page 1 of 2
Saleem continues the story in the summer of 1956 when his sister, the Brass Monkey, began burning shoes, perhaps to force people to notice her. Starved for attention, she is a mischievous child, prone to breaking windows, spreading lies, and lashing out at anyone who shows her affection.
By the time he reaches the age of nine, Saleem becomes acutely aware of the expectations surrounding him. In order to escape the fear of failure, he hides in his mother’s large white washing chest. He begins to attend school with his friends from the compound, Eyeslice, Hairoil, Sonny Ibrahim, and Cyrus-the-great. His early growth spurt has stopped, but his nose, full of snot, continues to grow. He seeks refuge from the insults and names in the washing chest, where his imagination is free to roam. Years later in Pakistan, just before a roof crushes his mother, Amina, she sees the washing chest one more time in a vision. Saleem says that a black fog of guilt began to surround his mother so that on some days it was impossible to see her from the neck up. Her own sense of guilt brings other people’s confessions out. Saleem says that the afternoon phone calls from her ex-husband, Nadir Khan, are the real reason for his mother’s guilt.
One afternoon, while Saleem seeks refuge in the washing chest, his mother receives another phone call. Unaware of Saleem, she goes to the bathroom and begins to sob, repeating the name of her ex-husband. She takes off her saris to use the bathroom, unwittingly exposing her naked rump to Saleem. His nose twitches, he sniffs, and his mother discovers him hiding in the washing chest. She punishes him to one day of silence. During that quiet day, Saleem begins to hear voices rattling in his head, which he compares to the divine voices heard by Mohammed and Moses. The next day, he tells the entire family that angels are speaking to him. Everyone grows angry with Saleem, and his father hits him so hard that Saleem permanently loses some hearing in his left ear. Later that evening, however, Amina remembers the words of Ramram, the prophet, who told her, “washing will hide him . . . .voices will guide him.” She asks Saleem about the voices again, but he claims it was all just a joke, and she dies, nine years later, without ever knowing the truth.
Padma’s continued absence haunts Saleem, making him uncertain about the accuracy of his narrative. He acknowledges that he made a mistake about the date of Gandhi’s death, but it no longer matters since his story will continue nonetheless. He lists the similarities between himself in the present and the Saleem of the past. He says the voices are gone now, but the heat remains.
During the summer of 1956, language marches fill the city streets, with protesters demanding that Bombay be partitioned along linguistic lines, dividing the Marathi speakers from the Gujrati speakers. At the same time, various languages and voices fill Saleem’s head. The voices are not angels, but telepathy. Beneath the teeming babble of different languages, Saleem says he could hear a purer, intelligible thought-form, greater than words. Saleem also hears the voice of the other midnight’s children—initially far-off and faint—stating simply, “I.” Still afraid of his father’s wrath, Saleem keeps these voices a secret. Saleem puts his power in a historical context, noting that at the time of his discovery, India was developing its Five-Year Plan. He also explains that instead of using his gift for the betterment of the country, he cheated in his classes, kept his gift a secret, and essentially frittered it away.
Take a Study Break!