“At times home is nowhere. At times one only knows extreme estrangement and alienation. Then home is no longer just one place. It is locations .” -bell hooks
Over the years much ink has been spilled into the “place” of home in literary and political spheres within the context of certain schools and approaches, mainly the ones related to postcolonial theory, diaspora, multiculturalism and nationalism. Considered in the light of such pluralistic views, “home” inevitably assumes not “just one place” but many of them, not a place but space. It becomes not a word that corresponds with its highly traditional meaning as located, fixed, rooted and stable, but a concept which is beyond logos. Generally speaking, the main connotation attached to home is that of the private space from which the individual begins his teleological journey. Home is also a reference to a wider place to which the individuals belong: a circle, a group, a community, a village, a city, or a country. These connotations form the primary and perennial concerns related with home. However, the concept of home over the years has moved beyond these meanings and come to be regarded as a spatial plane, a virtual arena, rather than a physical place.
Specifically, in the realm of post-colonial theory home has almost lost its widely accepted connotations shelter, safety, privacy, peace and protection. It has come to perform a rather fluid and contingent role which corresponds either to all of the mentioned terms or to none of them, for it is always possible to regard postcolonial literature as the “imagining of one’s (domestic) ideology in an expanded space” (George 4). This idea of the “expanded space,” which refers to broader concepts be it to the home country the nation or to the home itself, the garden, the backyard, or just to the bathroom of a house, constitutes the very instrumental idea lying behind the entire colonial project. The colonizer, as he builds up houses in the colonies and decorates rooms in his local, national style, takes pleasure in his work of art- the miniature of the Empire. That is to say, in the hands of the colonizer homes become the spots for power manifestation and sites for political revelations directly serving to the colonial ideal. What then is left to the colonized who is subjected to the practice of the colonizer in both public and private spheres? “To be at home is to have the sense of a terrain—spatial, epistemological, cultural—which one expects to navigate with smoothness and ease” (Sagar 237). However, the home of the colonized never promises for such a site, as it serves for the production and reproduction of “bodies, borders, subject positions, discourses and ideologies, mechanisms of surveillance and discipline” (Sagar 237). In this sense it can be suggested that the word home in its narrowest sense connotes the private and domestic. In the broadest scale, however, it denotes the public the nation and the empire in its most intrinsic activities. At this point the histories of nation and the stories of home meet at converging paths. Home is then observed in its process of befitting the atlas of nations and of empires.
Homes are then by no means neutral places, that is, there exists almost no difference between establishing a home, constructing a settlement or establishing a nation, as either of these addresses to a certain site where power relations are at work. “Imagining a home is as political an act as is imagining a nation” and most of the times the two events often overlap or run parallel to each other (George 6). However, equating home either purely with private or with public, with the domestic space or with the political does not provide a full-fledged understanding of notion of place, or that of home. Edward Said in his book The World, the Text and the Critic draws attention to this issue:
The readiest account of place might define it as nation, and certainly in the exaggerated boundary drawn between Europe and the Orient – a boundary with a long and often unfortunate tradition in European thought- the idea of a nation, of a national-cultural community as a sovereign entity and place set against other places, has its fullest realization. But this idea of place does not cover the nuances, principally of reassurance, fitness, belonging, association, and community, entailed in the phrase at home or in place. (8)
What Said’s claim indicates is that home should not be restricted to its connotations related with the private neither should it only be referred to in its relation to the public, to nation. He calls for a moving beyond from the perceiving of home as solely a private arena or as a public domain. Through the cultural practice, colonial and postcolonial discourses that form a notion of place, the term home undergoes certain revisions. Such variances for sure indicate that gradually home moves away from its three “s” definition that shelter, support, security and comes to receive more negative connotations like threat, fear, exclusion and intervention. As Rosemary George also indicates in her The Politics of Home :
Homes are not about inclusions and wide open arms as much as they are about places carved out of closed doors, closed borders and screening apparatuses. When different groups or individuals jostle each other to establish a space as their own, as an exclusive manifestation of their subjecthood, this struggle can become as urgent as keeping oneself alive. As a result, “home” becomes contested ground in times of political tumult either on the level of power struggles at a national communal stage or at the interpersonal familial level. (18)
It is exactly from this point that the study in question takes its cue and endeavors to look into the changing roles of home in Salman Rushdie’s acclaimed novel Midnight’s Children. As India undergoes a tremendous change under the effect of British rule in the h/story of the novel, the characters inhabiting Rushdie’s India also undergo certain modifications. Public leaks into the private in the novel, just as Rushdie’s history leaks into his story when he takes his inspiration for his work from “an old photograph in a cheap frame” hanging on the wall of the room where he works ( I.Homelands 9). Rushdie, too, departs from the boundaries of his “home” only to end up in a narrative of the history of his “nation” through the pen of Saleem Sinai. The photograph reminds him of his past and his present, his story and his history, and that he says: “it’s my present that is foreign and that the past is home, albeit a lost home in a lost city in the mists of lost time” ( I. Homelands 9).
