Midnight’s Children: Criticism in India

“…’Big shot,’ Tai is spitting into the lake, ‘big bag, big shot. Pah! We haven’t got enough bags at home that you must bring back that thing made of pig’s skin that makes one unclean just by looking at it?… A fine business, what these foreigners put in our young men’s heads. I swear: it is a too-bad thing’” (15).

This is a passage from the beginning of Midnight’s Children, between Saleem’s grandfather, Dr. Aziz, and the local boatman Tai. Though not exactly the same, Tai’s reaction to Aziz’s foreign education can be compared to some of the criticisms against Rushdie: that he may have been born in India, but he is no longer Indian. In the story, Tai views the bag in which Dr. Aziz carries his medical supplies from school as an example of  foreign influences seeping into his world of traditions. Rushdie attended school in England, including Cambridge University, and this is seen by some as an abandonment of his Indian roots. No matter the credibility of the work, medical or literary, some actions are unforgivable.

That’s not to say that most of the criticism against Rushdie is founded in spite. Within his various works Rushdie openly challenges many traditional beliefs and practices from his home country, directly discrediting what many lead their lives by. The most famous example would be within The Satanic Verses, with an apparent blasphemous account of the prophet Mohamed, and the controversy that then arose. Though having been published seven years early, Midnight’s Children was often connected with this controversy and viewed equally as unwholesome. Until this point, Rushdie had still largely identified with the people of the Indian community, and the drastic response against him affected him deeply. This in part drove him even further into adopting the culture of western society, giving further fuel for these critics.

These oppositions represent only a portion of the responses to Rushdie’s work, and do not reflect the opinion of the entire Indian community. Many have praised him for his ability to effectively capture the real tone and feel of the English/Indian language, the voice of the people. Others choose to criticize him based strictly on literary tastes, like his irregular use of narrative continuity. On whole, Rushdie has been an advocate for truth in criticism, and the basis of his critic’s claims should be viewed within this context, and their own willingness to embrace change.

Indira Ghandi

In Salman Rushdie’s book, Midnight’s Children, he uses magical realism, which is a combination of “magical” elements and real elements. My research topic for my presentation is Indira Ghandi. She was a real person in India who had a major influence on India’s history and development. Ghandi is also a character in Midnight’s Children. Ghandi is the Prime Minister in Midnight’s Children, and is depicted as the woman going after Saleem’s gang of midnight children. Rushdie does not put her in a favorable light, even though this book was published after her indiscretion with the Sikh population in the late 1970s.

My partner Bonnie will talk about the “Emergency” that is mentioned in the book, but now I am going to talk about Ghandi’s ups and downs in office in India. Ghandi was always known as a strong and independent woman. She was well educated in Swiss schools and attended college in Oxford. Her mother died when she was young, so Ghandi was always her father’s “right hand woman.” Her father was the first Prime Minister of India, which got Ghandi very familiar with politics and India at a young age. Her father’s successor died abruptly, which made Ghandi the third Prime Minister of India. She adapted to being in power very quickly, and started to fire many important people (this did not please too many). She was first known as a hero in India because she helped eliminate the famine in India. However, in 1975 she was charged with election malpractice and found guilty. Ghandi went for re-election of Prime Minister in 1979 and won. Unfortunately while in power, she handled the Sikh revolution incorrectly because she ordered her troops to open fire on the ancient Golden Temple. Statues were covered in bullet holes and ancient religious papers were destroyed. Later, Two Sikh bodyguards assassinated her on October 31, 1984.

Indira Ghandi is an important character in Midnight’s Children because she is a true historical figure (which brings truth to the book), but also she is a villain in the book that makes the readers feel for Saleem. I believe it was very creative of Rushdie to add in a political figure to his magical realism novel.

History of Bollywood

The link above is a clip of what a Bollywood dance number typically looks like.  It has many people, many colors, and uses many different cinematic techniques to entertain the viewers.  Bollywood was not always this way.  It wasn’t until 1931 that this type of dancing and singing was involved in Bollywood films.  Bollywood was officially born in 1913 with a  silent film by Raja Harishchandra. It wasn’t until 18 years later that Bollywood had talking films and this opened up the entire Indian culture.  Many people were not so much excited about having a talking film, but rather they were excited because now actors could sing and dance in movies.  It allowed the people of India to express themselves in a whole new way.

Bollywood really took off, 20 years later int eh 1950′s.  This was known as the Golden Age of Bollywood.  This is also when our book, Midnight’s Children, takes place.  In the Golden Age, many movies were based on Religion and culture.  Movies in Bollywood were less for entertainment and more for informing the audience f political issues of the time.  Movies were seen as a way of educating the people.  This type of film went on through the 1950′s until the release of Mughal-e-Azam.  This movie changed the whole view of Bollywood movies and turned them towards the romantic.  Many people relied on movies to help them understand how the world around them was changing, while also looking for a little side entertainment.  Bollywood soon found an important place in India’s history, and is still an important film medium today.

