When I began reading Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ back in November, I knew I was in for a bit of a culture shock and braced myself for the slew of foreign words that often pepper Eastern narratives. Personally, I don’t mind the odd foreign word that pops up every now and then. In fact it’s great to learn a few words in a different language and it adds colour and texture to the text. And anyway, if I don’t know the word I can usually suss it out through the context of the sentence.
Also reading Rushdie wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, and the words he did throw out were all somewhat familiar (despite variations in spellings), but I only realised how inaccessible the book could be for an audience with no knowledge of basic Arabic. One fellow blogger in particular Adam (roofbeamreader) pointed this out to me. I have since looked on the internet for some kind of source (apart from free translation websites) and discovered a really cool glossary someone created specifically for ‘Midnight’s Children’.
Anyone wanting to read this book, but is concerned they might be alienated by the language will be able to look up the meanings from here. In fact, it might be a good idea to print it off and have it with you while you read.
Here are some of my favourite words from the book and their meanings:
Bombay-duck/bombil A type of salt-water fish Chapat a slap. This is real Bombay slang Funtoosh Finished, disappear, excellent, etc.. Rakshasa goblin, demon, evil spirit Shiv-lingam Shiva is one of the gods in the Hindu trinity (Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva), in the divine division of labor Shiva is sometimes the destroyer, sometimes the creator. A Shiv-lingam is black rock representing Shiva’s penis, worshiped as the source of his creativity. Wallah is almost like the word “smith” as used in English last-names. It can sometimes be appended to one’s last name to reflect the hereditary profession, in common parlance it simply means “one who is engaged in”.