Rushdie writes of a lost home, assuming that he may retrieve it or restore it to himself. However, he is also aware of the fact that “when the Indian writer who writes from outside India tries to reflect that world, he is obliged to deal in broken mirrors, some of whose fragments have been irretrievably lost” ( I.Homelands 11). It is not only the writer who has to bear with the fragmented reflections and broken echoes, it is also the reader who becomes exposed to the multiple representations of home and home-country both of which are questionable throughout the novel. Looking at India through broken mirrors and witnessing Saleem Sinai in his act of writing the nation, and the other inhabitants of his world in their domestic practice at home, the reader in Midnight’s Children is led to a plane where diverse representations of “home” are at work. Discharged from the boundaries of both colonial and national metaphor, the home in the novel is “open to diverse meanings encompassing the fluid and subversive” (Upstone 265).
“Home” in Midnight’s Children is sometimes a promising site for a great challenge against the colonial power; it is a site of resistance, a place for power manifestation, yet most of the times it is a site of dissolution, menace, and of uncanny as what is regarded “homely” often turns out to be “unhomely.” Home does not always protect but sometimes leaves unshielded; it does not lodge but it dislodges. It does not promise hope, but causes despair. It is a site of tension between the private and the public where hierarchical relationships are at work, and binaries are at clash - the home and the outside, the nation and the world. Examples inevitably abound, yet the implication does never change. That is to say, in the colonial and post-colonial process “home” becomes “unhomely,” which in Homi Bhabha’s words “relates the traumatic ambivalences of a personal, psychic history to the wider disjunctions of political existence” ( The Location of Culture 11). What Bhabha indicates is that assuming such a dimension as political “home” opens the path for history. In his introduction to The Location of Culture Bhabha puts this idea clearly by saying that the recess of the domestic space renders it possible for the most complicated invasion of history. For, within that change of location, “the borders between home and world become confused; and, uncannily, the private and the public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting” (9). That is, in the colonial process home and the outside of home interact with each other, steal roles from one another, which results in a blurred line between public and the private, the East and the West, the colonizer and the colonized, the inferior and the superior, the master and the servant, and the wife and the husband. Within this blurred portrait the colonized indulges in the business of “redrawing the domestic space as the space of the normalizing, pastoralizing, and the individuating techniques of modern power and police: the personal is the political: the world-in-the-home” (Bhabha 11). What Bhabha actually claims applies to the case in Midnight’s Children where the characters either within their domestic space or within political spheres perform their roles while at the same time responding to the post-/colonial situation around in their own ways.
If one has to take Rushdie’s novel as a contrapuntal act, a subversive reading/writing, what his characters do in the novel and how they react to the colonial contest can be read as a contrapuntal act as well. Quite in line with Anne McClinctock’s claim “imperialism cannot be understood without a theory of domestic space” Rushdie’s novel lays bare the key points of colonialism through a spatial politics of home (17). The novel reveals the colonial implications of domestic space throughout and renders it possible to discuss its dynamics in specific details. What is aimed to suggest in such details is that in Rushdie’s novel “home” assumes a variety of roles from serving as a shelter, a kind of haven, a site for political resistance. It further becomes a plane where the characters through domestic practice assert their identities and try to subvert either patriarchy of the familial or the colonial at their unhomely homes.
