1. “I told you the truth,” I say yet again, “Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent versions of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”
This quotation occurs in Book Two, in the chapter “At the Pioneer Café.” Saleem has interrupted his story in order to defend its accuracy to Padma. Throughout his story, Saleem has appeared anxious about his historical inconsistencies. He is also acutely aware of how fantastic and far-fetched his narrative sounds to the skeptical, pragmatic Padma. After he emerges from his fever-induced dream, it becomes especially important for Saleem to assert the veracity of his story. For Saleem, everything he says is true—not necessarily because it happened that way, but because he remembers it that way. An event from a person’s past gains meaning for that person’s present existence only when it becomes filtered through memory and becomes part of the overall story of that person’s life. Only then can connections be made and conclusions drawn, and events and instances accrue significance. Saleem has rearranged history not only because he has forgotten the proper order of events, but also because by doing so his story gains greater depth and meaning. Saleem’s rearrangement of facts serves a greater truth as he creates a new pattern through which to interpret both his own history and that of India itself.
2. I have been only the humblest of jugglers-with-facts; and that, in a country where the truth is what it is instructed to be, reality quite literally ceases to exist, so that everything becomes possible except what we are told is the case.
This quotation occurs in Book Two, at the end of the chapter titled “Jamila Singer.” Reflecting on his time in Pakistan, Saleem makes an explicit argument against the strict political control and religious dogmatism of the Pakistani government. In a nation defined by one official perspective, with a government that violently rejects any threat to its singularity, reality cannot exist, since reality is inherently composed of multiple perspectives. Reality is not just composed of a single truth, as the repressive rulers of Pakistan would have the people believe. Lies become necessary to live in a place like Pakistan, in order to maintain the fiction of singularity. Saleem argues that although his narrative may play fast and loose with historical facts, his story is still more truthful and authentic than the Pakistani government’s, because his tale celebrates and welcomes plurality, a multiplicity of perspectives, and the possibility of contradiction.
3. Let me state this quite unequivocally: it is my firm conviction that the hidden purpose of the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965 was nothing more nor less than the elimination of my benighted family from the face of the earth.
This quotation occurs in Book Two, in the chapter “How Saleem Achieved Purity.” Throughout the telling of his story, Saleem often places himself at the center of major political events. While we can detect a strain of narcissism in Saleem’s desire to see himself as either the central cause or primary victim of various historical events, his life does converge with national history on countless occasions. If we consider that Saleem—born at the dawn of India’s independence, and destined to break into as many pieces as India has citizens—represents the entire population of India, it makes sense that his life seems directly impacted by national events. Things that happen on a national or global scale will always affect the collective life of a nation’s people.
By claiming that the purpose of the Indo-Pakistani war was to eliminate his family, Saleem draws critical attention to the fact that the war was justified in religious terms. The Indian presence in Kashmir was represented as a kind of defilement, and the Pakistani government claimed that Pakistan needed to reclaim Kashmir for the good of the country. Saleem claims that he and his grotesque family also needed to be cleansed in order for the nation to be purified. The absurdity of Saleem’s claim that an entire war might be fought in order to murder a family of civilians highlights the absurdity of Pakistan’s claim.
4. Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, , of everything done-to-me.
This quotation appears in Book Three, at the end of the chapter “Sam and the Tiger.” Saleem has just finished recalling the rage he felt upon realizing the fundamental unfairness of life. This passage is a perfect expression of Saleem’s narrative. He begins his life story thirty-two years before his birth, and from that moment, considers everything that has happened as being somehow related to his life. There is a connection between past and present, between the state and the individual. History is never past. It plays an active role in shaping the present, and Saleem’s story is an attempt to capture that dynamic relationship.
5. Futility of statistics: during 1971, ten million refugees fled across the borders of East Pakistan-Bangladesh into India—but ten million (like all numbers larger than one thousand and one) refuses to be understood.
This quotation appears in Book Three, in the chapter “The Buddha.” Saleem, now in the service of the Pakistani Army, finds himself aiding the violent repression of the Bangladeshi independence movement. In a novel already riddled with violence and massive causalities, this is a blunt acknowledgement of the fact that there is no way to express the scale of violence and suffering that is occurring. Even Saleem’s first hand account of the atrocities he witnesses becomes suffused with a sense that what he sees is incomprehensible. The human mind cannot grasp tragedies of this scale, and we require a microcosmic representation of the victims—midnight’s children—to attach individual identities to historical realities. One thousand and one is the largest number that can be understood, according to Saleem, and so rather than try and represent the loss of hope for an entire generation, Rushdie has him offer us the representative destruction of these children.