reader, but this book took me more than a month to read. It is not one of those books which you can read at one go. There are parts which make you stop and think, and the narrative at times makes you wonder where on earth the story is going.

The story might be about Saleem, but it is, in fact, a beautiful way of writing history. Every event in the book relates to events which occurred in India in the three decades following independence, and while the story is all about connecting Saleem, and the midnight’s children to the events, it does provide a look at the events in a manner other than simply reading about them in a newspaper or in an history book. This is something the author seems to have noticed, for he writes in his introduction –
“In the west, people tended to read Midnight’s children as a fantasy, while in India, people thought of it as pretty realistic, almost a history book.”

We all remember events, not just by themselves, but how they affected us. For example, I shall always remember Indira Gandhi’s assassination with our being stuck in Madras, worrying about our journey to Delhi, for my aunt’s wedding, and the Babri Masjid riots with being stuck in college, and getting into a running train in a desperate attempt to get back home safe. Yes, this is no way concerned with the book, but it’s what I loved about the book, his connecting of historical events with events in Saleem’s life. The only difference is, while we look at events in our life against the backdrop of events happening in our country, Saleem looks on at the events happening in the country against the events occurring in his life.... each connected with the other, by virtue of his time of birth.

Rushdie’s choice of the protagonist as the narrator, writing his autobiography, reading it out to his lover... is not just interesting, it is brilliant. It allows him to use a typically Indian narrative – rambling, lengthy, filled with anecdotes, jumping back and forth between different time periods, now talking of a time in the past, now jumping to the present, suddenly going way back in time, and once again leaping ahead, suggesting what is yet to come, tantalising the reader with bits of what lie ahead, constantly reminding us of events in the past (which was actually very useful, since I didn’t have to constantly refer to past happenings). If you have ever heard your grandmother tell you stories of her youth, you will surely see the similarity.

At first, as I struggled to read the book, I wondered why on earth it had won the Best of the Booker award. It was only by the time I completed it that I realised why. To start off with, there is the language – it is simple, easy enough for the casual reader, but good enough for the connoisseur; his choice of words for his characters is just about perfect, he manages to blend in Hindi slang and Indian English without taking anything away from the overall language of the book, something few Indian authors manage to achieve.  Add to this his choice of metaphors for describing anything and everything... ranging from a torn bed sheet to the family nose inherited by Saleem, and you have a literary masterpiece!

Then there is his writing style – cynical, satirical, with the underlying sense of humour at the whole situation. He laughs at the typically Indian mentality, at times, cruelly and brutally honest, forces us to see things as they are. And yet, he holds on to the story, and our interest.

The very idea of midnight’s children itself is so typically Indian; it is so much in tune with our love for mythology and seeking a divine meaning, a higher reason for every single event, that it seems inevitable that the children will end up much like our own country – confused, corrupt and helpless.

And, just like almost everything in our country, he carries it a bit too far...The story could have been simpler with just a few midnight’s children, instead, he chooses a number which is difficult to handle, and even with just three of them being important, he fails to give each of them their place in the sun. The story might be Saleem’s. But in that case, the title should have been ‘Midnight’s Child”. Having associated Saleem’s destiny with other children, especially Shiva, I expected to read more about him as the book progressed, which didn’t happen. We hear of Shiva just off and on through the book, when, by rights, simply by virtue of his birth, he should have been a co-protagonist. But the story, narrated by Saleem, remains Saleem’s alone. But then, that was probably the author’s way of showing us the injustice in the world, in which case, he does succeed. 

P.S. This book was sent to me for review by Random House India


  1. thanks for ur review, now I think i can go back to reading this book which I had read just 100 pages and have put it away because i found it too heavy a read

    1. do go and continue reading, Pushpa... and tell me what you think of the rest. it really was tough to read to start with... but it gets better... would love to know if u think so too.. as i mentioned, it took me more than a month to read... dont even remember when i last took so much time to read one book!!!! and it took almost an equivalent amount of time to write the review since i really didnt know what to write!

  2. hey Anuradha, I have been following your blog for more than 6 months and love everything you write . Your this particular book review is very incisive and I must say ,your analytical understanding of literature is very fine. I so loved reading this .I would never have picked up this book even if it was lying next to me for months but for this review which has inspired me to go get it and read it.

    1. Thanks so much, Kirti! good to see you commenting!!! i would love to know what you think of the book...

  3. Hey Anu ,I too want to echo Pushpa's words. Time to pick it up again ,I feel.

    1. Thanks Namita... do pick it up once more... and let me know what you think!

  4. Your post made me to decide to read the book.

  5. Oh Anu, not fair. After every book review of yours, one more book gets added to my to-be-read pile which has become so large that even I don't know what all is there !


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. Please leave a comment for me so that I will know you have been here....

Popular posts from this blog

Gokarna Part II – The Five Lingams

We continued our Gokarna trip by visiting four other Shiva temples in the vicinity, all connected to the same story of Gokarna. The story of Gokarna mentions the Mahabaleshwara Lingam as the one brought from Kailas by Ravana, and kept at this place on the ground by Ganesha. (See my earlier post- Gokarna – Pilgrimage and Pleasure). However, the story does not end here. It is believed that, in his anger, Ravana flung aside the materials which covered the lingam- the casket, its lid, the string around the lingam, and the cloth covering it. All these items became lingams as soon as they touched the ground. These four lingams, along with the main Mahabaleshwara lingam are collectively called the ‘ Panchalingams’ . These are: Mahabaleshwara – the main lingam Sajjeshwar – the casket carrying the lingam. This temple is about 35 Kms from Karwar, and is a 2 hour drive from Gokarna. Dhareshwar – the string covering the lingam. This temple is on NH17, about 45 Kms south of Gokarna. Gunavanteshw

Rama Temple, Gokarna

To my right , the waves rush to the shore, eager to merge with the sand. To my left, the same waves crash against the rocks, their spray diverting my reverie as I ponder over the beauty of nature, and wonder what first brought people here. Was it this beauty that encouraged them to build a temple here, or was it the fresh, sweet spring water flowing from the hill here that made this place special? No matter what the reason, I am glad my auto driver brought me here. We are at the Rama temple in Gokarna, just a few minutes away from the Mahabaleshwara Temple, yet offering so different a perspective.

Pandharpur Yatra 2023

The first time I visited Pandharpur was back in 2007 . The names Vitthal and Pandharpur, were just names to me. I had heard of them, but that was about it. Seeing the lord standing on the brick, hands on his hips, was memorable, but more memorable was the sight that greeted us as we walked out of the main sanctum of the temple. In the mandap just outside were a group of devotees singing abhangs , and dancing. This was the first time I had heard abhangs , and even almost 15 years later, I can remember the welling of feeling within me, listening to the songs, and how fascinated I was by the sight of the devotees dancing, lost in their love of the Lord. Over the years, as I have read more about Vitthal, and participated in Ashadi Ekadashi programmes at Puttaparthi, that first experience has stayed clear in my mind and heart. Every time I tell my Balvikas students of the saints who sang of Vitthala, it is that experience that I re-live. I visited Pandharpur again, in 2010, but that experie