In Midnight’s Children home as the unhomely best appears in the Methwold Estate which lies at the heart of the novel. When Amina and Ahmed Sinai get lured into William Methwold’s “peculiar game: FOR SALE” and decide to settle in the Methwold Estate they open the book for an interpretation of mimicry in Bhabha’s terms ( Midnight’s Children 125). To Saleem, his parents are captivated by the “signs bearing two words,” for they, in the course of time, will have to tolerate with “the curious whims of the Englishman” (130). When Ahmed Sinai finally persuades Amina to settle there with the promise of a nice atmosphere with “nice people” and “nice neighbors” he is not actually aware of the “unhomely” nature of their “home” yet.
Methwold’s Estate was sold on conditions that every content in the houses be retained by the new owners and the order of the house be kept in the same way. Methwold’s mantra was “lock, stock and barrel” and he paid utmost attention to stick to this ideal (126). The motive lying behind this mantra was that the British was leaving India, yet their power was to remain haunting the entire nation and wandering around their homes, rooms and their minds. They had nothing left to do “except to play our games” (126). Methwold himself describes this situation as follows: “… Oh, you know: after a fashion, I'm transferring power, too. Got a sort of itch to do it at the same time the Raj does. As I said: a game” (127). Thus Methwold resolves to play his game in his dominion, in and around the houses named after the places of Europe: Versailles Villa, Buckingham Villa, Escorital Villa and Sans Souci. His game is not actually a fair one, though he appeases everyone around with the Indian saying Sabkuch ticktock hai ( All is well ). (129)
While Methwold is eager to transfer his power in the Estate everyone feels in a chaos, as they now have to get used to living among ceiling fans, walls covered with the white-baby posers, water closets mini-bars and musical instruments. To them, all around is like a foreign land with a foreign view:
...There are thirty days to go to the transfer of power and Lila Sabarmati is on the telephone, 'How can you stand it, Nussie? In every room here there are talking budgies, and in the almirahs I find moth-eaten dresses and used brassieres!'… And Nussie is telling Amina, 'Goldfish, Allah, I can't stand the creatures, but Methwold sahib comes himself to feed… and there are half-empty pots of Bovril he says I can't throw…it's mad, Amina sister, what are we doing like this?'... (130).
Lila Sabarmati cannot stand the view of moth-eaten dresses, used brassieres; neither does Nussie stand the goldfish. Amina cannot account for why she even is not allowed to throw away a spoon, that lampshade, or one comb. Ibrahim refuses to use the ceiling fan in his bedroom fearing that it might fall and damage his head at night. As the time goes by, which is relatively a short one, the advantages of the Estate outweigh the disadvantages, or it does seem in this way. Lila Sabarmati takes pleasure in spending time with the pianola, Ahmed Sinai tastes the Scotch whiskey, and Dr.Narlikar feels at ease with the pictures hanging on the walls. After all, “things are settling down, the sharp edges of things are getting blurred, so they have all failed to notice what is happening: the Estate, Methwold’s Estate is changing them” ( MC 131). They soon get used to living in their homes surrounded by English standards and in their country ruled by a ghostly English rule.
Every evening at six o’clock the residents celebrate the cocktail hour as instructed by Methwold, and when they realize that they are supervised by Methwold they shift to an Anglo-Indian posture imitating his Oxford accent. Surely, Methwold invented such habits as celebrating the cocktail hour and learning to live with other people’s property to “transform the current residents into not-so-pale imitations of those they have supplanted” (Kortenaar 168). Thus, every evening Methwold watches the materialization of his allegorical project: “All is well” he says, as he watches a nation translated from Hindu to English.
Methwold Estate becomes a site for British colonial power, and all the objects the wardrobes filled with clothes, the lampshade, the spoons, the pictures, the ceiling fans, gas cookers stand for the British rule in India. They serve the colonial power correlating to the idea of dominion and power. As Alison Blunt suggests in her discussion of “imperial domesticity:” “Both through the domestication of imperial subjects, and through the rise of imperial consumption, British homes [w]ere clearly influenced by imperial politics” (25). Blunt also claims that this process of translation of domestic discourses over imperial space was an issue open to interpretation, which was apparent from the ambivalent place of British homes in imperial India (26). Home undoubtedly plays a major role in forming and regenerating the ideologies and daily routines of colonial rule, yet the effects of the process appear as multi-faceted. For instance, the families in the Methwold Estate are forced to contribute to the colonial power by retaining their homes as clean, tidy, and in perfect order just as British wished for the nation India. The subjects of the colonial rule are made to abide by the principles of British domesticity. In an effort to assert their own domestic practice they are confronted with the sheer fact that domestic, private practice in the Methwold Estate serves for the public, colonial interest. Here in the Estate home attains a political dimension when considered in the light of colonial concerns.