Bollywood and Social Classes


In the video above, Salman Rushdie speaks about he wanted his story and new movie to be available to all viewers. While censorship is the problem he is discussing, other factors like social class prevented some people from experiencing Indian cinema, especially in the past.

“…we were always willing to fast, because we liked the cinema.”- pg 206

While Saleem grew up in a fortunate environment where his family could afford and be welcomed at the cinema, others were not. The wealthier and higher up castes could easily go to the movies whenever they desired. In the quote above, the cinema was used as a distraction to the hunger of fasting. While they were able to occupy  their minds, the poorer people would wait hungrily for fasting to end with only the sounds of their stomachs growling to accompany them.

Within the films of Indian cinema, different social classes are portrayed as well. Often, though, the main characters of Bollywood films are of higher castes, and an untouchable would not be the usual focus of a movie. During the Golden Age of Hindi Cinema which ranged from the late 1940′s to the 1960′s when our story is set, many films were escapist in nature to provide a break from the chaos of India. Therefore, higher castes were presented because they had happier experiences that could be shown. During tumultuous times, the movies were a place to forget about everything except the story on the screen. However, some film makers did attempt to tackle heavier subjects like social issues and social classes.


The link above is an article from 2010 that describes how Bollywood films avoid the subject of castes for the most part. Those that do confront these issues are extremely controversial. The movies are an outlet to reach many people at once, and are an effective stage for presenting ideas to a broad audience. It is argued, however, that Bollywood films should remain as functioning only to provide an escape from reality and not venture into more delicate and thought-provoking subjects. Only time will tell about the presence of castes and social classes in Hindi cinema.

Religious and Political Geography of India

The India we see on the map today is not the same country it has always been. It has undergone severe political, religious, and geographical changes that have transformed India into a new country. These changes are also all quite recent, in terms of the lifetime of a country; the India that lives today has only been around for 65 years.

The India before independence from the British was in fact much larger than what it is today. The territory also included what is today Pakistan and Bangladesh. The separation of Bangladesh is much less noted in history, because the events that followed were dwarfed by the extreme violence occurring on the India-Pakistan border.

Because of the rising tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India (as well as the political aspirations of Pakistani and Muslim League leader Muhammed al Jinnah), the former British territory of India was split, and so created Pakistan. However, this separation did not stop the violence between the two groups, as the death toll continued to grow. The violence was most intense along the border, where around 14 million people were moving into their religiously perspective countries. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

The result of the split left the India we have today. It is now the seventh largest country in the world, home to over 1.2 billion people across a landmass of over 1,269,000 square miles.

Here is the map of British rule India – much geographically different from what we have today.

Map of India: Pre-Partition

The Many Languages of India

Hello all,
Below I have posted the information I will present on Tuesday along with the sources I used to find the information. I hope this helps with our study of Midnight’s Children and India as a whole.

Presentation Plan


• There are 438 languages spoken in India
• On the sheer number of languages spoken, India stands fourth behind Papua New Guinea (830), Indonesia (719) and Nigeria (514).
• why are there this many languages?

Factual Information:
• Languages belonging to the two major language families – Indo Aryan and Dravidian are spoken by more than 90% of the people of India
• What’s important to note is that many of the different states of India have different languages
• This is a helpful map to help prove this point: http://www.mapsofindia.com/culture/indian-languages.html
• The Indian constitution recognizes 22 major languages and there are 28 states and 7 union territories in India
• Essentially, it would be similar if each state of the U.S had its own language, and then sub-languages emerged from each one of these languages.

Reference to Book:
• These languages are seen briefly in Midnight’s Children in the chapter “Love in Bombay”
• Page 216 can be used to provide general info of historical context
• Page 218 is a specific example of the tension between languages

Conclusion/wrap up
• We see historical context through Midnight’s Children in the formation of these states and territories
• A look into India’s language is an important view into India’s culture as a whole




Talismans in Magic Realism

Every genre, and every artist within that genre, employs thematic devices in different ways to make comparisons to the nature of man and the society we live in.  For Dostoyevsky, it was through colors and dreams; for Faulkner, it was through the use of multiple perspectives. In Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, magical talismans take center stage as his primary thematic device. For the purposes of this examination, a talisman is any physical object that not only possesses significance, but also has a tangibly magical effect on its surrounding world.

While Rushdie makes use of many such talismans (from a rock on a hill to a hole cut in a sheet to a spittoon), the most important one in Midnight’s Children is the Nose.  One of the more common attributes of the literary genre of Magic Realism is the presence of the same character over many generations, living out multiple life spans without any indication of this being less (or, in this case, more) than natural. Although so far no such character has presented itself, the Nose fills this role well in its dominating presence throughout the three generations. This Nose, clearly the same prophetic and wise character living within three generations of men, repeatedly warns of dangers to come, and, when ignored, will go to great lengths to save the stubborn face upon which it sits.

