THE DECOLONISATION OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE (Part 2)

Midnight’s Children is a successful fusion of East and West in the terms of form and context. Rushdie employs the narrative technique of the rural Indian oral storytellers and the textual form of Western fiction. He achieves the amalgamation of the literary elements of the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ in terms of narrative technique and form in Midnight’s Children. He also adopts a new form of hybrid Post-colonial text – the hybrid referring to the amalgamation of the Western style of writing and Eastern style of story telling. Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is the first deliberate attempt in Post-colonial Fiction, with regard to the aspect in decolonising the English language. Public Service

Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is hailed as a classic in Post-colonial Literature. There emerged a gifted, glittering novelist – one with startling and imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of story telling with the publication of Midnight’s Children. In a much quoted New York Times article, Clark Blaise, a famous American critic wrote that in Rushdie’s writing the whole subcontinent has found its voice.

A first reading of Midnight’s Children gives the readers an impression of the book being an ambitious and amorphous work of fiction. The protagonist – Saleem Sinai strikes the reader as not only preternaturally clever, but also omniscient and wholly incredible as a human being. But if we consider Saleem Sinai as Rushdie’s ‘alter ego’, we can understand that the life of Saleem Sinai is the story of the newly independent nation called India, as Rushdie like his hero Saleem was born at the end of the British Raj in India.

Rushdie was exposed to English from an early age. His family spoke Urdu but Rushdie started to learn English from the age of five. He was encouraged by his parents to use English at home for everyday discourse. This double exposure to English and the vernacular from an early age can be considered the main reason for much of the word play and versatility in Rushdie’s fiction. Rushdie’s experimentation with language is one of his remarkable achievements. “No Indian novelist has had the courage to handle English language with the gaiety and joyousness of Rushdie”, remarks M.L. Raina, regarding Rushdie’s style.

Rushdie’s use of English flavoured with the vernacular, a combination of Hindi and Urdu words in the text is a new dimension of Post-colonial writing. African writers like Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe, particularly follow this style of writing. They introduce the folk songs of the African tribes, the name of their festivals and the war chants in their text. Although Indian English writers like Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, Khushwant Singh and G.V. Desani are forerunners in this aspect, Rushdie stands out among the lot with his cunning and startling use of translated words, phrases, allusions and metaphors from the vernacular incorporated into the English text.

Rushdie’s attempt to decolonise English starts in the very first paragraph of ‘Midnight’s Children’, where Saleem Sinai tells the readers about the various names by which he had been addressed in his lifetime. The phrase ‘Piece-of-the-moon’ is obviously a literal translation of the Hindi phrase ‘chand-ka-tukra’. He often brackets a Hindi word or phrase or idiom with an English translation placed immediately before or after it for the benefit of the western readers. For instance, we can consider three of the North Indian idioms translated and used by Rushdie in Midnight’s Children:

“ The smoke will take time to go ”

“ In any war the field of battle suffers worse devastation than either army ”

“Iswearonmymother’shead ”.

He uses Hindi words like “ ayah, baba, begum, dupatta, paan, kurta, junglee, janum, goonda, badmash, bibi, mausi, muhalla, sadhu, maharaj ”, and ‘haddi-phaelwan’ expansively in his text making an acrobatic exuberance in his English prose. At times he makes both a Hindi and an English word come together to form a name or phrase. For instance we can consider the following coinages from the text: ‘lathi-stick’, ‘Picture Singh’, ‘dhobi-bundle’, ‘jailkhana’, and ‘Dilli-dekho machine’.

In Midnight’s Children the vocabulary used by a character is part of the narration. Rushdie transcribes many of Padma’s interjections and imperatives to retain the vernacular flavour in his narration. Her constant use of the word ‘Mister’ and inverted statements like “Why you’re waiting? Begin, Begin all over again” are examples to justify Rushdie’s translation because they retain the unique and intriguing flavour of the vernacular.

Rushdie also takes care about the language used by the social classes in India. He attempts to distinguish between the language spoken by the upper class Adam family with that of Mary Pereira’s Goanese English. He takes much care to use the right language at the right place. He also distinguishes the use of English from Saleem’s school friends and that of the American girl Evelyn Lilith Burns.

The metaphorical nature of language, and the question of how far language can be a bar to communication, is explored in Midnight’s Children. Rushdie apparently enjoys playing with the literal and metaphorical meanings of different phrases, for instance consider: Ahmed Sinai’s ‘frozen assets’ refers to the failed business venture symbolized by his icy testicles. In another instance, Saleem plots the shift from the literal to the metaphoric. Facing financial ruin following the collapse of his land reclamation programme, Ahmed Sinai is further tormented by plans to alter the system of taxation, complaining that the government is going to pot all over the people. “ He stomped off ”, declares Saleem, “ leaving me with a clear understanding of what people meant when they said the country was going to pot ”. It serves as a possible explanation of one of English’s many cryptic phrases while at the same time redefining it – an example of the ‘Indianisation or Rushdification’ of English, to use the terminology of Catherine Cundy, a well-known critic on Rushdie.