Meheruban likhoon ya dilruba likhoon hyran hoon ke apke khat me kya likhoon
Ye mera prempatr padh kar ke tum naraz na hona ke tum meri zindagi ho ke tum meri bandagi ho
[Should I address you as respected one Should I address you as beloved one I am so distraught about how I should address you
When you read my love letter You should not be disappointed Because you are my life and you are my “life’s work”]—Popular Hindi film song from Raj Kapoor’s Sangam (1964) [my translation]
Salman Rushdie has been classified as a postcolonial 1 writer whose fiction depicts the hybrid nature of postcolonials in their migrations and movements, their merging and mixing. Rushdie has variously been called a “Third World Cosmopolitan” [Brennan, Salman Rushdie viii], a “metropolitan intellectual,” and “a hybrid” but most often a [End Page 50] “postcolonial,” because of his “birth” as a “Midnight’s child”—a child born as India was gaining independence at midnight on 14 August 1947 2 —his subsequent education in England, and the making of his home in metropolitan London. Such a perspective is eurocentric and does not provide complete answers to Rushdie’s complex works or the complicated response to his work. For the very hybridity that Rushdie manifests results from his being not only a “post-British” colonial but also a “post-Mughal” colonial.
The British were not the only colonizers of India. In fact, Indian historians have traditionally identified several waves of colonization. Journalists Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre best summarize the two major waves of colonization as follows:
Hinduism itself had been brought to India by the Indo-European hordes descending from the North to wrest the subcontinent from its ancient Dravidian inhabitants. . . . The faith of the Prophet had come much later, after the cohorts of Genghis Khan and Tamurlane had battered their way down the Khyber Pass to weaken the Hindus’ hold on the great Gangetic Plain. For two centuries, the Moslem Mogul emperors had imposed their sumptuous and implacable rule over most of India, spreading in the wake of their martial legions the message of Allah, the One, the Merciful.
While the British were actually occupying India, post-Mughal colonialism in the form of Persian poetry, literature, and the general “sumptuousness” of its art and architecture held sway. The Persian language begot Urdu, often described by linguists as a “camp language” of the Muslim invaders of the Subcontinent. However, Persian, Arabic, and Hindi had come together to create a new language for the poetry, literature, arts, and in general the “high culture” of today’s Indian Muslims. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his definitive history of India entitled Discovery of India, wrote,
The Mughals were outsiders and strangers to India and yet they fitted into Indian structure with remarkable speed and began the Indo-Mughal period. . . . Their dynasties became completely Indianized with their roots in India, looking upon India as their homeland, and the rest of the world as foreign.
A synthesis worked itself out: new styles of architecture arose; food and clothing changed; and life was affected and varied in many other ways. . . . The Persian language became the official court language and many Persian words crept into popular use.
Persian was the lingua franca of the incoming Muslims from AD 1193 onward, and Persian literature became the favored literature of India for approximately five centuries [Ali 3–4].
It is in this tradition of post-Mughal Urdu high culture that Rushdie grew up. In a 1983 interview with Michael Kaufman, Rushdie said,
My grandfather, my father’s father, was a good Urdu poet. My father is not a writer but he’s a very literary and literate man, a student of both Arabic and Persian Literature and of Western Literature. At Cambridge he was quite scholarly. So I grew up in an atmosphere of books. And both my parents, in their different ways, were very gifted storytellers. [End Page 51]
My mother, in common with most Eastern women and perhaps even women of the West, was the...