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Night’s Children : A Study Of Salman Rushdie’s Narrative Technique
technique is marvelous. He is the master of narration at present time.
The charm of his themes consists in their narrative qualities. His novels
demonstrate the unique narrative which lures the reader ever onward into
the pandemonium of the text. His narrative technique is used for the
factual rendering in historical setting. His manner is unbiased as with
strict objectivity he renders the personal experiences and situations.
constructs his own reality, which is dependent upon the events of the
outside world but it is interpreted privately, because everybody
interprets its through its own mood and way. He gives the heightened
picture of reality through a realization of true self and thus rejects the
partial realities. However while doing so, he renders this reality with a
touch of fantasy.
Rushdie’s novels are
complex, many layered with episodic causality, bearing strong
influence of post modernist novels as well as principles of the Indian art
forms. His exalted diction, elevated word usage and felicitous word
phrases leave strong impinge on the readers. We see the use of daring
literary innovations and disorderliness, such the unconventional word
Rushdie’s technique of
novel writing deserves the highest place in Indo-Anglian literature.
About his technique Rusdhie told in an interview : “for instance there
is a technique that Dickens used a kind of background or setting for his
works which is completely naturalistic back ground, he imposes totally
surrealistic image.” What I tried to do thought not to quite in the
Dickensian, way was to make sure that the background, the bedrock of the
book was eight-that Bombay like Bombay, the cities were recognizably
correct so that fantasy could be rooted in that kind of reality.1
Rushdie is a master
manufacturer of felicitous phrases. He gives them aromatic ingredients.
They are diffused all over his works. His oeuvre is resplendent with them.
Saleem Sinal’s seminal description of himself gives a glance of that
: “Child of an unknown union, I have had more mothers than most mothers
have children, giving birth to parents has been one of my stranger
talents-a room of revise fertility, beg and the control of contraception,
and even of the widow herself.”2
Salman Rushdie uses the device of one of the oldest narrative techniques
i.e. of the first person narrator recounting his life story to a
sympathetic listener. He pours a long narrative at one go in breathless
haste in large paragraphs without any full stops.
Padma named after the
lotus goddess pulls him up when he falters. Rushdie openly expresses his
contempt for linear narration. The novel does not have a continuous
forward narration rather it is complex and interrelated, based on
structure repetitions and episodic casualties, which is in fact one of the
strong points of the novel, as it is the perfect hitching of the content
to the form. Rushdie disappears the linear narration as Saleern says :
“But have is Padma at my elbow, bullying me back into the world of linear
narrative, the universe of what-happened-next. At this rate, Padma
complains, you’ll be two hundred years old before you manage to fell about
your birth. She is affecting non-chalance but does not fool me. I know how
that she is despite all her protestations, hooked. No doubt about it : my
story has her by the throat...fighting down the proper privet of the
successful story teller, I attempt to educate her .... Padma-pressures of
what happened next and remembering the finite quantity of time at my
deposal, I leap forwards.”3
Padma prefers the option
always open to audiences and deceits him when the narrative tale as up on
the traditional independent power of the story teller to do what he likes
with a dependent and slotted audience “she is captivated, helpless as a
mongoose frozen to immobility by the swaying, blinkers eyes of a hooded
snake, parlay said yeast by love”. The narrator is deprived of a narrate
and loses it’s meaning the pursues of which he has given at the novel’s
inaction as his main impetus : “How to dispense with Padma? How give up
her ignorance and superstition, necessary counter weights to my
miracle-laden omniscience? How to do without her paradoxical earthiness of
spirit, which keepers-kept? My feet on the ground? I have become, it seems
to me, the apex of an isosceles triangle, supported equally by twin
deities, the wild god of memory and lotus goddess of the present .... but
must I now become reconciled to the narrow one-diversionary of a straight
The presence of Padma is
essential for Saleem’s narration of the story. Her continuous absence has
disastrous consequences for Saleem’s confidence and control of his
materiel of the past : “But today, I feel confused, Padma has not returned
and in her absence my certainties are falling apart. Even my nose has been
playing tricks on me-by day, as I stroll between the picklevats tended by
our army of strong, hairy armed, formidably competent women, I have found
myself to distinguish lamer-odors form lime .... Re-reading my work, I
have discovered an error in chronology. The assassination of Mahatma
Gandhi occurs, in these pages, on the wrong date : But I cannot say, now,
