Midnight's Children

by Salman Rushdie

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Is Midnight's Children a landmark in the history of the Indian novel in English?

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Midnight's Children can be seen as a landmark in the history of the Indian novel in English for a couple of reasons.  The first reason would be that Rushdie composes one of the most significant works about Partition.  One of the darkest and saddest moments in the birth of two nations, Rushdie offers a complex and intricate view of Partition.  The invocation of Nehru's "tryst with destiny" speech is one of many ways in which Midnight's Children prompts a sense of reflection and discussion about the concept of modern India and Pakistan.  Being able to broach such a powerfully intense dialogue is one distinct reason why the novel is a landmark in the history of the Indian novel in English.  Few novels since, and even fewer before, are and were able to engage in such a discussion.

Another reason why the novel is a landmark in the history of the Indian novel in English is that Rushdie does not shy away from presenting fragmentation as intrinsic to the modern condition. There is little totality in the vision that Rushdie offers.  Saleem is a flawed narrator, and the vision of history that is offered is limited by subjectivity.  At the same time, Rushdie presents a complex world in which little is clear.  Midnight's Children is a part of the canon that displays the complex condition of modern nation building.  It is a landmark because it does not run away from the reality that modern nation building is far from absolute.  Contrary to simplistic narratives that seek to advocate a particular political agenda of control, Midnight's Childrenis an honest enough work to suggest that all sides in the nation building process might be limited to a great extent.  This is where the work would have to be seen as a landmark, as it established the contours and parameters of what was possible to expect from the Indian novel in English. 

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Comment on Midnight's Children as a landmark in the history of the Indian novel in English. 

It is clear that this novel, more than any other before it, was the first Indian novel written in English to gain the widespread attention of the English reading public. This was partly due to the fact that it was awared the Booker Prize for literature, which gained it fame and ensured that it was read widely in both Great Britain and the United States. However, what makes it a true "landmark" in the history of the Indian novel written in English is the way that it seeks to explore India's identity in particularly postcolonial terms. Remember that Saleem Sinai is born just as India a a nation is born, after the Raj, or Britain's colonial control of India, ceases. Therefore the reader is meant to see a parallel between Saleem and the new nation into which he is born. Note how Saleem himself answers the question of "Who am I?":

I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.

India and this central character are wedded together. Saleem at various points states how his fate is wedded to that of his country. As Saleem reminisces about his life he says he is dying because he suffers the same problem that India suffers from, having been suddenly plunged from immaturity to maturity. He says he is "falling apart," and the reader is meant to see Saleem's life as he grows up and ages as allegorically representing the new life of India as a nation. In the end, Saleem is only able to gain a measure of peace when he accepts his own fragility and vulnerability, which presents Rushdie's view that India as a nation is actually very vulnerable because of its background and the realities that threaten to destroy it. What makes this such a landmark book therefore is that it both came to the attention of a massive audience and that it was the first Indian novel written in English that sought to capture the realities of India in terms of its identity.

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