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TitleMidnight's Children Study Guide
TagsPakistan Movement Unrest Religion And Belief
File Size293.0 KB
Total Pages71
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Context

Salman Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947, to an affluent family in Bombay, India.
Rushdie’s birth coincided with a particularly important moment in Indian history:
after nearly one hundred years of colonial rule, the British occupation of the South
Asian subcontinent was coming to an end. Almost exactly three months after
Rushdie’s birth, Pakistan and India achieved their long-awaited independence when,
at the stroke of midnight on August 14 and 15, respectively, power was transferred
from Great Britain to the sovereign governments of each country. The period that
immediately followed independence proved tumultuous. Political and social tensions
between Hindus and Muslims caused not only the division of India into two separate
countries—a calamitous event referred to as Partition—but also wide-scale riots that
claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The violence that accompanied
independence was a prelude to the multiple wars, coups, and governmental abuses
that plagued the area in the years that followed.

The political upheaval and constant threat of violence that marked the first three
decades of independence forms the backdrop forMidnight’s Children, Rushdie’s
most celebrated novel. Like Rushdie himself, Saleem, the narrator of Midnight’s
Children, is born on the eve of independence, and the events of his life closely
parallel events in the development of both India and Pakistan. Most of Rushdie’s
novels concern themselves, to some extent, with the character and history of these
two major South Asian nations and describe the various, often violent struggles
between different religions, classes, languages, and geographical regions. In the
thirty years following independence, India and Pakistan fought three separate wars:
two over Kashmir, and one over the creation of an independent Bangladesh. The
wars produced millions of refugees, claimed thousands of lives, and led to a nearly
permanent state of tension between the two countries.

Raised in a well-to-do Muslim household, Rushdie was given an excellent education.
After graduating from the University of Oxford in 1968, he moved briefly to
Pakistan, where his family had immigrated after Partition, before returning to
England to work as an actor and copywriter. Soon after, Rushdie published his first
novel, Grimus (1975). A blend of science and literary fiction, Grimus, though
generally ignored by critics, nonetheless marked the debut of a new literary talent
that incorporated myth, magic, and fantasy into his narratives. Six years later,
Rushdie published Midnight’s Children, which won the Booker Prize in 1981, and
was later deemed the best Booker-winning novel from the first twenty-five years of
the competition, earning the title “Booker of Bookers.” Heralded by critics as an
enormous literary achievement, the novel instantly earned Rushdie comparison with
some of the world’s greatest contemporary writers. However, Rushdie’s great
international fame is mainly owed to his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses and the
controversy that followed its publication. Muslim religious clerics and politicians
deemed The Satanic Verses sacrilegious and offensive for its harsh, critical portrayal

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of Islam and for its less-than-reverent treatment of the Prophet Mohammed. The
novel was banned in Rushdie’s native India and prompted the theocratic Iranian
government to issue a fatwa—a religious ruling—calling for his death in 1989.

Rushdie spent the next nine years living in secrecy, under the protection of
bodyguards and the British government. Fearful for his life, Rushdie nonetheless
continued to write and publish books, most notably Haroun and the Sea of
Stories (1990) and the Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), as well as two works of
nonfiction, The Jaguar Smile (1987) and Imaginary Homelands (1991). When the
Iranian government lifted the fatwa in 1998, Rushdie was able to enjoy a return to a
moderately normal life and eventually settled in New York City.

Rushdie’s work, and Midnight’s Children in particular, is often associated with
several categories of literary fiction, including magical realism, postcolonial fiction,
and postmodern literature. His work is often compared to, and admittedly
influenced by, novels like Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum and Gabriel García
Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Equally significant as the incorporation of
mythical and fantastical elements into his fiction is Rushdie’s uniquely Indian
perspective on the English language. Rushdie’s novels hum with an eclectic mix of
prose styles, which echo the rhythm and slang of English as it is colloquially spoken
in India. Familiar English words get combined in new and unusual ways, and long,
unbroken sentences run on freely, sometimes spanning a page or more. The
inspiration Rushdie draws from both ancient and contemporary Indian culture is also
notable in his fiction. Elements taken from traditional Indian mythology and religion
thread themselves through the novel, as do the artistic conventions of modern
Bollywood, the vigorous, populist cinema industry based in Bombay. In its sheer
exuberance and sprawling range of cultural sources, as well as its attempt to
include as much of India’s vast cultural identity and contemporary history as
possible, Midnight’s Childrenis as complete a reflection of the life and character of
the subcontinent as any single novel could possibly provide.

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• 1950s: Newly freed from colonial rule, India has a poor but promising
economy. Indian businessmen, taking control of their own country, pattern
their methods after those of the Europeans.

1980s: After decades of misgovernment, India's economy is considered
weak, making a country of 683 million people one of the world's poorest
nations.

Today: The Indian economy is growing at an impressive rate, as globalization
makes it possible for jobs from anywhere in the world to be outsourced to
workers in India.

• 1950s: Tensions are high between the Hindu majority of India and the
Muslim majority of Pakistan, leading to a succession of treaties that finally
gives way to all-out war in 1965.

1980s: Having tested a nuclear device in 1974, India is a member of the
small group of global nuclear powers. Pakistan proposes a non-nuclear treaty
with India but is later found to be conducting research into building nuclear
bombs.

Today: As recently as 2002, India and Pakistan have come to the verge of
nuclear war.

• 1950s: The Indian film industry, in business since the turn of the century,
gains international attention as prestigious directors such as Satyajit Ray and
Ritwik Ghatak present their works at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

1980s: Concentrated in Bombay, the film industry, nicknamed "Bollywood,"
becomes a commercial powerhouse.

Today: Bollywood films are viewed worldwide. India produces more films
than any other country.

• 1950s: Begging in the streets of a large city like Bombay or New Delhi is a
full-time profession for thousands if not millions.

1980s: The hoards of beggars that descend on tourists in India are legendary
and are a standard part of travel books.

Today: Laws are enacted to curtail begging in the streets.

Gandhi was immensely popular with the Indian people immediately following the
1971 victory over Pakistan, but social conditions soon changed that. By 1973 there
were demonstrations across the country against India's terrible economic situation.

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