Those who know and love the work of Salman Rushdie were not surprised to learn that his ‘Midnight’s Children’ was voted the Best of the Bookers – the best novel to have won the prestigious Booker Prize in its 40-year history (see story here). While he is no stranger to controversy and has a more abrasive manner than most, there can be no doubt at all that he is one of the greatest living literary geniuses of the English language.
Its epic scale, cleverly twisting plot and spell-binding prose make ‘Midnight’s Children’ one of the best novels I have ever read. It was also the first book by Rushdie that I had read. And it had me hooked. Rushdie truly represents the pinnacle of Indian writing in English. It is only in recent decades, with the likes of Rushdie, Seth, Lahiri, Roy and other new-generation English novelists of Indian origin that the Indian English novel has come of age. These novelists have more than made peace with the ‘foreign’ language and have, with great panache, shed the old colonial baggage because of which English has become an aspirational language.
Of course, there were giants before them, chief among who was the great R K Narayan. His simple, endearing, unadorned prose was a thing of great beauty and remains a precious legacy. But most of the older writers like Narayan could not escape the context of the Raj. And, as Edward Said so ably demonstrated, the context of Orientalism was powerful indeed. It coloured and continues to colour the language, culture, pedagogy, politics, and literature of both, the coloniser and the colonised. It is only now, with the brave new writings of the feisty Arundhati Roy and the headstrong Salman Rushdie that the grip of the colonial experience on the imaginations of our writers is being loosened. It is a pity therefore, that the rest of Indian society has not kept pace with this literary vanguard.
Sir Salman Rushdie’s penchant for courting controversy, the ire of certain sections of society toward some of his work, and the penny-press focus on his relationships are all dwarfed by the sheer weight of his corpus and the scale of his latest achievement. You, Sir Salman, are the best of the best.