Sara Upstone in her discussion of postcolonial homes regards home as “a construct fulfilling a political role in the reinforcement of colonial values and yet, because of the nature of that political role, presented – paradoxically – as an idealized and apolitical location” ( Spatial Politics … 115). In a similar vein, Methwold Estate appears as the ideal place for the Sinai couple, as “nice people are buying the houses,” and there is this potential of “nice new neighbors” ( MC 128). Ahmed Sinai also feels relieved thinking that Methwold will never stay with them forever “… And afterwards I can do what I like with the house…? “Yes, afterwards, naturally, he'll be gone…” ( MC 128). Ironically enough, Methwold will never be gone, his virtual presence will always be felt in and around their homes and their minds very much like the British colonial rule which always casts a shadow over India. Therefore, in Upstone’s terms, this colonial home is “an unspoken intertext” which “stands in relation to its colonial forbear and interrogates its values” ( SP 115). Moreover, the subjects inhabiting this unspoken intertext flirt with the colonial idea by adapting themselves to the process. They somehow become “mimic men” in Bhabha’s terms, who by acknowledging the domination of the colonizer try to constitute themselves. For instance, although the Sinai family and their neighbors at first complain about the condition in the Estate, they soon set out a colonial drama in which they have the leading roles. They perform a certain kind of Englishness by sticking to the Estate rules and they do not realize the fact that they have been gradually stripped away from their identities as Indians. They in fact fall prey to the colonial mimicry which is to create “a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite ” ( Of Mimickery …86). The awareness of this colonial situation does never come in the play, since “the colonial presence is always ambivalent, split between its appearance as original and authoritative and its articulation as repetition and difference” ( Of Mimickery… 242). The residents waver in a liminal space, between being Indian and being Anglicized, becoming aware that there is a certain cultural dividing line between India and England, and that the former is not “as civilized as” the latter:
And Ahmed Sinai finds a cocktail cabinet in Buckingham Villa (which was Methwold's own house before it was ours); he is discovering the delights of fine Scotch whisky and cries, 'So what? Mr Methwold is a little eccentric, that's all-can we not humour him? With our ancient civilization, can we not be as civilized as he?'(emphasis mine) … and he drains his glass at one go. ( MC 131)
This dividing line is also observed and best performed in the domestic routine of the characters, in Ahmed Sinai’s running his business, in the practice of Amina and her Indian neighbors’ running their houses. All these characters especially the women try to run their life holding on to their values, yet they are obsessed with the idea of being civilized. As Alison Blunt indicates: “Anglo-Indian women and homes were positioned within broader discourses of both imperial and nationalist domesticity, which reflected the paradoxical positioning of the community at home and not at home in British India” (30). Within the course of the novel these characters become the epitome of the colonial hybrids who are to live a life of exile between the two clashing cultures never arriving at home, never feeling at home, never settling and never setting a home in the colonial situation under Western eyes.
The colonial process represented in Midnight’s Children through different connotations of “home” is also subverted in many forms through the very same notion “home” and “domesticity.” Home displays its political dimension through domestic practice, and the place becomes a site for act of resistance. Such resistance is best exemplified in the imperial traits of Reverend Mother who tries hard to keep her house in great order turning deaf ears to the colonial process outside. Reverend Mother “lived within an invisible fortress of her own making, an ironclad citadel of traditions and certainties,” perhaps she was aware of the fact that one had to maintain a successful home if he was to maintain a successful nation. ( MC 47) “The domestic rules she established were a system of self-defense” ( MC 47). Above all, they were her private weapons against the chaos in public. Reverend Mother by setting up her kingdom in the pantry and kitchen, sticking to the traditions of India was actually asserting her power and challenging the colonial values which were ready to settle in the nation:
…And at the dinner table, imperiously, she continued to rule. No food was set upon the table, no plates were laid. Curry and crockery were marshaled upon a low side-table by her right hand, and Aziz and the children ate what she dished out. It is a sign of the power of this custom that, even when her husband was afflicted by constipation, she never once permitted him to choose his food, and listened to no requests or words of advice. A fortress may not move. Not even when its dependents’ movements become irregular. (49)
The politics of Reverend Mother’s domestic practice and her anti-colonial resistance pose a threat to imperialism, which is at her doorstep. However, she carefully shuts the doors of her citadel and meticulously sets the table for her family. Her kitchen for her is a space for control, where she emerges as an emperor against her husband and against the colonial rule.
