“Already 50 years...” my father mused, reading the morning’s papers on the Golden Jubilee day of Goa’s decolonization. He had been a teenager then, yet his recollection of the events of 1961 are vivid: Planes overhead; the radio news; and the vacant home of a Portuguese acquaintance who had so hastily departed that his cup of tea, half-consumed, was left behind like a disowned memory. My father’s nostalgic tone did not invite me to share in his recollection; rather, it cast me as a co-witness who must already know what it had been like at that life-defining moment.
Perhaps I did already know. So too my mother and my sister, none of us born in Goa. This remembrance of an event that the rest of us had not been present at, would shape our existence, just as it had shaped Goa away from one country and into another. This recollection of events from 50 years prior, does not belong to my family alone. It exists precisely in its re-memberance: shared by many and often reiterated. It is a memory that spreads across generations. She will know too...
“At the stroke of the midnight hour,” when the rest of India was free, Goa was still asleep. Both of my parents, born in different locations – Goa and Kenya - came belatedly to freedom in comparison to the country they would become nationals of. And while my sister and I were born passport-holders of postcolonial India, it was only because Kuwait, the country of our birth, would not allow us its citizenship.
Midnight’s Children, a novel about children born at the moment of India’s independence from the British on 15 August, 1947, serves as a metaphor for the nation that itself has just been born. These children share a connection; they are able to communicate with one another telepathically, thoughts shared as if it were the nation’s itself. In Mirrorwork, a book Salman Rusdie edited to mark 50 years of Indian writing as a celebration of India’s Golden Jubilee, the author reflects on the originality of his work. He reveals, “that the idea of a long saga-novel about a child born at the exact moment of independence ... had occurred to other writers, too. A Goan poet showed me the first chapter of an abandoned novel in which the ‘midnight child’ was born ... in Goa.” With this disclosure, Rushdie pairs the imagined and imaginative community of his book with the actual community it represents. If in the first instance it is an allegorical India, linked through children born so closely in time that they are mentally tethered, then in the latter, the parallel community, an India that includes Goa, is linked through its writers that represent the nation. The common element is a mutual fate and faith in freedom.
What became of the Goan midnight child? Did the poet abandon the book because Goa was yet to be free? Unlike my parents, my sister, and I, whose births were mismatched with independence and citizenship, she has a different story. This historic year, we welcome a child born after midnight: my niece. She is the first in our family to have been born in independent Goa. In time, my father will tell her the story of 19 December, 1961. She will vaguely recall having heard it before.
Originally appeared here.