Tuesday, November 25, 2003


It's a mad mad world already. And Rushdie certainly does not make it any simpler. Re-reading Salman Rushdie's signature Midnight's children for maybe the fourth time, I had embarked upon the quest of matching names, characters and places from the novel to their sources in Rushdie's Bombay (it would take many more years before it became Mumbai). Beyond the obvious references to politicians, references that have been done to death by eager critics and more recently term-paper writers, the novel's characters from Bollywood, Mumbai's glitzy filmdom, are also partly based on real-life actors, directors and producers. But they are disparate worlds. Bollywood's kitschiness draws it devotees from a crowd that the average literary scholar would look down in disdain upon. And that would be the loss of the same students of Indian fiction since Midnight children, as indeed are all of Rushdie's novels, is rooted within the streets of the city - from the ones gliding across the poshest of Malabar Hill villas to the winding choked alleys past Dharavi's dinghy tenements. But these links are hard to track and Rushdie's obscure references hardly help.

It came as a surprise when, in my random peregrinations on the Web, I came across this link to the erstwhile reigning Bollywood songstress - Noorejehan who, apparently, left a thriving career in Bombay for uncertainity in Pakistan. There she gained reknown as the Queen of Music, and delivered a memorable elegy to Pakistan's dead soldiers, "ai vatan ke sajiile javaano", in a musical riposte to Lata's "ae mere vatan ke logon". Jamila Singer, or the Brass Monkey, Saleem Sinai's musical sister did the same too. She gained instant stardom in India and then moved off to Pakistan where she sang, her modesty protected by her personal perforated bedsheet, patriotic dirges to her own immortality in a country that was as much or as little her's as India.

Last question: Did Noorejehan have a Mutasim? Or was that another wild leap for Rushdie to make to an entirely different person?