That’s how Chris Abani referred to how he felt during his TED talk, seen here at the link below:
Among the scientists and teachers and great thinkers featured here, Abani found himself a little bit starstruck to be here. However, as the talk continues, with the help of his quick sense of humor, and logical flow of ideas supported by personal anecdotes and statistics, Abani quickly takes control of his audience, wrapping them into a cognitive web of the importance of stories.
Stories, something that Abani claims “is fluid and belongs to nobody”, are an important part of how we define ourselves in relation to our culture. Throughout Abani’s Graceland, we see that Elvis is surrounded by stories of the oral and written variety. In the beginning, we see Elvis reading books such as War and Peace and other great literary works. Although he dropped out of school, Elvis still enjoys stories and uses them in order to escape the horrors of his everyday life in the slums of Lagos. We also hear of the stories that Elvis is told on the bus or by his family, stories that convey religious beliefs, gender roles, and views of justice vs. injustice.
But why is this such an important part of Elvis’ narrative?
In the snippet of The Republic that we read, Socrates is claiming that we shouldn’t tell children fairy tales because they depict warped images of truth and justice. However, throughout Abani’s novel, Elvis is often being told or being reminded of stories that convey different perspectives of justice and truth, including Tolstoy’s War and Peace and The Bible. In the fifth chapter, it is revealed that he is reading Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, compilation of 10 letters by Rilke to a young man trying to choose between a literary career and entering the Austro-Hungarian Army. Throughout these letters, which you can skim/ read through here discuss what it means to be an artist and how one must view the world and act upon it to truly be an artist.
Although some may argue that this is a minor detail, like the blue curtain argument, I believe that Abani had a good reason for mentioning that Elvis was reading this book. Although Elvis was not struggling against joining the army, he was torn between his life as a performer and his life as a member of Lagosian society, which due to its constant violence and political oppression, was seemingly warlike in itself. By having him read this book, Abani is conveying the universal nature of human narratives that can draw parallels between the most unlikely people, a claim that he himself backs up in his video when discussing how an Muslim- Pakastani teacher taught her Nigerian students about the Holocaust. This universal nature of the story brings us together, even when we feel out of place, like a gangster rapper at a bat mitzvah.
As we saw from our adventures throughout London, Paris, and Ireland, it’s important to understand the historical context of a text in order to understand and appreciate texts of different genres and regions of the world. Our current text, Midnight’s Children, is certainly no exception to this. In fact, it is within studying the context of Rushdie’s novel that we find the necessary background to the stories that he is presenting.
The British rule in India was known as “The Raj”. Derived from the Sanskrit term raja, which means king, the term didn’t possess an official meaning until after independence, but it was in popular usage many years before that. The British were fascinated by life in India, often including tales of exotic Indian scenes in books. India was a land filled with many natural resources and exotic items
However, the Indian citizenry did not benefit from Raj Rule. In 1835, the English government gained control of India’s schools and were seeking to rid Hinduism of some of its integral, yet controversial, social practices. The British grew increasingly disrespectful of local customs and were found staging parties in mosques, throwing dances on the terrace of the Taj Mahal, mistreating Indians, and even using whips to force their way through the crowds (something I think even Baudelaire would be opposed to!).
The turning point of Indian Independence was the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which is also called the Sepoy Mutiny. Sepoys were Indian soldiers in the service of the British empire.
The original story is that the sepoys mutinied against their British commanders because newly issued rifle cartridges were greased with tallow, a rendered form of pig and cow fat. This mixture was unacceptable for the Hindu and Muslim soldiers to use because of their religious beliefs. While this story is more than just a tall tale, the growing resentment towards the British had been brewing for quite some time and the Indian people had to fight back.
The Indian Mutiny began in May 1857, when sepoys rose up against the British in a settlement called Meerut and then massacred whatever British they could find in Delhi. Uprisings spread throughout British India. The conflicts of 1857 and 1858 were brutal and bloody, and macabre reports of the Indian atrocities circulated in newspapers throughout Britain.
However, as a result, in 1858, India came under the direct rule of the British crown. And along with this movement came rising feelings of nationalism, demonstrated by a period of growing political awareness, the manifestation of Indian public opinion and emergence of Indian leadership at both national and provincial levels.
