A Discussion on Midnight’s Children, A Fine Balance and Magical Realism

The origin of the post is the hours long thought process after reading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (and the origin of the thought process is not being able to write anything for my blog for a long time).


Now comes the reason of this post and the reason of your wasting (Is it?) time on this fairly unpopular blog and its posts. The reason is this: according to me very few people have a good idea about what magicrealism means and what it is about and why the above mentioned books should not be called a hugely different books.

First of all, let me give a brief account about what the above books are about, which you can find in description section of corresponding Goodreads pages and of course we have wikipedia! And before proceeding any further, let me spell it out; if you have not read or if you have no idea or if you plan to read the above two books, then you can stop right now (and miss some arguably interesting observations).

So here are the short accounts of the books:

A Fine Balance: This is set in emergency situation in India during 1977 where we have a uncle and his nephew treading through different areas of India (both cities and villages) and experienced the awful things that people had suffered at that time.

Here, Rohinton (I’m calling him by first name because I love and respect him too much.) uses those two characters as a magnifying glass to let us see and feel what was happening at that time and how people’s mindset had been changing correspondingly. That’s all. (I now safely assure you that you have not missed much about the book if you are planning to read the same.)

Midnight’s Children: Here Salman (First name because he is admirable, funny and friendly) has apparently done something different. I’ll come to that in a moment, just hold on a bit.

Midnight’s Children is about India’s sociopolitical (mostly political) situations that shaped the nation as it is now. In this book too the central theme was the emergency situation and the happenings in that time (note: beautification, vasectomy etc you can find in the two books.) And a lot of awful events had happened with most of the characters in this book.

Now here I’ll spill the beans about magical realism and a comparison between the two books. In A Fine Balance, you’ll find a conventional, Dickentian style narrative, which is so finely (pun intended) done that it has almost universal appeal (note: just have a look at any random review of the book). It is raw, ripe and ruthless.

In Midnight’s Children, however, things gets a bit different. Here you’ll find people having flying, metamorphosizing, telepathizing and thus in total 1001 (Yes, it’s a fact.) such capabilities. Add to this happenings like dogs suddenly protecting a politician, mother visualizing all about her daughters’ dreams, monkey intentionally ruining a lifechanging deal, girl vanishing persons in her basket, a nation conspiring to make drastic changes in our main character’s life and thus affecting the fate of an entire nation. (Yes the main character is so godly and supernatural that anything happening in his life has reflected to the nation’s fate.) In short: it’s all very symbolic and extremely sarcastic. This is a new kind of writing process to hammer more boldly the same things in a new way.

Midnight’s Children could have been easily written like this: Saleem is boy born in a muslim rich family with no magical power whatsoever, and gradually with change in political situations of nation his life takes turns and he goes through an awful lot of sad things; he goes to places, always crying and invoking mercy in the reader, and can do nothing to prevent it etc etc(which actually happens in A Fine Balance).

Rather, Salman has chosen a hugely sarcastic and arrogant tone, making fun of the victims and readers and constantly referring to vast Indian mythological events. Without magical realism (A world where magic happens and none recognizes it as magic; a basic difference between fantasy and magical realism.), without assuming such outrageous and illogical facts in Rushdie’s book, could it be symbolized to depict history of a nation via merely life story of a character? Could the miseries of a nation be described in an utterly cruel and sarcastic tone by making fun of a character’s pain? It maybe possible, but it’ll be hugely boring and bigger and more difficult.

On a slightly out-of-the-track note: One Hundred Years of Solitude could never be written if there was no magical realism or perhaps, there would not be any Franz Kafka or Haruki Murakami.

The point is: Magical realism is NOT a GENRE of English literature, it is a literary TOOL, same like allegory or oxymoron. So don’t run away from a book because it is written in magical realism technique; it can be fun and it just tries to show a realistic world through a different magnifying glass so that you can recognize and understand the situation more vividly and tequilically (note: tequila is a strong alcohol).

P.S. My future endeavors in literature may cross a line or two with magical realism.



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