Midnight’s Children (India)

India Photos for BLogmaharajah suiteby Salman Rushdie, circa 1981

Preface: You cycle slowly away from the grungy, dingy room you and your two friends spent the night in, under a smelly camel blanket. Maybe it was just outside of Jaipur, in Rajahstan? Or was it closer to Jaisalmer? You can’t remember now.

You woke to the sound of a steam train and to the foggy December cold, that you do remember. You’re freezing in your cycling spandex and your Numbums team jacket with the pink and black stripes, but you cycle automatically on because you know there is chai ahead.

Somewhere along the road, maybe after the second dromedary, you know there is a tiny village chai shop made of mud and sticks, where a tiny little old man sits stirring a huge pot of milky sweet orange chai. There always is. You always stop. You always give him a delighted Namaste, and he do-wais in return. Then about 100 men and boys appear from nowhere, pinching and prodding the bikes and asking fascinated questions and challenging you to bike races and showing you their own, rusting low-tech steeds, and the village always has an English teacher who shows up just in time and rescues you from utter exhaustion and shoos the others away and chastises the children and then there is the chai.

map of IndiaSweet, milky, spicy, hot and oh…so orange. The white porcelain cup is cracked, but you don’t give a tinker’s damn.

If you weren’t cycling 80 miles a day, the intense sweetness would perhaps send you into a diabetic coma. But, like a hummingbird, your body is insanely gobbling fuel, and so this most Indian of beverages, masala chai, becomes the nectar of foreign gods.

Midnight’s Children

Rushdie’s narrator, a Bombay Muslim, gives this title to all the kids born between midnight and 1 a.m. on the day in December, 1947 when India became an independent country and the British let go of the Raj. The story is very entertaining. Now back to the chai. The grandmother in the novel, Reverend Mother, is always drinking “pink Kashmiri tea.” Naturally, I wondered what this could be.

JaipurAt the end of a novel that felt like I’d lived about 100 lives at once and also sequentially;

  • Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Parsee
  • Pakistani, Kashimiri, Bangladeshi, Indian
  • Tamil, Urdu, Hindi
  • Bombay, Delhi, Karachi, Rawalpindi and the Bengali jungle

I had to Google the tea.

chai wallahKashmiri chai is made from GREEN TEA. That’s as different as the book’s blue-eyed narrator in a nation of Indian brown.

But wait, there’s more. The Internet taught me that in Kashmir, the water causes the color of the tea and that Kashmiris who move to Pakistan, particularly Rawalpindi, as Reverend Mother did in the book, often put a pinch of baking soda in the chai to make it the right color.

Also, ground pistachios or almonds are added to the tea. Historically, it has earned a place in Ayurvedic medicine as a warming beverage. I’m always cold in the winter so I hopped online and ordered $20 worth of Kashmiri Chai leaves from Amazon. I will let you know how the tea-making experiment goes!

glass of chai
Indian Chai

What’s not to discuss: The book was a very palatable Indian history lesson wrapped in a magical narrative that was a bit (at times) too boyish–snotnoses and childhood grossness etc. But I really liked it, which means I have not much to say.

I have noticed this phenomenon in my book group: Books we don’t like often engender more and more interesting conversation than those we do.

Why I Picked Mr. Rushdie:

Kasmiri chai
Kasmiri Chai

I wanted to know what he was writing about that made people so mad, made certain Iranians declare a fatwa against him and try to kill him. But I didn’t want to read a “religious” novel like I thought the Satanic Verses might be.

Midnight’s Children seemed approachable, I like history, I went to Gandhi’s tomb, and besides my friend Melana loaned it to me ages ago and I haven’t yet given it back because I spilled red wine on it. Rushdie is a VERY good writer.

Compare and Contrast. Discuss.

When Midnight’s Children were born, my dad would have been 7 years old, my mom would have been 3. Mohandas Gandhi, “the Mahatma,” or Enlightened One, was just one year away from being by a Hindu fanatic who thought Mr. Gandhi was too sympathetic to Indian Muslims.

CURRY RATING: Seven Chili Peppers! With a side of pickled onions.

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