what the actual sequence of events might have been, in Indira Gandhi will
continue to die at the wrong time.”5
We have been attributed to
Saleem’s fallible memory but this is in fact a device of the novelist to
keep the reader alert and the same time it also hints at the unrelishieity
of the writer, as well as of history geography. As we see in the date of
Gandhi’s death or General Sam Manekshaw’s acceptance of the surrender of
Pakistani army at the and of Bangladesh war. The narrator says :
“Does one error invalidate the entire fabric? Am I so far gone, in my
desperate need for meaning, that I’m prepared to restart every thing-to
re-write the whole history of my times purely in order to place myself in
a central role? Today, in my confusion, I can’t judge. I’ll have to leave
it to others. For me there can be no going back, I must finish what I’ve
started, even it, initially what I finish turns out not to be what I began
At the very beginning
Rushdie maintains a continuous effort at synchronizing nation and domestic
life, so that the odyssey of his grandfather’s and parents become the
odyssey of the nation from the year 1915 up to about the year 1977. The
convergence of the national and the domestic life is underscored
repeatedly in the novel. Saleem subsumes most matter of public record
within himself so the inheritable subjectivity of any chronicling process
if incarnated in his appropriation of responsibility for major events
within the historical brands of his narrative. The narrator links himself
with the contemporary events. He says : “In this way I became directly
responsible for triggering off violence which ended with the partition of
the state of Bombay, as a result of which the city became the capital of
Maharastra ... about Indo-Pak war of 1965”7
He expresses “Let me state
this quite unequivocally, it is my first conviction that the hidden
purpose of the Indo-Pak war of 1965 was nothing more not less than the
crimination of my benighted family from the face of the earth. In order to
understand the recent history of our times, it is only necessary to
examine the bobbing-pattern of that war with an analytical, unprejudiced
represents the consciousness of the country-‘experiencing its life and the
time. At the same, time Saleem works as Rushdie’s alter-ego can also an
allegorical representation of Indian independence. Saleem like Rushdie,
(born two months before) is born on the exact hour of the Indian
independence, representing Rushdie’s own observation in comic vein or in
fantastic modes at the political state of the country. Rushdie with his
English father, Indian mother, mission schooling and cared by a catholic
‘ayah’ give symbols to link the autobiography of an individual to the
history of a nation.
Saleem represents the
history of India as an album; a family album he is at the center draws
correspondences between national event and his personal life. His
reference of self is dissolved in fantasy, forging connections in order to
confer meaning on chaos. He is aware that he is bound by his egotistical
frame of reference so that his interpretation of history is always to some
degree based upon his imagination, he still can not do anything else but
trust his own memory. This Rushdie calls : “Memory truth, because memory
has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates,
minimizes, glorifies and verifies also; but in the end it creates it own
This vast narrative
spanning over sixty three years of India’s history, also including some
glimpses of Pakistan and Bangladesh, achieves its compactness through some
special devices. The use of repetitive imagery and summary of previous
happenings revive the reader’s memory. He deliberately uses the same
language to highlight the great differenced for instance, Saleem himself
is born at Dr. Narlikar’s Nursing Home, “at the precise instant of India’s
arrival at Independence”10 while his son Aadam Sinai, is born in a “night
shadowed slum” of emergency. The narrator thinks of himself as preserving
both vegetables and events. He says : “Every pickle-jar (you will forgive
me if I become florid fro a moment) contains, therefore the most exalted
of possibilities : the feasibility of the classification of history; the
grandiose of the pickling of time, I however have pickled chapter.
Tonight, by serving the lid finally on a jar bearing the legend special
formula ‘No 30 Abracadaba’ I reach the end of my long-winded
autobiography, inwards, and pickles, I have immutable in both methods. We
must live, I’m afraid with the shadows of imperfection.”11
He makes clear the
sense of his narrative :
“At Bragnaza pickles, I supervise the production of Mary’s legendary
recipes; but these are also my special blends, in which, thanks to the
powers of my drained nasal passages, I am able to include memories, dreams
The events are
intermingled in the story of Saleem as vegetable acquires the special
flavor of the spices in which they are pickle. The events of different
time echo each other this idea is suggested again and again that people
and events are leaking in to other events. The novelist is very good at
descriptions; his hero can smell even emotions, and so one finds even
emotions, and so one finds even inanimate things impregnated with emotions
and smelling of them.
