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Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie

Love in Bombay, My Tenth Birthday

Accident in a Washing-chest, All India Radio

At the Pioneer Café, Alpha and Omega

Summary: Love in Bombay

Saleem describes how, during the holy fasting month of Ramzan, he and his sister went to the movies as often as possible. They particularly loved going on Sundays, when the movie theater holds Metro Cub Club viewings, especially for children. There, Saleem falls in love with an American girl, Evelyn Lillith Burns, who arrives at Methwold’s Estate on New Year’s Day, 1957. Evelyn, however, loves Saleem’s best friend, Sonny Ibrahim, who loves the Brass Monkey. Saleem describes Evie’s braces and scarecrow-straw hair. A tough girl, she impresses and conquers the children of Methwold’s Estate on her first day by riding her bicycle while doing a headstand. Saleem asks Sonny to speak to Evie on his behalf, and, to impress Evie, Saleem tries to learn how to ride a bike. On his first attempt, he crashes head-first into Sonny, his bulging temples meeting perfectly with Sonny’s indented temples.

Saleem describes how India became organized into fourteen states and six territories, based upon common language. Bombay, however, remained a multilingual state. As a result, in February 1957, a massive parade of demonstrators marched through the city, seeking a partition of the state along linguistic lines. The children of the estate watch the parade while Saleem tries to impress Evie with his new bike-riding skills. She ignores him, so he delves deep into her thoughts until he comes upon an image of her, standing in a doorway, holding a knife that drips blood. Saleem delves so deep into Evie’s thoughts that she can feel him there, and she pushes him into the parade to get rid of him. Confronted by an angry, mocking crowd, Saleem recites a rhyme in Gujarati to placate the crowd. They move on, singing his offensive rhyme, until they run into a parade of pro-Gujarati marchers. Throats are slit, and, in the end, the state of Bombay is partitioned.

Summary: My Tenth Birthday

Padma has returned to Saleem. In an attempt to cure his impotence, she put herbs in his food that left him delirious and ill for a week. Still consumed by a fever, he returns to his narrative once again. He says that during the first hour of August 15, 1947, 1,001 children were born in the newly independent India, each with a special, miraculous power. He speculates that perhaps history, arriving at a new frontier, wanted to endow the future with something genuinely different from the past. Of the 1,001 children, 420 die by the time Saleem realizes their existence, leaving 581 midnight’s children. Saleem describes the children’s various powers, which he discovers by traveling into their minds. He notes that the closer to midnight the child was born, the more extraordinary the power the child had. Parvati-the-witch has the powers of a real witch, while Shiva, born with Saleem on the stroke of midnight, has the power of war.

Meanwhile, Ahmed continues his steady descent into alcoholism and isolation. Nonetheless, he remains a successful businessman, even after all his secretaries leave him and Mary Pereira’s sister, Alice, comes in to work for him. The ghost of Joseph D’Costa continues to haunt Mary and will continue to do so until she confesses her crime. Saleem’s tenth birthday arrives. He recounts all of the things that happened that day, beginning with the failure of the government’s Five-Year Plan, his mother’s suspicious blushing at the mention of the word communist, and, finally, his decision to create his own gang, the Midnight’s Children’s Conference (MCC).

Analysis

From the moment Saleem and his sister begin to go to the movies, the relationship between Saleem’s narrative and the cinema becomes evident. Saleem pits the holiest month in Islam, Ramzan, against the allure of the cinema. The experience of the cinema makes up for the privations of religion, and yet this period doesn’t represent a clash of cultures or values so much as a melding. The mirroring of the Metro Cub Club, MCC, with those of the Midnight’s Children’s Conference seems apt. In addition, Rushdie invests Evie with a cinematic quality as soon as she enters the story. Riding her bike in circles around the “Indian” children and armed with a Daisy air-gun, she represents a childish caricature of the classical western film. Instead of John Wayne, Methwold’s Estate has the American Evie Burns to dictate commands and serve as the new leader of the Indians, who fall almost immediately under her control. Given the significant role of film in postcolonial India, Rushdie’s portrait is as much social commentary as it is a faithful depiction of the influence of film on a child’s imagination. The influence is also evident in Saleem’s narrative style, which pulls back from an image and hovers over the landscape like a camera sweeping over the city. Furthermore, in its exuberant, populist melodramatics, Saleem’s narrative draws on aesthetic conventions influenced by Bollywood, the massive Bombay-based film industry that dominates cultural markets throughout the world.

Saleem’s failed attempt to woo Evie Burns is mirrored in the pleas of the language marchers, who demand the creation of their own language-partitioned region. In a chapter titled “Love in Bombay,” love is the one thing that is missing. Instead of love, frustrated desires dominate the chapter: the frustrated desire of Sonny for the Brass Monkey, Evie for Sonny, and Saleem for Evie all point to a world in which love is absent. In almost every case, these desire are not only thwarted but result in acts of violence. The theme of unrequited love continues, albeit in an altered form, with the return of Padma, who genuinely loves Saleem yet is unable to have a relationship with him. Even her good-natured attempt to cure his impotence ends in a minor act of violence.

The arrival of the other midnight’s children, long-awaited and foreshadowed, is a seminal moment in the novel. The children are full of symbolic meaning, from their number, originally 1,001, to their very existence. As Saleem notes, they mark a break from the past—and perhaps an attempt on the part of history to bring something new into the future. Their powers range from the fantastic to the grotesque and unfortunate. To be one of midnight’s children is not necessarily a blessing, and it can sometimes be a tragedy. Like the ambiguity of the snakes and ladders, the midnight’s children are also an ambiguous group—fortunate and scarred, poor and rich. As such, they are a perfect reflection of India itself. In their sheer numbers and range of powers, they are an argument on behalf of plurality. They are the children of the country, and they represent its range and scope.

Saleem notes that 1,001 is a magical number. Scheherazade, the heroine of The Arabian Nights, tells 1,001 stories in order to delay her execution. Scheherazade is the archetypal storyteller, and she provides a fitting model for Saleem’s own narrative project. The number is also a palindrome, which means it can be read both backward and forward. In this way, the number 1,001 represents the reversal of Saleem and Shiva’s fortunes.

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