Midnight’s Children

by: Salman Rushdie

Hit-the-Spittoon, Under the Carpet

Emerald goes on to marry Major Zulfikar. At Emerald’s wedding, Mumtaz and Ahmed Sinai—who had previously been courting Alia, the eldest daughter—have a conversation. They eventually marry, and Mumtaz changes her name to Amina Sinai.

Analysis

In these chapters, the private life of Saleem Sinai once again coincides with the public life of India. Saleem claims that his body is falling apart and that he’s destined to crumble into approximately 630 million particles of “anonymous” dust. At the time of Midnight’s Children’s publication, India’s population stood at about 630 million. Born at the moment of India’s independence, Saleem symbolizes modern India and conceives of himself as a physical embodiment of India’s history. By claiming that he will crumble into 630 million pieces, Saleem suggests that when his body falls apart, he will release all of India. With the notion that, in his individual body, Saleem contains a physical representation of every single “anonymous” Indian citizen, Rushdie takes a symbolic metaphor—Saleem as modern India—and makes it concrete. Saleem’s bodily disintegration also reflects the literary fragmentation of the novel as it skips haphazardly through time. Because Saleem’s body seems doomed to collapse from the beginning, we might wonder whether the narrative is destined to fall apart as well. Saleem’s constant pleas for his story to be taken seriously cast further doubt on the truthfulness of his account—and make Saleem an increasingly unreliable narrator.

Once again, Padma urges the narrative forward, and we jump to 1942 and what Saleem refers to as “the optimistic epidemic.” The word epidemic suggests that the hope inspired by Mian Abdullah is contagious, out of the ordinary, and potentially dangerous. In the early 1940s, time has not only put a strain on Aadam and Naseem’s relationship but on the country as well. Religious strife is beginning to fill the air, and that tension takes violent shape in the form of the crescent knives that kill Mian Abdullah. The shape of the knives is particularly significant, since they recall the crescent moon and star, which together serve as a symbol of the Islamic faith. The knives silence Mian Abdullah’s optimistic hum and symbolically destroy any hope for a unified India, postindependence. The tension between religious pluralism and dogmatism can also be seen in Aadam’s relationship with his wife, whose new name testifies, in part, to her stubborn religious devotion. Reverend Mother remains dogmatic in her faith, so much so that she is ready to watch her husband die of starvation in order to defend her principles. And yet Saleem comments that his grandmother, despite her convictions, remains adrift in the universe. Her constant use of the word whatsitsname suggests that Reverend Mother has increasing difficulty pinning down names to objects or, by extension, meaning to reality.

At this point, members of Saleem’s extended family, including his parents, aunts, and uncles, have all entered the story. The silver spittoon of the Rani of Cooch Naheen, the impotence of Nadir Khan, and the steely determination of Reverend Mother each play an important role as the narrative progresses. That Reverend Mother breaks her silence on the same day the United States drops the atomic bomb on Japan not only repeats the continued theme of personal history intersecting with political history, but it also illustrates the significance of individual events in the history of a family.