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From Errata to Midnight’s Children

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Hello and welcome back to a discussion of the essay errata or unreliable narration in midnight’s children. while discussing this essay outset I had indicated that I always find it handy to use this essay errata as an entry point to discuss midnight’s children so while I am taking you through this essay I also want to keep in mind that this is more like a preface to midnight’s children though was is written ten years after the publication and the huge success that midnight children had received and this was written like less like a clue like a road map given by the author himself to on how to read how to deal with the mistakes which have been deliberately inserted into midnight children. So I do find that it is easier to enter midnight’s children easier to access some of the aspects midnight’s children if we first take a look at this easy errata and the talk about especially when we are talking about the aspects of memory aspects of remembering which are in an inherent part of many discussions in the context of midnight’s children, so having come through the first half of the essay I take you to this excerpt which I also think is the most significant part of this essay I read out to you this section he is also remembering of course and one of the simplest truths about any set of memories is that many of them would be false. I myself have a clear memory having of having been in India during China I remember how to frighten, we all were I recall people making a nervy little joke about needing to buy themselves a Chinese phrasebook by themselves because the Chinese army was not expected to stop until it reached Delhi. (Refer Slide Time: 01:58) I also know that I could not possibly have been in India at that time, I was interested to find that even after I found out that my memory was playing tricks with my brain simply refused to unscramble itself, It clung to the false memory preferring it to the more literal happenstance I thought that was an important lesson to learn and this important lesson that Rushdie learnt in the process of narrating this story also remains an important clue for us to unravel the mystery that is midnight’s children we all know that midnight’s children have been seen as this political allegory as a story of the nation or text which retold the story of the nation in multiple ways and I love the possibility of opening up the story for many others to deal with many others to access to many other re-narrate. Whichever way they wanted and this is something that many other Indian English authors always have to acknowledge many others have followed suit after seeing the enormous success midnight’s children received and also being inspired by the narrative that allows multiple possibilities, so it is a text which is postcolonial and postmodern at the same time the narrative techniques allow the debunking of the idea of truth and at the same time they allow multiple truth to emerge they allow plurality to exist they allow hybridity to function in a day to day basis so coming back to this excerpt the Rushdie talking about the idea of remembering. And how he had this memory of being in India during the India China war but in reality, he was not in India he already left for the UK for his studies but this aspect of him remembering something that he had not witnessed remembering an incident which was not part of his lived experience this must be that Saleem Sinai does too in midnight’s children if you get to take a look at it and when you read through midnight’s children and when you try and understand the many incidents which have been narrated what strikes you as extremely important is that it is all based on Saleem Sinai remembers and he does not claim any authenticity he does not claim any truth value to it he does not make it a big deal even when he forgets it would be wrong to say that Saleem Sinai lies but his memory is perhaps playing tricks with him and Rushdie it is at some level trying to tell us that it is no big deal that this is something that he learnt himself that we all tend to do that and by extension midnight’s children is also trying to tell us that the memory that perhaps we have been relying on all this while the memory on which the foundations of this nation have been build may be that is also a false memory maybe that is also a set of events which were recalled not entirely in right sequence not entirely in the right way, And this is extremely important regardless of the kind politics that midnight’s children participates or does not participate in it is important to state this fact that what it does is this significant postcolonial postmodern intervention which also comes in at a much needed time in India’s history need felt from across different disciplines to rewrite the nationalist historiography to look at the nation to look at the histories which were part of the nation from a different point of view altogether to foreground women to foreground minorities to foreground the many forgotten elements. Such as caste or ethnicity which were or the region which were part of this whole and midnight’s children also makes it possible to talk about the person without having to worry whether it is authentic enough or whether it can be a part of public memory or not and it also negates this assumption that public memory collective memory and what comes across to us national memory is infallible and he is also playing with the possibility that maybe there are tricks played by memory at different points of time and going on. (Refer Slide Time: 06:41) He also make this very controversial assertion which also is the crux midnight children thereafter as I wrote the novel and whenever a conflict arose between literal and remembered the truth I would favor the remembered version there I find the term version extremely important I urge to pay attention to that word even as you are reading midnight’s children this is a version and what midnight’s children makes possible is to tell us that there are many-many version there are different versions or history there are different ways in which the same instant can be remembered and this is something that we can see in some of the significant works that try to narrate the nation And re-narrate the nation Shadow Lines being one of them there he also talks about how there is a closer difference between the incident that the narrator remembers which incidentally he had witnessed as well and this is in stark contrast with way the newspapers had reported to it so there is a way in which a different version was being fed to the public, a different version had made it into the pages of history and that stands in contrast with the personal version which incidentally happens to be more authentic as well here midnight’s children does not make any claim of authenticity but it is repeatedly telling us that this is just a version. And the moment we begin to treat all histories and all other narratives and all other traditional solid forms of historiography as different versions it just begins to get easier and for the same reason he has deliberately made the identity of the narrator Saleem Sinai the identity of the protagonist itself