'Midnight's Children'

r.l.schmidt at easteur-orient.uio.no r.l.schmidt at easteur-orient.uio.no
Mon Nov 20 12:57:57 UTC 1995

This is a reply to Aditya Dev Sood's comments about Rushdie's work, which were:

>I'm sorry to interject so sharply, but am I the only one who finds it
>extremely problematic to either typify Rushdie's novel as "very south
>asian" or to disavaw that there are strands within it which reverberate
>against "postcolonial literatures" since WWII, which may also find their
>antecdents in european novels between the war -- themselves never
>conceived in a vacum, nor untainted by exposure to the then-colonies?
>Rushdie is no high scholar of 'the Indian Tradition,' but as the product
>of someone who has lived in India, Pakistan and then England, his work
>demands critical apparatuses which are at least as cosmopolitan, and
>considerably more sophisticated. 'Either-Or' questions are specifically
>disallowed by these texts. What Rushdie and, perhaps Desai as well, are
>doing is to demand that this mixed, polyglossic, doggerel texture of our
>world be acknowledged and articulated.
>Has Indology (the mind-frame, the discourse, the discipline, the listserver)
>responded to this challenge? Should it? How?
Mr. Sood's comments appear directed toward Lars Martin Fosse's observation that
"When reading Midnight's Children some years ago it struck me that Rushdie
seems to owe a lot to the old Indic kath-a. He utilized motives and
personalities from Hindu mythology quite creatively, and I felt personally
that his storytelling was very South Asian"--and/or to my observation that:
"I always had the impression that there are echoes of the *dastan* in

To say that there are echoes of South Asian narrative genres in _Midnight's
Children_ is not at all the same thing as saying that _Midnight's Children_
is a *kath-a*, or a *dastan*.

Here is what Rushdie himself says, in _Imaginary Homelands-:

        "I was born an Indian, and not only an indian, but a
Bombayite--Bombay, most cosmopolitan, most hybrid, most hotchpotch of
Indian cities.  My writing and thought have therefore been as deeply
influenced by Hindu myths and attitudes as Muslim ones....Nor is the West
absent from Bombay (404)...
        "A book is a kind of passport.  And my passports, the works that
gave me the permits I needed, included _The Film Sense_ by Sergei
Eisenstein, the _Crow_ poems of Ted Hughes, Borges _Fictions_, Sterne's
_Tristam Shandy_, Ionescu's play _Rhonoceros--and, that summer of 1967,
_(Gunter Grass's) _The Tin Drum_ (276).

It is not surprising if we find echoes of a variety of literary traditions
in Rushdie's writing. It would be even more surprising if we didn't find
the flavor of South Asian literary genres.

Since I am the one who mentioned the *dastan*, I would also like to observe
that it is not a purely South Asian genre, but is found in large areas of
the Muslim world.

Best wishes,

Ruth Schmidt


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