Another important part of
Rushdie’s narrative technique is his building up a sense of suspense. He
casually mentions a person before that person is appeared in actuality.
The identity of Mrs. Branganza is not revealed until the end of the story
when we find that she is no one else but Saleem’s own nurse Mary Pereira
whose chutneys he remembers. Thus Indira Gandhi is portrayed quite early
in the novel as widow when Saleem is approaching at his tenth birthday.
Later by incidents we move to know that widow is no one else but i.e.
On the technique of
novel Ron Shepherd states :
“Midnight’s Children, differs from earlier fiction in that most of the
usual ground rules associated with the older from of diction are broken :
the narrative fluctuates uncertainly between first and third person;
ordinary notions of fictional realism are subverted, natural law becomes
unnatural or supernatural even though the novel is not in any straight
forward sense religious or metaphysical, the novel is full of cryptic
clues, archaic utterances and seem always on the point of offering some
important explanation, of arriving at some goal or conclusion but what
this conclusion is one can not be sure. It is a novel of signs and
gestures and sleight of hand narrated with a passion for narrating other
than for clarifying meaning.”13
We frequently see the
narrator’s shift into dream and nightmare, which sees him as a narrator
both in the first person and the third person, which mars the credibility
of the character as a separate entity. In the narrative the reader is
shuffled between the past, present and future, which is a deliberate
attempt by the novelist to present the variety and multitudinous of the
country and her people. The interplay of the private and public lives in
the novel imparts a unity to the novel, where fact and fantasy reinforce
each other in order to give a heightened picture of reality. The sets the
outline for the plot structure of the novel. For instance the passage
narrating Brass Monkey’s fight with reimburse draws parallels between
situations those are widely a part in time and space. The blood on Evie
Bums face is a symbol of the blood caused by the rioters in Bombay.
Children is an ironic commentary on the major political events that took
place between 1947 and 1978. Like a historian, Rushdie recoreds major
historical events and like an artist he reaches history. We get the story
of the narrator as well as of the Indian subcontinent. Rushdie is
dexterous in employing the technique of irony in the description of the
post independence India.
“I remain, today half
convinced than in that time of accelerated events and diseased hours the
past of India rose up to confound her present, the new born, secular state
was being givenn an awesome reminder of its fabulous antiquity, in which
democracy and votes for women were irrelevant so that people were seized
by atavistic .longings, and forgetting the new myth of freedom reverted to
their old ways, their old regionalist loyalties and prejudices, and the
body politic began to crack.”14
Rushdie makes a good use
of rhetoric language. To make his language more effective. Rushdie employs
certain linguistic devices, which make the novel more appealing and
powerful. The city-riot’s in Amritsar is quite geographic.
“Amritsar dung was fresh
and (worse) redundant. Nor was it all bovine. It issued from the rumps of
the horsen between the shifts of the city’s many tongas, ikk as and
gharries, and mules and men and dogs attended nature’s calls, mingling in
a brotherhood of sheet.”15
This juxtaposition of mules, men and dogs in one brotherhood of shit is
suggestive of the author’s disgust with the city. Same description we find
in the city of Karachi.. Through each juxtaposition, Rushdie ventilates
his disgust with the cities in India as well as those in Pakistan.
We also see the influence
of Bombay film industry in the novel. Rushdie adopts the structure of
Bombay film industry in borad perspective, which provides him perfect
model for the novel. Thus novel is very close to Hindi film. Rushdie
adopts its many cliches in the novel such as, sudeen recognitions,
identity confusion etc. to present his complex theme of the history of the
Indian subcontinent. The exchange of two bodies born in Dr. Narlikar’s
nursing home by the nurse Mary Perira is very interims to the scene of
Hindi films. The novel is also a sort of comic epic genre, a form which is
a fusion of Homeric, mythic and tragic connotation. The story of the novel
spreads through six dcades and almost three generations of India’s pre and
post independence history. It is an epic in the sense that it tries to
describe or contain “and India whose stories are too innumerable to be
Rushdie’s use of
refreshing language, felicitous phrases and literary allusions are other
factor for the immense popularity of Midnight’s Children. The rich
exploitation of sound and meaning in language will for a long time be
Rushdie’s greatest contribution to the diversification of the Indian novel
in English. His basic concern in the novel is to bring in India, not only
as a grand theme but also through the medium. For his purpose Hindi, Urdu
or Hindustani words and phrases picked from their colloquial usages.