This desire for complete freedom, or Swaraj, began with social reformer Bal Gangadar Tilak whose followers were the first to express the desire for complete independence. This idea did not gain much support until after the first World War. However, after the Amristar Massacre, when hundreds of inncent, unarmed citizens were killed during the festivals of Vaisakhi, the Indian public was outrages and at that point, the majority of India’s politicians turned against the British.
However, it wasn’t until the work of a man named Mahatma Gandhi that the Indian people were placed on a clear track for independence. A lawyer by profession, Gandhi left South Africa after participating in the apartheid and returned to India in 1915. Gandhi adhered to a strict policy of non-violence and civil disobedience. He encouraged common individuals to engage the British in revolution without using violence or other distasteful means. Gandhi’s principles, which involved his unadulterated passion for democracy, ethnic and religious equality manifested in brotherhood, united people across a number of demographic lines, allowing for all citizens to participate in the rebellion. In 1920, he launched a non-co-operation campaign against the British. This included boycotting British textiles and their schools.
At the same time as the Indian rebellion, Britain slowly in decline. While the mid-19th century Britain was the most powerful country in the world, by this point in World History, other world powers were emerging. Britain was incredibly weakened by the first world and continued to decline during the next two decades.
In 1930, Gandhi began a campaign to end the government’s salt production that was monopolizing the economy. In an act called the Dandhi March, he lead a group of nationalists to collect salt from the sea. It was then that the British arrested Gandhi and thousands of other nationalists. However, in 1931, they released Gandhi and began to allow people to make salt for their personal use.
By 1935, the wounded British empire realized that Indian independence was ultimately inevitable. That year, they granted a new constitution, but it came in effect two years later. However, the British continued to retain control of the central government.
By 1940, the Quit India movement, lead by Gandhi, had also gained quite the following. The objective of this movement was to bring the British Government to the negotiating table. The British forces responded to this by imprisoning National Congress leaders and other freedom fighters in order to silence their voices.
On August 16, 1946, the leader of the Muslim League, MA Jinnah, declared a ‘day of action’. However, this event led to unexpected violence between the Hindus and the Muslims in Calcutta.
Pakistan and India did achieve their long-awaited independence at the stroke of midnight on August 14 and 15, respectively. The power was transferred from the British Empire to the sovereign governments of each country. However, the period that followed was one of religious and social turmoil. The violence that came with independence was simply foreshadowing the governmental abuses and conflicts that throttled the area in the years that followed.
While the protagonist Saleem was born alongside his country, the turmoil and social outcry of the time of his father and grandfather helps the audience to examine how the battles of our forefathers still affect us today.
(I was just about to press the submit button as the fire alarm went off in the building that I was writing in. In order to avoid the mounting flames, I fled the building and am now in a safe location.)
Through a conversation between philosophers Socrates, Adeimantus, and the “rather uninteresting” Glaucon, the reader is able to examine how justice is both created and persecuted through the theoretical creation of a city.
While most philosophers/ thinkers of the time were trying to find the roots of justice from examining the small, individual interactions of man, trying to figure out what actions were just/ what actions were unjust. However, Socrates had something different in mind. Instead of studying the micro, Socrates decided to study the macro, breaking it down into pieces while examining it as a whole. After doing so, Socrates then wanted to compare how the micro is to the macro.
To begin, Socrates says that “a city comes to be because none of us is self-self-sufficent, but we all need many things”. Already, Socrates is showing how, despite what one may think about city life, the inhabitants of the city must rely on each other as “partners and helpers”,sharing things with one another, giving and taking, so that they will ultimately become better people.
Then, in the footnotes, it is said that a city (polis) is a collection of people, not a collection of buildings. While the buildings are necessary to occupy the people, the heart of the city is in its dwellers and not in its architecture.
I believe that it is here where we find that injustice dwells. Since the heart of the city is the people who inhabit it, justice must be defined and demonstrated by the complex intricacies of the human lifestyle. Are all of the inhabitants of this city going to be happy with the new things like equality, but also happy without luxuries? Are some inhabitants going to want to eat cattle and have fine furniture and work less than the other inhabitants? Of course. Are some inhabitants going to have jobs that, while necessary, are looked down upon by the other city dwellers? Absolutely.
Since it is inhabited by humans, this city, as a whole, is going to be an imperfect institution where justice and injustice must constantly clash together through individual interactions.
They tell us to enjoy the view
And to take each chance we get
They tell us to embrace the new
And to forgive and forget
They tell us to embrace this time
To make friends that are lifelong
But still the fear in my heart does chime
Will I ever truly belong?