THE DECOLONISATION OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE (Part 3)

LANGUAGE (Part 3)

The Canadian critic Neil Ten Kortenaar, who is engaged in an extensive study of the various aspects of Midnight’s Children, has recently compiled a long list of all the Indian words, phrases and allusions in the novel. The list includes names of places like Amul Diaries, Bandung, Chhamb, Dadar etc., which amounts to a total of 144 such names; names of historical figures that includes A.V. Alexander, Catherine of Braganza, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira, Khusrovand, Sabarmati, and Maneka Gandhi – a total of 178 names; words from Indian languages baap-re-baap, bhang, badmash, charas, dhobi, laddoo, falooda, etc., – a total of 223 such words; words connected with religion like Shiva-lingam, puja, Atharva-veda, Gandhara, sadhu, Kali-yuga, etc., making up of a total of 112 such words; literary and cultural allusions which includes names like Arjuna India Bike, Mumba Devi, Filmfare, Ranji etc., – a total of 139. University teachers

One very important aspect that cannot be overlooked is the linking of words together without any commas or hyphens. Midnight’s Children is full of this unique type of usage. For instance, Naseem Aziz’s constant utterance of ‘whatsitsname’ without any full stops or commas in between the words can be cited. Rushdie just places words in unison without any commas making no attempt in separating them, accounting to the exoticising of language done by him in his fiction. The following excerpts from Midnight’s Children are worth noticing:

“And there are so many stories to tell, too many, such an excess of intertwined lives events miracles places rumours, so dense a commingling of the improbable and the mundane!”

“Whatdoyoumeanhowcanyousaythat, they chorused […] ”

“I swear Iswearonmymother’shead”

In the first example Rushdie does not insert any commas between the words. Such startling phrases are strewn all over the book making the language quite innovative and interesting. The author feels that Rushdie uses a passage without any punctuation marks to indicate the haste and confusion of his narrator-protagonist Saleem. Rushdie creates his narrator with superhuman vision and extraordinary powers of thought reading in order to make his accounts of different lives as the life of the nation and to make the narrative appear as coming a single witness.

Midnight’s Children talks about three countries – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh but Shame is entirely about Pakistan. The story of Shame is narrated by a disembodied third person, whom Rushdie interrupts frequently with asides about the country of which he is talking about.

Rushdie’s craftsmanship is mature in Shame. The book also has the startling metaphors and vernacular allusions of Midnight’s Children. The narrative is strewn about here and there with Urdu words, translated phrases and idioms from the vernacular.

Shame is a thinly veiled excursion through the history of Pakistan, narrating the rivalry between the most prominent leaders of the country – Chairman Iskandar Harappa (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in history) and General Raza Hyder (General Zia ul-Haq in reality).

Rushdie’s brilliant tool for narration is his magnificent prose and with the supreme command he has over the language, he fuses fiction with factuality. He recreates English to his taste by combining it with the vernacular colloquialisms and with Hindi and Urdu words. For instance consider these passages from Shame:

“Barbs were flung though the same lattice: ‘Ohe, madam! Where do you think he gets your grand grand clothes? ”

“May your grandsons urinate upon your pauper’s grave”

In the second example Rushdie quite skillfully translates literally into English the Urdu curse without undermining the vernacular flavour.

There is an element of fantasy and intrigue prevailing all through the novel. Rushdie symbolizes the home of Omar Khayyam Shakil, ‘Nishapur’ as a womb. The unused rooms, dilapidated staircases, rotting books in the libraries, beautiful women shut up in their massive house all contribute to the pervasive atmosphere of a wonderland. The world described in Shame is one where anything is more than likely to happen. It is a world of magic and reality, of pleasant daydreams and shivering awakenings, of delicate poetry and brutal battles.

Rushdie has deliberately given Shame the dynamics of a fairy-tale, calling it a ‘legend’, ‘a sort of modern fairy-tale’, ‘my fairy story’ and using some of its accepted conventions and inventing a few fanciful features of his own – the ‘once-upon-a-time’ setting, an extensive and isolated mansion almost impenetrable with three mothers being the only inhabitants who jointly give birth to two sons. It can be said that in Shame Rushdie pauses his versatile word play and language pyrotechnics and concentrates of the technique, form and content of the work.