Sara Upstone in her article “Domesticity in Magical Realist Fiction” states that politicization of the home renders it possible for the subversion of the colonial ideal of domesticity and the patriarchal attributions of that ideal, which applies to Reverend Mother in most respects:
Politicized, the split between public and private space is corrupted, and the fluid boundaries established by postcolonial fiction instead offer the opportunity for women’s lives to be actively connected to the outside world, even when patriarchy physically confines them to the “inside.” The power centered on the home gives women significant status in how colonialism is challenged. For the colonial wife, the successful home was to be seen as a contribution to empire, so maintaining this home against colonial infiltration could be, for the colonized wife, an act of anti-colonial resistance. (267)
In a similar vein, it can be suggested that Amina, the daughter of Reverend Mother is endowed with such empowering talents of home-making:
Nobody ever took pains the way Amina did. Dark of skin, glowing of eye, my mother was by nature the most meticulous person on earth. Assiduously, she arranged flowers in the corridors and rooms of the Old Delhi house; carpets were selected with infinite care. She could spend twenty-five minutes worrying at the positioning of a chair. By the time she'd finished with her home-making, adding tiny touches bere, making fractional alterations there, Ahmed Sinai found his orphan's dwelling transformed into something gentle and loving. Amina would rise before he did, her assiduity driving her to dust everything, even the cane chick-blinds (until he agreed to employ a hamal for the purpose). (86)
No matter how skilled Amina appears to be in home-making, she is sometimes overpowered by her counterpart, the Reverend Mother. Amina could spend a considerable time for deciding at the positioning of a chair, however, she would fail in positioning herself at her own house, in the Methwold Estate in the continued presence of her mother (during Ahmed Sinai’s period of depression). “Reverend Mother sat at the head of the dining table doling out food” (emphasis mine) (190). She would simply rage and assert her free will to take control: “I’m fed up. If nobody in this house is going to put things right, then it’s just going to be up to me!” (191). It is with this very fury Amina departs that day and transcends the boundaries of her home and of her self, for in Amina’s case home serves “as sites of both potential subversion and containment” (George 19). Feeling that she is gradually losing the control, and she is no longer a figure of authority at home, she seeks power in public sphere and sallies forth to the paddocks:
With the Brass Monkey growing inside her, my mother stalked the paddocks of the racecourse named after the goddess of wealth; braving early-morning sickness and varicose veins, she stood in line at the Tote window, putting money on three-horse accumulators and long-odds outsiders. Ignorant of the first thing about horses, she backed mares known not to be stayers to win long races; she put her money on jockeys because she liked their smiles. Clutching a purse full of the dowry which had lain untouched in its trunk since her own mother had packed it away, she took wild flutters on stallions who looked fit for the Schaapsteker Institute… and won, and won, and won. (191)
In this sense, home becomes a site of power contestation for Amina, who, in her efforts to keep it well-balanced, asserts her identity and leaves the very “private” place which she feels slipping out of her hands. She tries her luck in the “public” and tries to assert her skills in a patriarchal domain, since her skills at home is not effective enough to solve the trauma of their lives. In her resolution, she justifies herself by saying: “What can’t be cured must be endured. I am doing what must be done” ( MC 192). “Freed from the exigencies of running her home” but “filled with a kind of rage” towards the mother, Amina finds herself in a curious state which leads her to rediscover within herself “the adventurous streak” ( MC 191). This power clash between the mother and the daughter at home inevitably brings into question the issue of “home” and “self,” which equally opens up the ground for a discussion of “identity.”
