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Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie


How Saleem Achieved Purity

page 1 of 2


Saleem recounts the events leading up to midnight, September 22, 1965, the moment he achieved purity. Saleem begins to have dreams about Kashmir and says that his dreams spilled over into the general population, becoming public property in 1965. In that year, India and Pakistan fought their second war, largely over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Reverend Mother and Saleem’s aunt Pia now run a petrol (gas) station. As Reverend Mother grows larger and hairier with age, Pia embarks on a series of romantic liaisons. Meanwhile, Alia’s bitterness begins to take effect, and she exacts her revenge through her cooking. In January, Amina becomes pregnant. Alia’s cooking causes her to have terrible nightmares, and she begins to shrivel and age rapidly. Ahmed, distraught over his wife’s condition and poisoned by Alia’s cooking, becomes listless at work, and the factory begins to fall apart.

In April 1965, Zafar, now a lieutenant in the army, is dispatched to help guard the Rann of Kutch, a disputed territory on the border between India and Pakistan. While waiting for replacement troops, he and his companions think they see a ghost army descending on them. Zafar and his troops lay down their weapons, only to discover that the ghost army is actually a band of smugglers working with General Zulfikar’s full permission. Zafar returns to his father’s house and slits the general’s throat with a curved smuggler’s knife. As a result, Emerald is given permission to emigrate to England, though the war prevents her from leaving the country.

On the first day of a short-lived peace between India and Pakistan, Ahmed suffers a stroke that leaves him partially paralyzed and nearly infantile. Saleem says he’s now convinced that the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 took place solely to eliminate his family. On the night of September 22, 1965, air-raid sirens ring throughout Pakistan. The first bomb that falls kills Reverend Mother and Pia; the second bomb hits the jail and releases Zafar; and the third destroys Emerald’s house. Of the three bombs that land in Karachi, one kills Major (Retired) Alauddin Latif and all of his daughters.

While the bombs fall, Saleem rides his Lambretta toward his home. Two final bombs fall from the sky. One destroys Saleem’s mother and father, his unborn sibling, and his aunt Alia. The other destroys the unfinished house Ahmed had been building for the family. As Saleem’s house crumbles, the silver spittoon that once belonged to his grandfather hits him in the head, erasing his memory entirely and thus purifying him.


In this chapter, private and public histories become completely fused and thoroughly inextricable, as the narrative hurtles forward to a shocking, yet seemingly inevitable, catastrophe. Saleem claims that the war of 1965 occurred for two reasons: “because I dreamed Kashmir into the fantasies of our rules; furthermore, [because] I remained impure, and therefore the war was to separate me from my sins.” Once again, Saleem claims personal responsibility for large-scale, national events. Saleem begins dreaming about Kashmir—the beautiful, idyllic landscape that was his grandfather homelandand which remains to this day a symbol of great national pride for Indians and Pakistanis alike. In the first chapter of the novel, Kashmir was presented as an heir to the biblical Garden of Eden, with Aadam and Naseem playing the roles of Adam and Eve, the world’s first man and woman. In the Christian faith, Eden represents a vanished perfection to which humans aspire yet can never attain on the physical, earthly plane. Exhausted, Saleem yearns for a return to uncomplicated purity. As readers, we too may feel exhausted and worn-down by the endless complexities of Midnight’s Children and wish for a return to a less-convoluted narrative, such as that of the novel’s opening chapters.

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by Klayman55, March 24, 2017

The summary for "Tick, Tock" incorrectly states that Saleem is the biological son of Wee Willie Winkie and Vanita. The Analysis section has the correct info, that his biological father is Methwold.

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by Klayman55, May 08, 2017

Also, the summary for "How Saleem Achieved Purity" is incorrect, it says that the bomb that hit the jail frees Zafar. This could be misconstrued as the book is ambiguous, simply saying that the bomb "spared him a life of captivity." However, it later confirms that Zafar was indeed among those that died (pg. 452 in the Random House 2006 edition.)

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