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Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie

Revelations, Movements Performed by Pepperpots

The Kolynos Kid, Commander Sabarmati’s Baton

Drainage and the Desert, Jamila Singer

Summary: Revelations

Saleem tells us that Lord Khusro, today the wealthiest and most famous guru in India, was once his childhood friend, Cyrus-the-great. After Cyrus’s father dies from choking on an orange seed, Cyrus’s fanatical mother begins claiming her son is a holy child and invents a history for him based, in part, on a Superman comic book that Saleem had once given to Cyrus.

As the Narlikar women begin to demolish the houses of the estate, Pia calls to tell the family that Hanif has committed suicide. The entire family gathers at the house for a forty-day mourning period. Infuriated by the dust from the demolition, as well as Pia’s refusal to mourn, Reverend Mother vows not to eat until her daughter-in-law shows her dead son some respect. After twenty days, Saleem breaks the stalemate by apologizing to his aunt for his previous indiscretion. Pia tells Saleem that she refuses to mourn because Hanif always tried to avoid melodrama in his films, and she wants to respect that. Once she finishes explaining this, however, Pia breaks into a torrent of grief that amazes everyone. Pia begs Reverend Mother for forgiveness and places herself in her mother-in-law’s control. Reverend Mother declares that Pia will move to Pakistan with her, where they will realize Reverend Mother’s long-held dream of purchasing a petrol pump.

On the twenty-second day of the mourning period, Aadam Aziz sees God. Aadam tells his family that he asked God why his son died, to which God replied: “God has his reasons, old man; life’s like that, right?” Mary believes that Aadam actually saw Joseph D’Costa’s ghost, but she keeps this to herself, and the vision of an indifferent god haunts Aadam for the rest of his life. In his old age, he takes to shouting and cursing at mosques and holy men. Finally, on Christmas Day, he takes a train to Kashmir. Two days later, at a mosque in Kashmir, a man fitting Aadam’s description steals a lock of hair that once belonged to the Prophet Muhammad. Later, the government replaces the stolen lock with a replica, claiming to have recovered the precious artifact.

On the thirty-eighth day of mourning, Mary sees the ghost of Joseph D’Costa for herself. She calls the entire family together and confesses that eleven years ago she switched Shiva’s nametag with Saleem’s. Ahmed recognizes the supernatural figure, however, and realizes that it isn’t the ghost of Joseph D’Costa, after all. The “ghost” is Ahmed’s old servant, Musa, now afflicted with leprosy and returning to seek forgiveness. Mary returns to her mother’s house in Goa, though her sister, Alice, stays on to assist Ahmed.

Summary: Movements Performed by Pepperpots

Afraid that Shiva will discover the truth about their parentage, Saleem bans him from the children’s conference. Meanwhile, Ahmed, distraught over what has happened, drunkenly berates his wife. Reverend Mother advises Amina to take her two children away from Ahmed, so Amina, Saleem, and the Brass Monkey move to Pakistan to live with Emerald and General Zulfikar. At the general’s opulent house, Emerald and the general treat Saleem and his family worse than the general’s mine-sniffing dog, Bonzo. Once in Pakistan, Saleem finds himself unable to communicate with the other children.

One evening, General Zulfikar hosts an important dinner, attended by many high-ranking military officials. During the dinner, the general allows his son, Zafar, and Saleem to join the men at the table. The commander-in-chief of the army, General Ayub, declares that the government has failed and announces his plans to take over Pakistan. When Ayub decrees a state of martial law, Zafar—who has a tendency to wet his pants—gets frightened and has an accident. General Zulfikar chases his son out of the room, then asks Saleem to come help him. Saleem helps the officers map out their strategy, using pepperpots and other condiment jars to symbolize troop movements. On November 1, General Zulfikar takes Saleem to the president’s house, where Saleem watches as the general forces the naked president out of bed and onto a plane.

Saleem and his family stay in Pakistan for four more years, during which time he becomes a teenager and his sister grows increasingly devout, falling under the country’s religious spell. Relationships between India and Pakistan deteriorate. Along the Indian-Chinese border, skirmishes arise.

On her fourteenth birthday, the Brass Monkey sings, astonishing everyone with her beautiful voice. Everyone begins referring to her as Jamila Singer, and Saleem acknowledges that from then on he would always take second place to her.

Analysis

With the revelation of Saleem’s true parentage, the action of the story begins to mimic the style of the narration. Rather than describe his life in a linear, straightforward fashion, Saleem chooses to skip back and forth in time, hashing up and then reassembling his biography in order to reveal connections that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. In this way, Saleem does more than just recount his life story: he draws attention to particular themes, motifs, and patterns, thereby shaping his story and giving it meaning. When Mary Pereira reveals the truth about Saleem’s birth, the characters experience a similar time warp, as the past forcefully asserts itself on the present. History is never dead, as we have seen throughout the novel. History not only repeats itself, but it also comes back—sometimes, literally back from the grave—to destroy the illusions of the present. Midnight’s Children, with its tangled, circuitous chronology, to some degree, attempts to destroy the illusions of time itself.

The chapter title “Revelations” evokes the Book of Revelation, the final section of the New Testament, which describes the end of the known world and the salvation of the faithful by Jesus. In addition to meaning “a dramatic disclosure,” the word revelation can also carry a theological dimension, meaning “the disclosure of a divine will or truth.” In Midnight’s Children, one seemingly divine revelation has already occurred—when Saleem mistakes the detached voices of the midnight’s children for the miraculous voices of angels. In this chapter, his grandfather Aadam has a false revelation as well, mistaking the ghost of Joseph D’Costa for a vision of God. In both cases, these false revelations have dire consequences. When Saleem announces his newfound ability to his family, his father strikes him, leaving him forever deaf in one ear. Aadam, in his turn, becomes so distraught over what he believes to be God’s indifference that he becomes consumed by a need to seek revenge on his faith. Aadam becomes overwhelmed by the hole inside him, which appeared after he hit his nose on the hard ground of Kashmir and which represents the absence of his faith. Just as the sanctity and integrity of time has been shown to be an illusion, many of the revelations experienced by the characters are also exposed as false impressions. Saleem’s voices were no more the voices of angels than decrepit Musa was the ghost of Joseph D’Costa, or Joseph D’Costa was, in turn, God.

In a novel so suffused with magic, it seems ironic that many of the most fantastical, supernatural elements are eventually revealed to have human sources. However, this trend emphasizes the novel’s larger theme: to show that no solid, definitive truths exist. Midnight’s Children operates on several different levels of reality, including the political, the personal, the fantastical, and the factual. Each of these provides a lens through which one might view the story in question. Each lens will provide a different vision, but each of those visions remains valid in its own right. Even fictions can claim to have their own kind of reality. Saleem may not be Ahmed and Amina’s biological son, but the fiction, once it is revealed as such, proves impossible to shake off completely. Similarly, Saleem knows that his friend Cyrus-the-great possesses no special powers and that the myth of Lord Khusro is nothing more than a fictional concoction, dreamed up by a fanatical mother and inspired by an American comic book. Whether or not the Pakistani government replaced the sacred hair of Mohammed with a fake replica remains irrelevant, since the people continue to have faith in the artifact. Legitimacy lies not in fact, but in the willingness and ability to believe. Saleem emphasizes this point when he continually defends the validity of his fantastical narrative to Padma, his skeptical listener.

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