In the examination of “home,” “identity” is rather a fluid and contingent concept in contrast to the literal meaning of home as a fixed and stable entity. It is a widely regarded fact that nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century women were often associated with their homes and their homemaking. The home was regarded as an outcome of the women’s creativity and personality, and most of the times it connoted to the body. “The woman’s job was to decorate and maintain her home as she did her mind, personality and body” (George 23). Such views determined the line between women, homemaking, creativity, decorum and design. However, within the chaotic postcolonial atmosphere as opposed to the luxurious, leisurely atmosphere of Victorian society the case for sure was different. For instance, Amina, in the way a Victorian woman does pays utmost attention to keeping the Methwold Estate clean, tidy and in apple-pie order. However, there comes a moment that she feels the need to move beyond the boundaries of the walls of her home, to be stripped away from her role of “angel in the house” and attain a new identity other than the wife of Ahmad Sinai, the daughter of Reverend Mother and the mother of two children. She therefore goes out to win, to have a victory, as home is no longer a place for her to reign.
J. Douglas Porteous in his article “Home, The Territorial Core” refers to the role of home as a physical space and contends: “The personalization of space is an assertion of identity and a means of ensuring stimulation. The defense of space is the means by which stimulation is achieved and security assured” (383). In line with Porteous’s claim, it can be argued that both Reverend Mother and Amina try to personalize the home according to their own interest, both in an effort to manifest their power. However, while Reverend Mother internalizes her kingly traits and retains her kingdom even in another house, Amina takes this power manifestation as a stimulus for a different mode of identity assertion which is not inside but outside of home.
There is yet another woman figure to be mentioned as to this identity assertion issue—the Brass Monkey. Brass Monkey employs a more different style of appropriation of colonial power and its subversion at the Methwold Estate by burning shoes and breaking items “accidentally-on-purpose” ( MC 208). Women in Midnights Children subvert their roles of imprisoned women and become highly strong figures. As in the words of Sara Upstone they “seem almost magically to take their place at the center of the narrative, moving to its core as they overwhelm the boundaries delimited for them” (275).
Apart from such politicized appearances of “home,” in Rushdie’s novel “home” becomes a plane into which politics itself constantly leak. There is much in store in “home” for the characters in Midnight’s Children. For instance, it is Doctor Aziz’s home where the poet, the comrade of Mian Abdullah, Nadir Khan takes refuge, sleeps, finds solace, falls in love with the daughter and gets divorced. It is the very same place which Major Zulfikar makes visits as he suspects of Nadir Khan’s underworld living. Major Zulfikar enters Aziz’s home “with a force of fifteen men” to expose Nadir (78). Aziz and his family witness how their home is invaded by outside forces and how the private is poisoned by public, how they are blurred: “They arrived in the drawing-room with Emerald at their head. My aunt: treason with a beautiful face, no dupatta and pink loose-pajamas. Aziz watched dumbly as the soldiers rolled back the drawing-room carpet and opened the big trap-door” (78).
Later in the Constitution of 1956, it is actually Zulfikar’s home which becomes a spot for the invasion of politics. The well-planned dinner party at Zulfikar’s glamorous house witnesses the Revolution, which is perfectly arranged by Zulfikar himself, and acted out by the pepper-pots with the assistance of Saleem:
How we made the Revolution: General Zulfikar described troop movements; I moved pepperpots symbolically while he spoke. In the clutches of the active metaphorical mode of connection, I shifted salt-cellars and bowls of chutney: This mustard-jar is Company A occupying Head Post office; there are two pepperpots surrounding a serving spoon, which means Company B has seized the airport. With the fate of the nation in my hands, I shifted condiments and cutlery, capturing empty briani-dishes with water-glasses, stationing salt-cellars, on guard, around water-jugs. And when General Zulfikar stopped talking, the march of the table-service also came to an end. ( MC 403)
As the quotation indicates Zulfikar’s home is explicitly politicized and rendered a potential site for anti-colonial resistance, for the Revolution. Rushdie assigning a political role to the domestic space makes it a possible place for recalcitrance. At this point, Zulfikar’s home stands for the ideal nation, very much like Reverend Mother’s well-planned, well-set table. Thus, once again it is seen that home in the novel “explicitly becomes a space where negotiations of power are played out and where critique of colonialism is clearly possible” (Upstone 274). Invaded by politics the Indian table once again poses a threat to the colonial order, and becomes a site for hope, of rebirth. The Revolution set on a dinner table inevitably calls for the rethinking of Indian values and customs, of pepper-pots and chutney jars. Such small details related to home or spaces which are sometimes small but yet significant abound in the novel and are always in and around home.