“As Brigadier Dyer issues a command the sneeze hits my grandfather full in the face. “Yaaaakh-thoooo!” he sneezes and falls forward, losing his balance, following his nose and thereby saving his life.”

The Nose does more than influence the plot— the Nose, it seems, controls it. This talisman is a vital thematic device in Midnight’s Children as it goes beyond the representation of an idea and becomes its own character, blurring the lines of what can and cannot happen in the true form of Magic Realism.

Truth In Death

Death presents itself in many forms. For all those involved in death – whether it be the person dying, their loved ones, or their distant acquaintances – it has a different impact upon their emotions and their future. For the characters in Leo Tolstoy’s novella “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” death holds an entirely different meaning than for those in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “Big Mama’s Funeral.”

Ivan Ilych’s life was filled with superficiality, just as his death was surrounded by it. His family members and friends were far less concerned with the emotional suffering regarding his death than what they would get out of it. While describing the process of Ivan Ilych’s death to a friend, Praskovya Federovna, Ivan Ilych’s wife, only regarded her own suffering, and everything she had to go through. She mentioned Ivan Ilych’s pain only to say how horrible it was for her to listen to him screaming. Even after his death, Ivan Ilych’s life was remembered as superficial, if remembered at all.

Big Mama, on the other hand, lived a very different life, and her death was surrounded by very different emotions. She was truly beloved by her people, and her passing brought upon deep emotional devastation. There was no superficiality in the grief people felt for Big Mama.

Ivan Ilych’s life reflected his death, just as Big Mama’s did. In death, however, Ivan Ilych gained something Big Mama did not – honest insight into his life. At the end, Ivan Ilych realized the truths about his life, and died knowing who he really was and what his life really meant. Big Mama did not have this insight. In her death, “Big Mama was at that moment too absorbed in her formaldehyde eternity to realize the magnitude of her grandeur.” So although throughout her life and in death Big Mama had the respect and love of those around her that Ivan Ilych did not, in death he gained something more – the truth.

The Art of Death

In the short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” there are characters that mourn the death of a friend in a materialistic way. While in another short story, “Big Mama’s Funeral,” there are characters that mourn death by being surrounded by tribesmen and family members. However, in both short stories the narrators are trying to tell the audiences different images about death and the “art” of dying.

“Art of dying” is a tricky phrase to play around with because “death” is a hard concept to explain in the first place, especially if the death is in the immediate family. “Big Mama’s Funeral,” is described as a typical “art” of dying. Big Mama died and is being mourned by her tribe, which her death is described as “the nation, [which] was shaken to its vitals” (Marquez 184). This is a typical “art” because the entire nation literally did not “shake,” but the narrator is trying to get across to the audience that this death was not an easy one for the city to handle.

However, in “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” the narrator describes Ivan Ilych’s death in a much different way than Big Mama’s death. The narrator captures that Ivan’s “art” of death is that the characters are all lying to each other to make it look like they all are sympathetic to his death. In reality, the characters each have their own secret “hope” that Ivan’s death will benefit them. The “art” here is manipulation. One character, Fyodor Vasilyevich, thought “likely ill be promoted to either Shtabel or Vinnikov’s job,” when he first heard about Ivan’s death (Tolstoy 2). The news of death is never carried out in a uniform way, but also narrators capture the “art of death” in very different ways as well.

Visions of Death

“’For Christ’s sake, let me die in peace,’ he said” (97).

In Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, Ivan Ilych is a dying man. In the process of trying to come to terms with his impending death he looks back on his life and realizes that he has lived wrong and no one really cares about him. Rather than be surrounded by his family and friends, he would rather just face death on his own. While “Big Mama’s Funeral” illustrates the response to the passing of a celebrated and satisfied woman, The Death of Ivan Ilych shows the depressing reaction to the demise of a man who lived an unfulfilled existence, always living up to the expectations of others.

When Ivan Ilych’s supposed friends hear of his impending death they “could think only of the litany of banal obligations they’d have to meet, the funeral to endure, the visit to pay the widow” (5). Clearly, they did not care for Ivan at all. Everyone is just waiting for his death to be over and done with, himself included. Since Ivan was always just an average man, no one took the time to pay attention to him. He lived his life in the way he thought was right, but he missed some of the meaningful activities like forming strong relationships along the way.

As opposed to Ivan Ilych, Big Mama is loved by all almost to the point of being regarded as a God-like figure. Rather than thinking of her passing as death, it is more of a celebration of life. She lived fully and well, always acting on her own accord. A person who is satisfied with life can come to terms with death much more easily than someone who is still attempting to make things right in his final days. The extremely negative and melancholy tone of The Death of Ivan Ilych coupled with the ability of the reader to see the thoughts going on inside of Ivan’s mind reflect the severity of death when one does not live a complete life unlike Big Mama.