I was enchanted when I read the book more than 25 years ago just after it won the Booker Prize and saw the author himself, Salman Rushdie, when he gave a talk in my hometown, Calcutta (Kolkata). Slight and earnest in his glasses, he spoke in a soft voice, captivating us with his words. He sounded so English it was surprising he knew so much about India that he could write a book like Midnight’s Children.
No one can imagine the kind of adulation he received as the first Indian to receive the Booker. Back then, we considered it the greatest of all literary prizes, second only to the Nobel.
Other Indian writers have achieved international acclaim since then, but Rushdie was the first. There were older Indian writers who had found recognition earlier like RK Narayan, who was admired by Graham Greene, but they did not achieve the fame and celebrity of subsequent writers like Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy (another Booker winner), Vikram Chandra and Amitabh Ghosh.
What’s most remarkable about Rushdie is not his scintillating prose or his storytelling power but his ability to write so intimately about India despite all his years abroad. Read about early Indian cricket in The Moor’s Smile, Bombay pop culture in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, New Delhi and Kashmir in Shalimar the Clown. He is so erudite, so stylish, India is fortunate to have a writer like him telling her story in minute detail with so much colour and life.
The Guardian has an audio clip of an interview with him.
Too few voters
Sadly the media seemed more in the Booker of Bookers than ordinary people who were asked to choose the winner by voting online or sending text messages. Only 7,800 people bothered to vote, 37 percent from the UK, followed by 26 percent from North America. Midnight’s Children won 36 percent of the votes. I wonder which came second. Voters chose from a shortlist of six Booker winners:
- The Siege of Krishapur by JG Farrell (1973)
- The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (1974)
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
- Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988)
- The Ghost Road by Pat Barker (1995)
- Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999).
Anyone interested in Indian history should read The Siege of Krishnapur. Set during the Indian Revolution of 1857, it describes the plight of Britons besieged by the rebels. But there is no jingoism. Deeply moving, it captures the horror and suffering caused by war.