The beauty of the ‘Best of the Booker Prize’ going to Salman Rusdhie for his novel Midnight’s Children is that Indian writing in English has been saved from being compartmentalised into that small, luscious box called, ‘Detailed, Pointillistic, Deep Stories’. This might sound odd, considering that Rushdie almost singlehandedly managed to make ‘Indian writing’ synonymous with over-the-top, language-jostling, historical narratives for the world. But the fact is that what has followed — a few years after 1981 when everyone and their uncle and aunt wrote with vengeance modernised versions of Raja Rao novels (some as insufferably as Rao) — has left us panting for that art form practised by the likes of (Miguel) Cervantes, (Franz) Kafka, Rajshekhar (Bose) and (Milan) Kundera: artful playfulness.
The problem with us sitting here in Mumbai, Delhi or any other Indian city is that Saleem Sinai’s’ story has become banal, to the point of becoming something like a Shakespeare play or a Tagore story— canonical and boring. But if we become objective about the story itself, Midnight’s is one of the most famous playful narratives we have, a marker that runs against the flow of angst-ridden narratives and mythological TRP hits like the Mahabharata and Ramayana (which Rushdie may have mined) or the other let’s-do-deep-descriptive ‘character prose’ of oh-so-many other writers writing in English (Indians and NRIs), like the gentle, lilting, shimmering prose of Arundhati, Jhumpa, Amit Chaudhuri etc.
The problem with many desi writers writing in English — unlike those in any other country (apart from Latin American writers in the 80s) and Indian writers writing in non-English languages — is that they become willy-nilly representatives of ‘schools of writing’. Well, so did Rushdie with Midnight’s Children actually. But after that ‘magic realism’ fad lifted, it’s pretty evident that Midnight’s is still a brilliant book — once you get the post-post colonial theory off your back. Never mind what it ‘represents’. Just because he’s famous, doesn’t mean Rushdie wasn’t brilliant with his man Sinai.