In this essay, Rushdie focuses on the effects that memory has on a post-colonial society. While he is speaking almost exclusively from the perspective of an expatriate writer, what he says about memory can be true of any society dealing with the aftereffects of 20th century imperialism and independence.
Many of the recollections he speaks of are far removed. They are of India, they are 20 years old, and they are gathered from photographs, conversations, and snatches of his own stream of conscious memory. Yet it is clear they have had an integral part in shaping his identity, if only because he lends them significance. Why are they so significant to him?
He holds India up as his nostalgic homeland: he calls Pakistan “the unmentionable country across the border”, when he returns to India and sees his family still listed in the phone book he feels “as if I were being claimed”. Standing in front of his old house, the house he only remembers from a photograph, he “realized how much I wanted to restore the past to myself” (9-10). If his memories of India are so faded, so hard to tangibly grasp, the question remains: Why are they so significant to him?
It is because his life in India is the broken mirror. It was broken when his family was forced to move to Pakistan, and the few memories that remain are all the more precious because they are the few memories that remain.
He says the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, but for the expatriate writer who has literally and physically had to emigrate from his home country, the loss is experienced “in an intensified form” (12). This writer constructs an imaginary homeland, not from actual experience (or very little), but mainly from his fractured memory, from his nostalgia, from his emotions. This does not make the expat writer’s version less authentic, less whole.
In fact, Rushdie argues in the defense of this version on several levels. He uses a metaphor from Midnight’s Children: “it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality” (13). In essence, the writer constructs their own reality which is all the more real for their fractured memories and their distance from the day to day life of their home culture. He also says, “Literature is self-validating.” (14) If the author take the artistic risk to re-construct their homeland and does so well enough, the author’s place within or without that homeland is irrelevant: it is “justified by the quality of what has been written” (14). On page 15, Rushdie argues the ‘plural and partial’ identity of this genre of writers enriches the writing and lends itself to a more inspiration recreation of their homeland.
Indeed, to hear Rushdie describe India, the homeland has been so far removed from for most of his life, is poignant and evocative. Readers from many different backgrounds are touched by what he has lost, what he has gained, and by the way he deals with it through his work.