Pickles in Midnight's Children

W. Glasgow Philips '92

Salman Rushdie uses food as a recurring motif in Midnight's Children; so much, in fact, that it has been suggested by one scholar (I have forgotten her name; she was in one of my classes, and very cheerful, with dark hair) that the entire text can be approached as a feast, with Saleem as the cook, setting different dishes of memory and experience before the reader. At times we become overly stuffed, and have to sit back from the text for a moment, letting it all settle and digest a little before continuing; at times the little morsels placed on our plates are too small, and we beg for more (where did they come from? what is in them? what is that curious tinge of bitterness that lingers after the sweet of this dessert?). Make of it what you will; though it lacks the pedantic particularity and scholarly seriousness that seems to be required by most T.A.'s when grading time comes, the "book as a feast" approach can provide a useful interpretive angle in the case of Midnight's children.

Rushdie himself forthrightly acknowledges the link between the preservation of memory and the preservation of food: Saleem, of course, is a cook. But no average cook:

"You are amazed; but then I am not, you see, one of your 200-rupees-a-month cookery johnnies, but my own master, working beneath the saffron and green winking of my personal neon goddess. And my chutneys and kasaundies are, after all, connected to my nocturnal scribblings -- by day amongst the pickle-vats, by night within these sheets, I spend my time at the great work of preserving. Memory, as well as fruit, is being saved from the corruption of the clocks." (p. 38)

The pickles Saleem refers to are not cucumber pickles, but mixtures of different ingredients that mix together, exchanging flavors, and are then preserved. Saleem refers to each chapter as a "pickle:" "One empty jar . . . how to end? Happily, with Mary in her teak rocking-chair and a son who has begun to speak? Amid recipes, and thirty jars with chapter-headings for names?" (p. 550)

The notion of the feast can be extended from the pickle trope, to take in other portions of Midnight's Children. Food abounds in the text: Saleem's various organs are likened to cucumbers, his grandmother uses food as the battleground where she wages her battles against her husband, Saleem's genitals are curried and fed to dogs near the end of the book, food is poisoned and spiced with emotion by its cooks . . . . Each of these topics provides a fresh starting point for interpreting the text.

Postcolonial Web Pakinstan OV Rushdie OV Midnight's Children