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Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie

A Wedding, Midnight

Sam and the Tiger, The Shadow of the Mosque

Abracadabra

Summary: A Wedding

Saleem describes how Parvati succeeded in getting him to marry her, on February 23, 1975. Having heard of Saleem’s impotence, Parvati decides to take her fate into her own hands. Using a magical spell, she summons Shiva to her. Not knowing why, Shiva becomes compelled to come to the ghetto.

Saleem describes Shiva’s career for us. Following the war, Shiva becomes a national hero. He grows more refined and sophisticated and develops a reputation as a great lover and seducer. Soon, women from the highest echelon of society are devising ways to have affairs with him. They tuck secret notes into their toes, drop handbags, and spill drinks. A number of illicit children are born from his affairs, although he falls out of love with any woman who bears his child. One woman, angry and bitter, approaches him during a horse race and tells him that he’s become the laughingstock of all the rich women. After this revelation, Shiva grows uncomfortable in his new life and becomes unintentionally cruder than ever.

After Parvati casts her spell and brings Shiva to the ghetto, Shiva takes her back to his barracks. The two are briefly happy until, on September 12, she tells him she’s pregnant with his child. Their relationship grows violent, and Shiva begins to sleep with prostitutes, siring a line of poor illegitimate children to match his earlier line of rich ones. Meanwhile, the political situation grows darker, as students and workers begin protesting government corruption. The protests lead to the development of an opposition party, the People’s Front. Parvati releases Shiva from her spell and he promptly returns her to the ghetto, where she finds Saleem and Picture Singh running from tear gas, launched by the police during a political rally.

In the magician’s ghetto, everyone shuns Parvati because of her pregnancy. Picture Singh suggests again that Saleem marry her, and Saleem finds himself unable to ignore his plea—fully aware of the fact that, since Shiva is Ahmed and Amina’s true son, Parvati’s child will be his parents’ true grandchild. Parvati converts to Islam and becomes Laylah, and the magicians perform incredible feats after the wedding ceremony.

While public dissent with the government grows, so does Parvati’s stomach. On June 12, at 2 p.m.—the exact moment the prime minister is convicted of campaign malpractice—Parvati goes into a labor that lasts thirteen days. Her labor pains correspond to political events involving the prime minister, until finally, at midnight on June 25, the prime minister declares a State of Emergency, allowing her to arrest her opposition and censor the press. At the same moment, Parvati’s child is being born, and Saleem laughs hysterically at the sight of his son’s enormous, floppy ears. Saleem describes the boy as a grave, good-natured child who refuses to cry. Saleem wonders if his long-held belief in the intimate connection between the nation and the individual has leaked into the prime minister’s mind, since her new slogan has become “India is Indira and Indira is India.” Saleem gives a brief synopsis of Indira’s life, including a description of her husband’s death, and the prominent role her son Sanjay played in the sterilization campaign of 1975. He points out that, in 1975, Indira had been a widow for fifteen years.

Summary: Midnight

Saleem says he can’t go on with the story, but that he must. He struggles to find the right words, trying to tell it as a dream, but then stops and decides to tell it directly. He says that the winter of 1975–76 brought with it an endless darkness. His son, Aadam, suffers from tuberculosis, and neither he nor Parvati can cure the boy. Saleem insists that, as long as the Emergency lasts, his son will be ill. Parvati tries to make Aadam cry by using magic, but instead he holds in all of his sound. Meanwhile, the government alters the constitution, giving the prime minister nearly unlimited power. Saleem can smell danger in the air.

On the last night before “what-has-to-be-described,” Nadir Khan visits Saleem and tells him to hide. However, it’s already too late, and the next morning bulldozers announcing a “civic beautification program” invade the ghetto. Soldiers drag people into vans and a rumor spreads that the people are being sterilized. The magicians fight back and are successful until military troops arrive. Saleem loses Parvati and Picture Singh. Major Shiva comes and captures Saleem. Parvati dies violently, and by the end of the afternoon, nothing remains of the ghetto, including Saleem’s spittoon.

