The Untouchable Problem of Midnight’s Children
Mr Ankit Ramteke, PhD Scholar, School of Literary Studies, English and Foreign Language
University, Hyderabad, India
“The untouchable problem remained acute; I did nothing to alleviate it” - Saleem Sinai in Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Examining upper-caste autobiographies, M.S. S Pandian wrote that “the subtle act of transcoding caste and caste relations into something else…. is a regular feature one finds in most upper-caste autobiographies; Caste always belongs to someone else; it is somewhere else; it is of another time.” What Pandian said about upper-caste autobiographies can equally be applied to Indian English Writings. In IEW, the transcoding is done by treating caste as not what it is- a systematic structure perpetuating the worst form of ‘graded inequalities’ that first need to be deconstructed in order to be demolished later but as an exclusive problem of lower castes/dalit/untouchables which has nothing to do with upper-caste or upper-class as now they self-fashioned themselves as a ‘casteless’ entities. This is succinctly exemplified in the above quote. It is not the problem of untouchability, certainly not the actual problem of caste, but not even the untouchable’s problem that is referred to here, but by missing an apostrophe Rushdie moved even one step ahead in transcoding caste and made the problem of caste an “untouchable problem” in itself -a problem so intricate that it cannot even be touched and it is best if ‘casteless-beings’ avoid this problem at all cost.
Caste in literary articulation is not just eluded but repressed regularly, IEW is replete with such instances. Like ‘universalism’ for Western writers was largely Euro-American values and stereotypes, ‘pan-Indian’ espoused by Indian English writers is largely an upper-caste worldview, which has subsided the majority of Indians into ‘Castiel other’(Khair). Rushdie’s protagonist Shiva is one prime example, as a character, he is merely a poor Hindu, who grew up in slums. His caste is never mentioned and moreover purposely eluded by dropping off his surname, and transcoding all the paraphernalia of caste, into an oversimplified class narrative. Though he appears as an independent assertive character, after more critical scrutiny he appears not more than an ornament to the main protagonist.