How to Read in Indian

Mulk Raj Anand’s complaint against Midnight’s Children is worth rereading; he begins with dismissal, and one can imagine how he would have approached the gathering that took place at Neemrana. He also appears to completely miss the point of Midnight’s Children, and that, too, is part of the history of misreadings and misunderstandings that are woven into the history of Indian writing in English.

“The question of Salman Rushdie’s novel does not arise, as far as I am concerned. Rushdie is a clever young man (perhaps too clever by half as the English say). He writes very eloquently in the English language but in Midnight’s Children, he is aping the recent Americans by disembowelling his mother, painting his grandmother as a scheming old witch, his grandfather as a burglar, his father as a mere crook, and he himself as superior to all his colleagues. I suppose he is brighter than the others, but in the kind of way in which the average advertising copywriter is brighter than every other copywriter. India appears to be a spittoon to Salman Rushdie. I suppose it is as it was a vast sewage to Katherine Mayo before the war, or it is the Continent of Circe to that third-grade actor Nirad Chaudhuri, as it is An Area of Darkness to VS Naipaul, as it is Heat and Dust to Ruth [Prawer] Jhabvala.”

That sweeping condemnation is interesting on two counts. It attacks the outsider’s account of India—Naipaul, who travelled extensively in the country, and Rushdie, who grew up here and whose book is steeped in nostalgia for Bombay, are clubbed with Katherine Mayo (whose “drain inspector’s report” is still, inexplicably, on the list of books banned in India), as well as Nirad C Chaudhuri, proud dhoti-wearing imperialist, and Jhabvala, another Indian immigrant and resident.

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