Funny, isn’t it? That twenty days after first tasting the final words of Midnight’s Children, I’m still pondering those pickle jars.
So why pickle jars? And not the exotic people, places and things introduced into my mind, by the magical writing of the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t author, Salman Rushdie? (Can anyone use that “writery” trick of foreshadowing as effective as he?)
How can it be that it’s the image of thirty-one pickle jars trumping all else, in the end? Especially that one. You know. On the end. Empty and waiting.
“Twenty-six pickle-jars stand gravely on a shelf; twenty-six special blends, each with its identifying label, neatly inscribed with familiar phrases: “Movements Performed by Pepperpots,” for instance, or “Alpha and Omega,” or “Commander Sabarmati’s Baton.” Twenty-six rattle eloquently when local trains go yellow and browning past; on my desk, five empty jars tinkle urgently, reminding me of my uncompleted task. But now I cannot linger over empty pickle-jars; the night is for words, and green chutney must wait its turn.” — p. 443
Pickle jars represent chapters; thirty full jars equate to thirty full chapters of the novel. Thirty full chapters of the narrator’s Saleem Sinai’s life. So full — not of preserved cucumbers — but of a cucumber-nosed narrator’s stories, dreams and memories truth. Artfully told. Artfully preserved. Artfully titled, with chapter headings that hide as much as they reveal; “Movements Performed by Pepperpots,” for example. Hmmm. What might that concoction smell and taste like?
I wouldn’t have written these words twenty days ago. Because the words and ending felt flat first-time around. The final bite of words left a bad taste in my mouth. Like onions that linger to overstay their welcome.
I expected something spicy. Something like all that had come before. After all, I had followed the narrator through India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — through the ups and downs of his dramatic “India-talkie” life. And like a child-soldier, I longed for a little more “Ka-pow’ for the finale. Know what I mean?
I should have known better. By now, I should have known Rushdie better. Because, as with Books One and Two, it’s the second reading where appreciation for Rushdie’s novel grows, where chapter contents begin to meld into flavors both fabulous and subtle on the tongue and mind. Cucumbers, after all, are not pickles overnight. And neither are Rushdie’s pickle jars of stories. They require time and space to appreciate fully.
“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.” p. 531
Truth. Again it’s truth. Truth floating up and swirling all around. No longer truth in general, but truth in particular. Truth as it’s embodied in a particular person. Truth as it’s embodied in the narrator, Saleem. And truth as it’s lived out (or not) by a country’s leaders. Military might as well as political power. India. Pakistan. Eeny. Meeny. Miny. Moe. But rather than summarize, I prefer to get out-of-the-way, and let the Master Magician pull those ‘true-self’ “Rusdie-isms” out of his own top hat.
“Don’t you remember really? Nothing? Allah, you don’t feel bad. Somewhere you’ve maybe got mother father sister,” but the buddha interrupted him gently: “Don’t try and fill my head with all that history. I am who I am, that’s all there is.” [emphasis added] p. 403
“In the aftermath of the Sundarbans, my old self was waiting to reclaim me. I should have known: no escape from past acquaintance. What you were is forever who you are.” [emphasis added] p. 423
“I no longer want to be anything except what who I am. Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each “I,” everyone of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time” to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world.” [emphasis added] p. 440-41
Simply beautiful. Don’t you think? But as I said at the beginning, it’s the ending jar that gets me. The jar that remains empty, since it represents the narrator’s future. And not just Saleem’s future, but my future, too. And your future. And all of our futures. Eeny. Meeny. Miny. Moe.
Last days. Last words. Last breaths. And then, eternity. Yes, in the end, knowing ourselves — our true selves — requires accepting our own mortality. Our own emptiness. Our now-you-see-us-and-now-you-don’t selves. Which reminds me of Rushdie’s fabulous take on the after-life where we get a taste of invisibility through Parvarti’s magic tricks…. p. 438-39
And so much else, that I’ve no time to go there….
But later. Maybe, then. Maybe, then, we’ll have more time. For as the great Rushdie, himself, once wrote,
“To pickle is to give immortality, after all…” p. 531
Note 1: For other book reviews, pop over to Arti’s place and follow the links.
Note 2: All page references are based on the 2006 Random House Trade Paperback Edition.
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Yes beautiful, and fascinating. I’m amazed how Rushdie can tie all loose ends so ingeniously… air tight for preservation, although I’m a bit disappointed with the slow disappearance of Brass Monkey/Jamila Singer. Thanks for a delightful review, Janell. I like how you’ve continued with the pickle jar metaphor with your wrap. Also, 26 pickle jars to denote 26 letters that can create powerful words and images. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this read-along experience, albeit I’ve had my down time during these four months of reading. We must do this again some time in the future, to fill that empty jar. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
Thank you for having me.
And taking time to organize and host the read-along.
This novel has enriched me in so many ways, and I suspect, in ways I’m probably not yet aware, though I sense the planting of many seeds. One of my Iowa course instructors asked participants to bring along one of our favorite novels. I’m considering a few, one read long ago — Richard Russo’s Empire Falls — and three, more recent reads: Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife… and of course, Midnight’s Children. We’ll see which one makes it into that travel bag to share my writer’s journey.
And now, with all my Saturday work finished — HURRAY!! — I’m ready to taste the sweet reward of reading your post. As well as others who finished the journey with us. Maybe we can read-along something after Christmas?
I feel so badly. I want to appreciate all you and the others have to say about Rushdie and his writing, but it seems – too much. Too complicated. Too layered. Too heavily symbolic.
Of course, I have to be fair. I didn’t read the books, and perhaps, in context and taken slowly, deliberately, it would be more appealing. But from these quotations, it seems Rushdie is more set on proving his technical mastery of words than anything else.
Which is why I’m not a critic! And why I do better to keep my mouth shut – although I rarely do. 😉
But! I also came to tell you the story of The Great Tree Move is posted now, complete with a video that was beautifully done by some mysterious person I imagine to be the Civic Videographer.
When are you leaving? It must be soon, now. It will be fun to find out which book goes with you and hear about all the adventures when you return!
No need to feel bad. Early in the novel, I thought something similar about Rushdie’s writing. Those densely forested word-mountain passages were taxing at times. And I disliked reading with an i-phone dictionary in my hand. (Which you wouldn’t have needed.) And, sometimes, when hitting a high fog index, I’d have to read a passage more than once. But as I warmed to his style of writing, I needed this less and less. The story took over and the words fell away. It was only on the second read when I could begin to truly appreciate the broad vista he was painting with words.
Definitely not a summer read. But worthwhile. And a good read-along book — a structure without which — I may not have finished. And though I now have Russo’s book on my nightstand, I’m still not ready to begin another story. So it may be Rushdie that travels with me. Two weeks from now, I’ll be there. And I’ve still advance work to finish!
Moving a big old tree and reading Rushdie may not be so different. But I’ll just let that hang without adding leaves. Until I’ve read your story.
I’m really smiling now. I just read Arti’s review, and she quotes exactly the same passage from pp 440-441 – except she pares it down considerably, quoting the first two or three sentences and the last. I thought it much stronger – maybe Rushdie just needed a better editor! (You do realize that’s almost entirely tongue-in-cheek. Let me repeat – what do I know? I’m no Salman Rushdie. Still….)
Yes. And not the first time Arti and I lifted out the same passage to illustrate with.
But here’s a thought: What did Rushdie’s text read and look like before editing? Now there’s a story I would be interested in reading!