Salman Rushdie’s triumph

Three Bookers for one book

MIDNIGHT’€™S CHILDREN has done it again, won a Booker prize for the third time. Salman Rushdie’s novel has been named Best of the Booker on the 40th anniversary of the prestigious literary prize.
Midnight’s Children had won the Booker prize in 1981, the year it was published, as readers and critics took notice of Saleem Sinai, the Bombay born narrator who shared his birth with that of his nation, India. The novel explores the Indian society through the story of the protagonist, and it has been favourably compared with such classics as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum.
Saleem was among the hundred-odd characters that inhabited the magical place that rose out of Rushdie’s pages as readers took twists and turns that reflected India’s history, culture, people and places. The book also won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize the same year.
Rushdie shot into prominence with this novel that became a trend-setter, and changed the way in which writing in English had so far been perceived in India and other postcolonial nations.
A multi-layered local sensibility had replaced an imperial one of the kind that typified the works of EM Forster, Rudyard Kipling and Paul Scott.
There was a riot of colours, a world of disorder, many local words that were to eventually be adopted by the English language; Rushdie deserved more literary credit than he got, because controversies surrounded his life.
With Midnight’s Children, controversy arose when Indira Gandhi took umbrage at the criticism of the Emergency, and brought a libel action against the book and its author. The case was settled out of court.
The impact or popularity of Midnight’s Children has, from the very beginning, been tremendous, and both critics and the general reader responded to the book that also became a part of many university curricula all over the world.
In 2003, the Royal Shakespeare Company adapted the novel to the stage. This international readership and acclaim made the author also a major literary star.
Whereas The Satanic Verses eclipsed his previous work because of the reactions that it aroused, including the infamous fatwa, Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children continued to win admirers.
In 1993, it was awarded the Booker of Bookers prize for being the best of all prize-winning books, when the Booker Prize celebrated its 25th anniversary. Time magazine lists it as the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.
Of course, there is much more to Rushdie than Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses. Some of his other works include: Shame (1983), Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981 – 1991 (1992), The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), The Ground Beneath her Feet (1999), Fury (2001), Step Across This Line: Collected Non-fiction 1992 – 2002 (2002), Shalimar the Clown (2005), The Enchantress of Florence (2008), and Best American Short Stories 2008 (2008, as editor).
Rushdie has been reviled, and honoured. Last year, the Queen of England awarded a knighthood to him for “services to literature”.
The honour triggered off protests in various parts of the world. Sir Salman has continued writing, and his latest book, The Enchantress of Florence, has been received well. Rushdie’s writing has brought India and the sub-continent, along with its complexities, to the hands of English-speaking audiences worldwide.
The continuing importance of Sir Salman to the world of literature, and the relevance of his work to his readers, was reaffirmed when the arguably best-known winner of the Booker award also was chosen as the best.

This article was published in The Tribune on July 14,2008