the doomed Hummingbird

I’m on chapter 3 of Midnight’s Children, “Hit-the-Spittoon.” This is a good chapter to discuss why I read this novel so much more slowly than I’d like.

  • cultural references and language – at the end of paragraph one, the narrator says that “I shall eventually crumble into (approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious, dust” (36). The number can’t be random, can it? And I wonder what the population of India is at the time this narrator speaks because the introduction tells me the narrator and India are twin characters. On page 37, the narrator tells us that he makes chutneys and pickles condiments. He addresses the reader: “But now, ‘A cook?’ you gasp in horror, ‘A khansama merely? How is it possible?'” And although Rushdie gives us the translation of khansama as “cook,” I still want to look it up. Why does he use Hindi words some times and not at other times? This passage is also a bit surrealist — a writer-pickler? And here comes the literariness: “…I spend my time at the great work of preserving. Memory, as well as fruit, is being saved from the corruption of the clocks” (37).
  • surrealism – in the example above, the narrator has just asked us to accept that he is disintegrating. The surrealism throws me off a bit. Not sure why it’s inserted when it is. I suppose I keep reading with the expectation of a more traditional novel, especially since Rushdie has cited Austen and Dickens in his introduction. Here’s another example: “…And certainly Padma is leaking into me. As history pours out of my fissured body, my lotus is quietly dripping in…” (37). This is an example of surrealism and literariness combined because the narrator asks us to accept that his body is disintegrating (surrealism) while he gives us the beautiful image of history leaking out of him and the influence of Padma, whose character is not too clear.
  • new words – Rushdie loves to play with language, but his neologisms always make me stop and wonder. Example from page 38: “what-happened-nextism” and from pages 37-38: “down to earth earthery.” I like the playfulness, the newness, and the craft, but all of these things compel me to slow down so I can admire and ponder.
  • uncertainty – for instance, who is Padma? She is a lover, a servant, a wife? Still unclear.
  • chronological jumpiness — shouldn’t be a problem in a novel, but I get a bit lost with the long digressions. So, for instance, on page 37, I read, “–so it’s appropriate that I’m about to tell the story of the death of Mian Abdullah. The doomed Hummingbird: a legend of our times.” But we don’t get to the story for another page and half, and the intervening paragraphs seem disconnected. The paragraph after the one that ends with the promise of Mian Abdullah’s story discusses the narrator’s impotence. Hunh? Yes, it’s done in a very clever and funny way. But I’m still left with disconnection and wondering about Mian Abdullah.

So now I’ve located and even categorized some of the reasons I’m frustrated in this first reading. Not sure if I’ve applied any of the strategies in Tovani’s book.


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