The political representation of domestic space manifests itself in diverse modes in Saleem’s narrative in the novel. The concept of “home” in fact undergoes certain revisions in his characterization. Saleem first presents his anti-colonial resistance through taking shelter in the washing-chest made of slatted wood of the bathroom at Buckingham Villa. He describes the washing-chest as a private space where he could concentrate on himself. There he indulges himself in fairy tales, free from people “who seemed to possess a devastatingly clear sense of purpose” ( MC 210). He further describes his shelter and likens his situation to Nadir Khan’s underworld:
There are no mirrors in a washing-chest; rude jokes do not enter it, nor pointing fingers. The rage of fathers is muffled by used sheets and discarded brassieres. A washing-chest is a hole in the world, a place which civilization has put outside itself, beyond the pale; this makes it the finest of hiding-places. In the washing-chest, I was like Nadir Khan in his underworld, safe from all pressures, concealed from the demands of parents and history…(215).
Saleem feels himself secure and more powerful at his place, free from both the chaos at home and outside. There he feels privileged: “I became Aladdin, voyaging in a fabulous cave; ... I turned into the genie of the lamp, and thus avoided, for the most part, the terrible notion that I, alone in the universe, had no idea what I should be, or how I should behave” ( MC 211). Saleem here feels himself away from the fears and anxieties that surround the nation’s children at a very early age and are often made topic of discussion at the dinner tables by the fathers: “Great things! My son: what is not in store for you? Great deeds, a great life!” “Just pull up your socks, whatsitsname, and you’ll be better than anyone in the wide world!” ( MC 210).
To Upstone, “the power of such a secure space is not simply to remove personal anxiety but also public danger: the tumult of society that is, under transition from empire to freedom” (278). Saleem actually is trying to find a “place” and take a stance in an atmosphere where there is always a tension between the private and the public, the home and the post/colonial nation, outside. To Saleem, “Home is the noble mansion of free India” ( MC 117). Therefore, sitting at his Buckingham Villa Saleem narrativizes the history of this nation which runs parallel to his own story and his family history. He always interprets the events of India’s history in relation to his own family history and often regards himself as someone who has the fate of the nation in his hands as indicated in his opening remarks: “I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country” (3). He is the equation of the State, acclaimed by Nehru: “You are the newest bearer of that ancient face of India which is also eternally young. We shall be watching over your life with the closest attention; it will be, in a sense, the mirror of our own” (167).
Ironically enough, Saleem grows up with this idea instilled in him, and that his survival in a way depends on the destiny of his nation, which is materialized his Sheherazade-like storytelling. His narrative, his travels from one nation to another, his wanderings from one notion to other, his exiles, his expels from homes, his taking shelter in the bathroom, in the washing-chest, his taking refuge in the Tower, his being a would-be savior of the nation and hosting the Midnight’s children in the rooms of his mind, his homecomings, his back-to-Bom’s, his homelessness… all connote to a being which struggles hard to become. He wants to be the savior of a nation which is at the dawn of independence yet seems to be on the brink. When the moment comes for him to question his linkage with the nation and face its consequences Saleem asks: “In what sense? How, in what terms, may the career of a single, individual be said to impinge on the fate of a nation?” ( MC 330). He understands that “I was linked to history both literally and metaphorically, both actively and passively, [..] actively-literally, passively-metaphorically, actively-metaphorically and passively-literally, I was inextricably entwined with my world” (330). Saleem soon realizes that there exists an intricate relationship between his history and histories, and a series of tensions awaiting the modern nation. He encounters certain problems of “containment, boundaries, centrality, and marginality” (Heffernan 473). He feels quite at a loss, as his undertaking of telling the story of his “imagined community” requires an arduous task. At the end of the day, Saleem’s politics, his dream of saving the country turns to ashes, as he never fully comes home and never feels at home. There always stands one jar empty, waiting to be pickled, since “to pickle is to give immortality, after all; […] the art is to change the flavor in degree, but not in kind; and above all to give it shape and form – that is to say, meaning” ( MC 644).
