Gandhian communalism and the midnight children's conference
The Johns Hopkins University Press
Many Rushdie scholars call Midnight's Children the political reawakening of Indian English fiction. The story begins with the gestation of the Indian English novel during the movement for independence, when "there was an urgency to foreground the idea of a composite nation." After 1947 comes a period of atrophy, as the nation-building that was the source of the genre's power now becomes an "ideological straitjacket." According to Gayatri Spivak, "reportorial realist writers" depicted the "miniaturised world of a nostalgia," as political independence set them "adrift, away from the current from which the post-colonial monstrous would emerge." In Bishnupriya Ghosh's view, novelists made "essentializing and homogenizing gestures" in an alignment with a statist project, "the Nehruvian vision of a modern and progressive India when there was a dire need to establish common national registers and field[s] of communication." Then Midnight's Children explodes over Bombay in 1981, its Emergency-induced gloom counterbalanced by an invigorating cultural eclecticism and spirit of political critique. For Meenakshi Mukherjee, the novel's vision of an "inclusive and tolerant" polity clarifies a set of public ideals for a socially diverse nation, while Michael Gorra claims that "no one else has so fully used [English] to probe the nature of [Indian] national identity or to define a model for [End Page 975] the postcolonial self." Midnight's Children inaugurates a renaissance for Indian English fiction, a development that is codified by Rushdie's own coedited anthology of post-1947 writing.
My essay argues for an inversion of this narrative: Midnight's Children can be seen as a foreclosure of possibilities, erasing alternative models of the Indian nation. Although Saleem Sinai characterizes his writing as a restorative for an "amnesiac nation," Midnight's Children has itself created a kind of literary-political amnesia, either blotting out the work of earlier writers or encouraging critics to read their work in the light of developments after 1981.
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Strand, E. (2005). Gandhian communalism and the midnight children's conference. ELH, 72(4), 975-1016. doi: 10.1353/elh.2005.0038