is very ambivalent it is difficult to situate him here or there and if you take the time period within which the novel happens it begins at the time when it is difficult to say whether it is India or Pakistan it begins seamlessly and continues in a seamless way and except for the event of birth that happens. Saleem Sinai’s birth it, of course, is an exaggerated event in the story as you would see in the novel as you would see except for that there is a continuum which the story which midnight’s children try to build and that is the version that it is also presenting to us as an alternative not the truth as an alternative as another version which also requires as much legitimacy as the official documented ones have and continuing this is why even though Saleem admits that no tidal wave passed through Sundarbans in the year of the Bangladesh war, he continues to be borne out of the jungle on the crest of the fictional wave. (Refer Slide Time: 09:35) His truth is too important for him to allow it to be unseated by a mere weather report, it is a memory’s truth he insists and only a madman would prefer someone else’s version to his own, I find it interesting that Rushdie chooses to use the figure of them madman here I also wanted to briefly recall Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story Toba Tek Singh where madness is used as a metaphor to talk about the event of partition the unspeakable gets spoken through the metaphor of madness and here. When he is talking about the memory is truth and when Rushdie is asserting that about midnight’s children and by extension this the entire narrative that is produced at some level Rushdie is here trying to assert that the truth that midnight’s children have is memory’s truth and only a madman would perhaps prefer somebody else’s truth to his own version and here he is also referring to this entire idea of nationalist historiography perhaps and referring to that as a kind of madness as well the urge to situate histories hierarchically the urge to say that one is better than the other and the urge to say that there is only one version. Which needs to be almost worshipped to make sense of the nation to make sense of history and today there is an all the more need to get engage with these differences, to engage with these pluralities and it would not be wrong to say that midnight’s children at various levels as a literary text as a document which dallies in post-colonialism and post-modernism it makes it possible in multiple ways. All may not entirely like the narrative which midnight’s children produce. And that precisely is the point that it is okay not to like it one may not agree with the truths which are being reproduced here one may not feel comfortable with the memory that is being triggered over there but that precisely again is the point that Rushdie and midnight’s children are trying to make that it is okay to be not fine with the versions which are around but the important thing is to make space for those different versions so that there is enough roll for plurality and for hybridity as is the case. I was also intended to pay attention to this segment where Rushdie is talking about his readers and how the historical details play a significant role in shaping a certain kind of readers in inviting a certain kind of readers to engage with the midnight children and he says Saleem Sinai’s story is not a history but placed with historical shapes he is talking about the form if you look at how midnight children are narrated from beginning to end cover to cover it is informed very-very clearly and very-very directly by the various historical events. Which took place in the context of India and Pakistan there is seamlessness which is brought into it and there is also a way in which the stories are tied together and the historical shapes which are being introduced deliberately they also function as a frame as a framework against which Saleem’s stories and his versions can be verified and he then moves onto an interesting point where he says that many readers wanted it to be the history even the guide book which it was never meant to be others resented it for it is incompleteness. (Refer Slide Time: 13:21) Pointing out among other things that I had failed to mention the glories of Urdu poetry or the plight of the Harijans or untouchables, or what some people think of as new imperialism of the Hindi Language in south India these variously disappointed readers were judging the book not as a novel, but as some sort of inadequate reference book or encyclopedia, I find the self-referentiality extremely interesting the meta-ness which Rushdie brings in very-very deliberately he talks about his personal memory interfering with the story that he is narrating he attributes the errors to Saleem Sinai. He talks about Saleem Sinai as someone real who is making mistakes in the novel which he is writing but at the time he also brings in this interesting twist very deliberately referring to midnight children only as a novel and there he is also telling us suggesting rather that this is just a novel and it is okay if you do not take seriously perhaps and he is also here trying to mock that reader who is actually trying to find truth in it and he is trying to look at the way in his he juxtaposes two things the book’s success. And how it is read he is drawing our attention to the enormous success that the book received and also teasing the readers over here by saying that the errors and how the readers gloated over the fact that they could find errors in such a successful text in such a humongous written historical text but also had directly and indirectly contributed to the success and if you look at the number of works which talk about midnight’s children about this success that this work got about that many-many aspect within midnight’s children. You will also begin to see how an entire industry was generated following the success of midnight’s children and he is also drawing our attention to the many things that he did not speak about of course there is a politics that Indian English fiction stands for and Rushdie can be seen as one of the torchbearers of that politics as well that is the entire discussion of another context but at the same time by drawing our attention to the things that midnight’s children does not talk about the Harijans or the untouchables or the glorious past or the anti-Hindi agitations he is also trying to tell us that this version. That he is producing is not a holistic one there could be many things that he missed out there could be many politics that many areas that he got entirely wrong but that is okay because this is only a version and he also leaves us with this encouragement that one can always produce another version you come up with your own version which has that aspect of memory that you remember it is that aspect of your personal intervention that you remember the best these are the collective memory or the political memory that has been faded into the making of the nation. (Refer Slide Time: 16:34) Before we conclude our discussion on errata this essay that Rushdie had written I also wanted to see how it is possible to end up midnight’s children through errata and how is that an aspect of memory is extremely important in our understanding of the novel.