Saleem does never really succeed in giving a meaning to his life, and writing the nation since there is always this “ambivalence of the ‘nation’ as a narrative strategy” ( Dissemination 140). Bhabha rejects the organizing principles lying behind nation writing, as well as the fixed identity attached to the national form. As he thinks that “in the production of the nation as narration there is a split between the continuist, accumulative temporality of the pedagogical, and the repetitious, recursive strategy of the performative” ( Dissemination 145). What Bhabha contends is that the identity of a nation can be perceived in two ways, that of pedagogical and performative. The pedagogical dimension of nation refers to its sociological facts and the performative side indicates that those facts are always viable to change, construction and narrativization. In this sense, Saleem’s efforts of writing the nation turn to a vain effort since his very moment of writing includes certain variations in the history of ideas and institutions.
The very notion of nation is also open to question in Homi Bhabha’s discussions, which is relevant to Saleem’s case. Bhabha thinks that nation is itself a form of narration and it should not be necessarily perceived within historicist terms. To him, nation is itself a form of mythic story: “Nations, like narratives, lose their origins in the myths of time and only fully realize their horizons in the mind’s eye” (Nation and Narration 1). Bhabha in his view for sure departs from Benedict Anderson’s views in his book Imagined Communities where he defines nation as “an imagined political community –and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (49). Further Anderson indicates that nation is imagined for “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (49). Saleem, in his effort to constitute a being and narrate a history of his nation and for his self turns to writing. He thinks that through writing he could assert his control and authority over past and present: “I shall have to write the future as I have written the past, to set it down with the absolute certainty of a prophet” ( MC 645). However, his nation is an imagined one; it is not even apparent who is inside this community and who is outside. The defining lines of this community are not drawn and the exclusions and inclusions are not controlled. His nation is very much like their homes which are open to threat and under constant surveillance by the colonial, Western eye.
Drawing to a close, it should be noted that no matter how much his nationalistic task seems to be a far-fetched idea, in his deteriorating state Saleem tries to give a meaning to his being and keeps recounting, yet his one jar standing for future, still stands empty:
One day, perhaps, the world may taste the pickles of history. They may be too strong for some palates, their smell may be overpowering, tears may rise to eyes; I hope nevertheless that it will be possible to say of them that they possess the authentic taste of truth. . .that they are, despite everything, acts of love. ( MC 644 )
Saleem’s producing pickle jars and presenting this domestic practice as a site of hope, a plane for veracity can be regarded as a clear indication of his politicizing domesticity, his subversion of patriarchal and colonial rule. Through the pickle jars, Saleem (almost) achieves a closure, a cover-up, as he discovers a site for reconsideration in the colonial battleground. As Rushdie also indicates in his Imaginary Homelands Saleem’s story leads him to disappointment and sadness, yet the story is narrated in a style “designed to echo, […] the Indian talent for non-stop self-regeneration,” a Phoenix-like mythic power. (16)
As a final remark it should be stated that home assumes various dimensions in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children occupying not just one place but locations. The concept itself undergoes certain revisions throughout the novel which the present study has sought to lay bare. Home becomes a metaphor for the colony, or sometimes it connotes directly to the nation, to an imagined community, or to the Empire. It is the space that stands between public and private, or it is the space invaded by both. Above all, home is most of the times a space for political representation, a site for anti-colonial resistance and an open ground serving for the politics of time.
Dilek Öztürk-Yagci, graduated with Honors from the Department of English Language and Literature, Ankara University (2008). She received her Master’s Degree in English Literature at Bogazici University (2011). She pursues her academic studies as a PhD candidate of English Literature at Middle East Technical University. She, at the same time, works as an English instructor at Istanbul Technical University, School of Foreign Languages. Her main interests are Contemporary British, Irish and Scottish Drama, Post-colonialism, Diaspora, and Studies of Space and Place.
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