Saleem is taken to Benares and locked in the palace of the widows, on the shores of the Ganges. Though Saleem cannot remember how he was induced to do so, he tells his interlocutors where all of the midnight’s children can be found. The walls of Saleem’s cell begin to whisper with the voices of the children. He gives them a long apology, but they are so excited and happy to hear each other again that they remain unconcerned. He becomes briefly optimistic, until on New Year’s Day a beautiful woman explains to him that the people worship the prime minister as a god, and that nothing can compete with her supremacy.

Saleem and the other midnight’s children undergo sterilization operations, although—not wanting to leave anything to chance—the doctors perform more aggressive operations on them than on the rest of the population. The doctors remove testicles and whole wombs from the midnight’s children, who, as a result, lose all their magical powers. Saleem learns that Shiva had a voluntary vasectomy, and begins to laugh, since Shiva’s namesake was the god associated with procreation, and Shiva himself has already fathered a whole new generation of midnight’s children. In late March of 1977, Saleem is released, along with the other midnight’s children. The prime minister calls for elections and loses. Shiva is arrested, and then later killed by the same woman who had mocked him for impregnating her. Back in Delhi, Saleem walks around until he eventually finds Picture Singh, holding a small boy of twenty-one months.

Analysis

The novel begins to come full circle when Saleem marries Parvati. As Saleem prepares to raise Shiva’s child, he finds himself in a similar position to his father, who also raised another man’s child. And just as Saleem’s midnight birth corresponded to the birth of a new nation, so too does his son’s birth correspond to the beginning of a new era in Indian history. However, there are crucial differences between this iteration and the original instance. Whereas Saleem was born at a moment suffused with optimism, his son Aadam is born during the State of Emergency, a time of anxiety and discord. With the birth of Aadam, the story of the original band of midnight’s children draws to a close, only to begin a new story. Instead of Shiva’s knees and Saleem’s nose, Parvati gives birth to a baby with a pair of enormous ears. Shiva had the power of war, and Saleem the ability to smell. Aadam, with his enormous ears, will have the power to listen to his father’s story.

Shiva is unmade by women and saved by a war, just as Saleem had promised at the start of the novel. For all of his military might and rumored prowess as a lover, Shiva remains unable to accept or give love. He turns on the midnight’s children, and on Saleem in particular. In his wanton desire to destroy Saleem, he voluntarily permits himself to be destroyed as well. Throughout the novel, Shiva’s greatest insecurities stem from his class standing, and thus generate his resentment and hatred of Saleem. By the end of the novel, however, the reversed fortunes of the two have righted themselves. Shiva, the poor child who should have been rich, becomes wealthy and respected, and Saleem, the rich child who should have been poor, loses his inheritance and dwells in a slum. However, Shiva remains unable to shake the legacy of poverty that shaped him, emphasizing once again that our personal histories mold us in inexorable ways.

In these chapters, Saleem finally reveals the mystery of the Widow’s identity: she is Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister. With this revelation, Saleem’s life and the nation’s history become unified a final time. When Saleem was born, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, wrote him a letter and welcomed him into the world. Now Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, bears the responsibility for destroying Saleem. After declaring the State of Emergency in 1975, Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties, engaged in massive arrests, initiated a campaign of forced sterilization, and destroyed ghettoes throughout the country. The political and human rights abuses of those years are among the novel’s central tragedies. Rushdie has his Indira Gandhi specifically target the midnight’s children, sterilizing them and thereby draining them of their powers. Rushdie implies that Gandhi was responsible for destroying not only the hope and future of an entire generation, but that of a still fledgling democracy as well. The chant “India is Indira and Indira is India” represents a call for singularity. Just as Pakistan defines itself according to a single god, the slogan for Gandhi reduces the entire multitudinous nation to a single woman. In their multiplicity and the diversity of their powers, the midnight’s children post a threat to Gandhi and the single-ruler state. At the Widow’s hostel, the prophesy of Saleem’s birth is fulfilled, the nightmare of green and black is illuminated, and the Midnight’s Children’s Conference is brought to its resounding end.

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