The centerpiece of the second half of our course is Salman Rushdie’s sprawling 1980 novel, Midnight’s Children. Over the course of three weeks, each student prepares a 5-7 minute micro-presentation to deliver in class. That presentation is paired with a post on the course blog that seeks to combine close reading skills with informal, multimedia research.
An additional requirement of at least one comment during the three-week unit ensures a level of information exchange, as students respond to each others presentations online (after formal responses in class) and compile additional web or print resources about the novel.
“…’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.
As humans we tend to fear time. Time brings change and ultimately death. We do all that we can to preserve pieces of our legacy. In Midnight’s Children, Saleem states,
“I am … my own master … And my chutneys and kasaundies are, after all, connected to my nocturnal scribblings – by day amongst the pickle vats, by night within these sheets, I spend my time at the great work of preserving. Memory, as well as fruit, is being saved from the corruption of the clocks” (37).
Saleem retells stories from his entire family tree in order to preserve them because his death is approaching. Yet we must wonder, does time really destroy memories, or even food for that matter? Without time we do not grow, mature, or ripen, but in excess of time, we forget or expire. Indian food is highly influenced by religious and cultural choices. In his passage, Saleem juxtaposes the preservation of memories with the preservation of food. Fresh produce, a main component of Indian cuisine, does not last long. One of the primary methods of preserving produce is by “pickling.” In short, fruits and vegetables soak in a vinegar solution and last much longer.
Through out the novel not only are we witnessing the preservation of fruit via Indian cuisine and Saleem’s experience at the pickle factory, but we are witnessing the figurative “pickling” of Saleem’s memories. His memories will live on through other people (in the book as well), but they are forever altered. It seems as though we are always racing against the clock, and in attempt to preserve “fresh” memories or produce, we change them to live on. Time is capable of destroying memories, but we have found a way to prolong our own stories.
Here’s a nice little video on “pickling” just in case anyone was curious! Homemade Pickling
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.
In general, censorship in India raises issues around what we as Americans consider freedom of speech. While there is freedom of expression in India, the understanding of it is much different than ours. Because of their history, the Indian Constitution places heavy restrictions on content in an effort to maintain the social and religious harmony they have achieved. The 1952 Cinematograph Act passed, placing further constraints on Indian Bollywood films than the Indian Constitution already did.
Just like films here, there is a rating system to guide viewers to appropriate material. In Bollywood, the ratings are as follows: unrestricted (U), unrestricted with parental guidance (UA), restricted to adults (A), or restricted to a special class (S). The government’s Central Board of Film Certification assigns rating based upon the amount of violence, promotion of drinking, drugs, or sex, and rate of criminal activity in the film. If a producer is asked to change his film to accommodate the rating system or if he disagrees with the assigned rating, he can appeal, but generally the board does not waiver. Films that were restricted to adults (rated A) were shown on television, but a recent law now prevents an A film from being certified for TV because “[modifying films for TV] was not a part of the Cinematograph Act.” The decision caused an uproar among the Indian people.
Before India gained independence in 1947, the country did not have such strict laws governing censorship. Now, however, a Bollywood film must not have French kissing (in fact, kisses are generally not lip to lip), nudity of any kind, or drug use. In fact, as of August 1, 2005, Bollywood films became completely smoke-free. Any “touchy political subjects like religious or ethnic violence” are impermissible, particularly if the film criticizes the current ruling party. Further, the films are judged inconsistently and vaguely; a judgment that may ring true for one film may differ for another. It depends heavily on “how the theme is handled by the producer.
The films are not only censored by the official censorship board, but by the actors themselves. It is called “self-censorship” because some actors will not film a certain way or scene. The example given was that while some on-screen kisses are permissible by the official board, some actors will refuse to film it, censoring themselves.
In all, Bollywood films are censored. Scenes are cut after films are produced based upon the judgment of a censorship board. Furthermore, an actor may refuse to film a scene, providing a form of self-censorship before the officials begin assigning a rating to the film. The rating system is close to that of Americans, but an adult film will no longer be modified for television broadcast.
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.
My presentation tomorrow will be discussing Bollywood: Indian Cinema. Being that Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight’s Children will be released as a movie within the next few months. This movie will be released worldwide in late October or November. While the premiere of the movie has been a hit in various places around the world, such as Toronto, Canada or in England, my research shows that India is one of the countries that did not agree to show the film in their country. Below are some of the articles pertaining to this conflict.
“It is indeed strange that a film about India based on a book written by an author who has an Indian origin does not get a single distributor in India,” (Staff 2012). As an American, we may struggle to understand why India refuses to distribute the movie. According to Dibyojyoti Baksi, writer of the article “Midnight’s Children has no takers in India,” (Hindustan Times) claims that Indians may be afraid of what the movie has to reveal about their political history. In the India Today article titled “No takers for Deepa Mehta’s ‘Midnight’s Children,’ “industry insiders feel that sections of the political fraternity may deem it too volatile for the audience,” (India Today 2012).
Some Indian’s struggle to see this perception, as they feel that citizens may be overreacting (Please view the YouTube clip below). Is it wrong for Indian’s to feel this way?
Initially, I think it is important to keep in mind that Bollywood films were initially shown to educate the people of what was happening in their country. Hollywood films, in opposition, are usually used for entertainment purposes and are not always accurate representations of what American life is like. That being said, I personally can see how the film may be offensive, as this is revealing to the world a distinct view of Indian politics. At the same time, it is difficult for me to truly understand why Indian’s are so offended, as I am neither a citizen of India nor have any awareness of what political struggles the country has had to work through. If a film was released that presented America’s government in a negative way, though, because of one person’s ideas, I would be hesitant of the release, as well.
This all ties back into the ongoing discussion of perception. As someone who has no experience or awareness of what India life is like, it is incorrect for me to argue against India’s choice to not distribute this movie. While many may feel that they are over reacting, I feel you are not entitled to judge this decision unless you are someone who has experienced living in India. Our perceptions are often biased because of our origins and lack of awareness, and opinions often clash because we forget there is life outside of the United States. We are all humans, but we do not know what life is like in other countries, so how are we supposed to understand their perception?
Understanding the history of Bombay’s late partitioning offers us insight into why Saleem believes he will die by falling to pieces, as he feels indefinitely linked to his country.
Saleem’s connection with India continues after their simultaneous birth. Feeling linked with the newly independent country, Saleem takes ownership over any transformations India goes through, such as when he starts an anti-Gujarati chant, which he believes makes him “directly responsible for triggering off the violence which ended with the partition of the state of Bombay” (219). Although all Saleem did was recite a taunting he had heard in school, he finds himself “directly responsible” for an event that would have taken place anyway. Saleem’s kinship with India extends even to his demise, as Saleem fears that he will crumble into pieces, which parallels all of the partitions India endures.
While India faced many divisions, the city of Bombay originally did not, thus making it an urban center filled with numerous religions, languages, and social classes. Geographically, Bombay is naturally divided as it consists of seven islands. However, this physical division fostered many independent cultures while still promoting positive interactions such as shipping and trading. Although Bombay was a place where people could come together, Saleem’s narration illustrates how the differences in language and religion were strong divisive forces. The “partition of the state of Bombay” that Saleem mentions references the 1960 division of Bombay State into the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. The dominant language in Bombay was Marathi, not Gujarati, which is why the city itself became part of Maharashtra instead of Gujarat. Saleem worries that he will fall victim to excessive division like his beloved India.
Some helpful links:
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.
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.
• 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?
• 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
• 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