This synthesis of the
English and Hindi is abundant in the novel. It begins with the opening
pages of the novel, where Saleem tells us that he has been called by
various names in his family such “piece-of the Moon” for which the actual
Hindi and an English word come together forming a phrase as a name, such
as Picture Singh still further, traditional name such as ‘Padma’ and
‘Ganesha’ are use and their etymological and mythical aspects are also
referred to. Rushdie coins the phrase as “whatitsname”, to begin at
beginning”, “cursing curses at dogs”, “dreaming dream”, which sparkle the
narrative shedding off its monotonous coloring of a cliche.
Maria Cuto’s statement
seems correct : “Midnight’s Children evokes this lost center in
language that conveys the ineffable and inescapable Indian-ness of the
Rushdie inserts North
Indian vernacular language habits into flawless English intoned sentence
makes the double usage of the same word for fluent effect as “chhi, chii,”
Padma covers her ears,
“My God, such a dirty-filthy man I never knew!”.....18
Rushdie inserts crisp,
befitting vernacular words/ phrases, into flawless English sentences viz:
“..... and now Tai Bibi leaning out of a window shouts, ‘Hey, bhanchued!
Little sister-sleeper, where you running? What’s true is true.......!19 We
can take another example such as : ...the Nawab had invited all of these
to his daughter’s hennaing ceremony”.20 Rushdie offers vernacular idiom
through transliteration as, “....... donkey from some where!21
Further he also says:
“....... mad man from some where.22
Rushdie presents history through the metaphor of chutnification, which
gives way to his narrative. In other words Saleem is actually preserving
the facts of history as chutinification is also a method of preservation
each of the thirty one chapters in the novel stand for a pickle jar.
Saleem suggesting the future leaves the last jar empty. Thus the novel
ends literally against closure.
At the end the image of
narrator is cracking up. In his robust life now he is in imminent danger
of disintegration as we can see from the voice of Saleem : “my hopeless,
universed body ..... began to crack... Parched, it yielded at last to the
effects of a life time’s battering. And now there is rip tear crunch and a
stench issuing through the fissures, which must be the smell of
death...... 1 hear live being spoken in the night, anything you want to be
you can be the greatest lie of all, cracking now, fission of Saleem, I am
the bomb in Bombay, watch me explode, bones spilling beneath the awful
pressure of the crowd, bag of bones falling down, down, down, just as once
at Jallianwala A broken creature spilling pieces of itself into the
street, because I have been so-many persons, life unlike syntax allows one
more than three and at last some where the striking of a clock, twelve
chimed, release .... yes, they will trample me under foot.... because it
is the privilege of and the curse of midnight’s children to be both
masters and victims of their times ...”23
REFERENCES 1. Dharkar Rani, An Interview with Salman Rushdie, New
Quest, 42 Nov-Dec-1983 p.351.
2. Rushdie, Salman, Midnight’s Children, London : Arrow Books, 1981.
3. Ibid. p. 38.
4. Ibid. p. 39.
5. Ibid. p. 140.
6. Ibid. p. 240.
7. Ibid. p. 342.
8. Ibid. p. 245.
9. Ibid. p. 340.
10. Ibid. p. 340.
11. Shepherd Ron, “Midnight’s Children as Fantasy”, The Novels of Salman
Rusdhie,. p. 33.
12. Rushdie, Salman, Midnight’s Children, London : Arrow Books, 1981.
13. Ibid, p. 138.
14. Cuto, Maria “Midnight’s Children and Parents : the search for
Indo-British identity” Encounter, Feb 1982 pp. 18-22.
15. Ibid. p. 238.
16. Ibid. p. 320.
17. Ibid. p. 321.
18. Ibid. p. 118.
19. Ibid. p. 122.
20. Ibid. p. 463.
21. Rushdie, Salman, Shame, Rupa, 1983.
22. Ibid. p. 79.
23. Ibid. p. 70.
Contributing Author: Dr. Ram Sharma, Lecturer
Janta Vedic College MEERUT, U.P.