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Mid Night’s Children : A Study Of Salman Rushdie’s Narrative Technique

Rushdie’s narrative 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.

Rushdie’s narrator 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 play.

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 line?”4

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 .....”6

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 eye.”8

Saleem’s character 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 reality.”9

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 ...... ideas.”12

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. Indira Gandhi.

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.

Rushdie Midenight’s 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 contained.”16

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 novelist.”17

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

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. p.242.
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 in English, Janta Vedic College MEERUT, U.P.





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