The Kolynos Kid, Commander Sabarmati’s Baton
Summary: The Kolynos Kid
Saleem asserts that though he appears to be a perennial victim, the kind of person “to whom things have been done,” he persists in seeing himself as the protagonist of his story. He contemplates how an individual’s life might be connected to the history of a nation and says that he is linked to India “literally and metaphorically, both actively and passively,” and every combination after that: “actively-literal, passively-metaphorical, actively-metaphorically, and passively-literally.”
Saleem returns to his story, to the day he left the hospital after losing a portion of his finger. Mary Pereira and his uncle Hanif pick him up from the hospital instead of his parents. They assuage his fears with promises of sweets and food as they drive to Hanif’s home on Marine Drive. On the way, they pass a billboard for Kolynos toothpaste, which depicts the brand mascot, the Kolynos Kid, brushing his teeth. Grateful to his uncle and his uncle’s wife Pia, he vows to be an exceptional son to the childless couple.
Mary stays with Saleem, feeding him enormous quantities of food, which fuel a rapid growth spurt in him. She tells him fantastic stories in which India’s ancient past returns to life. Now that he’s growing up, Saleem can’t help but notice his aunt Pia’s beauty, which persists even though her film career has begun to fade. She blames her career failure on Hanif, who has refused to write anything besides strictly realist film scripts, which, in the current film industry, will never get made. Hanif and Pia only manage to make ends meet because Homi Catrack continues to pay Hanif a studio salary. During one of his aunt and uncle’s popular card parties, Homi Catrack hands Saleem a note. He tells him to give it to his aunt without telling anyone, or he’ll have Saleem’s tongue cut out. Later that evening, Saleem has a nightmare and goes to his aunt and uncle’s bed. Curled up next to his aunt, he hands her the note and feels her body stiffen. The next day, she comes home and launches into a tirade against her husband. She storms off to her bedroom, and Saleem follows. Pia throws herself onto the bed, and, while attempting to comfort her, Saleem is overwhelmed by his aunt’s beauty and fondles her. Pia smacks him and calls him a pervert. Mary appears in the doorway, embarrassed, and tells Saleem that his parents have just sent him his first pair of long trousers.
Amina comes to the apartment on Marine Drive to bring Saleem home. On the drive back to their house, she tells Saleem to be good to his father, as Ahmed is unhappy these days. Saleem recalls his mother’s indiscretion and is filled with a desire for revenge. In the meantime, the children’s conference has been set aside.
Summary: Commander Sabarmati’s Baton
After returning to Methwold’s Estate, Mary Pereira discovers that Joseph D’Costa’s ghost has fallen into decay. The ghost tells Mary that until she confesses to having switched the babies, he will be held responsible for her crime.
Saleem realizes that his father no longer wants anything to do with him and that his sister, the Brass Monkey, has become the new household favorite—a fact that surprises her as much as it surprises him. In an attempt to lose her favored position, she tries to become a devout Christian. Saleem notes that this is the first instance of the Brass Monkey’s fanatical tendencies, which come to dominate her life in later years.
The Midnight’s Children Conference begins to fall apart. Many of the children are already beginning to go their separate ways, as they become increasingly affected by the religious, cultural, and class-based prejudices of their parents. Saleem and Shiva openly debate the merits of the conference. Saleem pleads for mutual tolerance and a sense of shared purpose, while Shiva mocks him as a naïve “little rich boy,” full of idealistic notions.
Saleem begins to visit the old, crazy Dr. Schaapsteker. From him, Saleem learns about snakes and how to watch for his enemies. With his new knowledge, Saleem plots his first attack against Homi Catrack and Lila Sabarmati to punish them for their illicit affair. He clips out letters from newspaper headlines that, once assembled, spell out “Commander Sabarmati Why Does Your Wife Go to Colaba Causeway on Sunday Morning?” He hides the note in the commander’s clothes.
Commander Sabarmati hires a detective to follow his wife. One Sunday, after receiving the investigator’s report, the commander checks out a revolver, finds Lila and Homi Catrack, and shoots them both. He manages to kill Homi Catrack and severely injure his wife. Afterward, he approaches a traffic cop and tries to turn himself in. The officer flees when he sees the gun, so Commander Sabarmati is left to direct the traffic until a squad of police officers arrives to arrest him. Ismail Ibrahim, the lawyer who once defended Ahmed, agrees to defend Commander Sabarmati, as well. The Commander becomes a national hero, and the first jury to hear his case acquits him. The judge, however, overturns the verdict. The special treatment has turned the public against him, and the president refuses to pardon him.
Amina never again goes to the Pioneer Café to see Qasim Khan. The residents of Methwold’s Estate begin selling their houses to Dr. Narlikar’s female relatives, who want to raze all the houses and build an enormous mansion for themselves. Ahmed, still angry over the tetrapods, refuses to sell. After everyone else has moved off of Methwold’s Estate, Saleem sits in the yard playing with a small globe. The Brass Monkey comes outside and crushes the globe with her feet. Saleem speculates that perhaps she did so because she missed Sonny Ibrahim, her long-time admirer.
Midnight’s Children represents an attempt by both Rushdie and Saleem to write a new history of India, one that takes all facets of the great nation into account. The hyphenated terms Saleem generates to describe his relationship with India suggest that there are multiple, varied, and equally legitimate ways in which to experience—and, therefore, write—history. These new, hyphenated definitions reflect Saleem’s intention to redefine national history according to his own personal narrative. In order to succeed, Saleem must bend and reshape language. Words get jammed together, just as the details of Saleem’s life are jammed into the political history of India. By redefining language, Saleem redefines reality. The old, formal conventions of narrative can’t sufficiently convey this new story, so Saleem breaks those conventions, playfully violating the rules of time, space, and language.
The themes of nostalgia and lost innocence run throughout these two chapters, triggered by the shocking discovery that Saleem cannot be Ahmed and Amina’s biological son. The exile that follows Saleem’s hospital stay bears a painful resemblance to his first days in Methwold’s Estate, when his mother reluctantly shared the newborn Saleem out of a sense of pride and love. Now, Saleem’s parents have banished him from their home, sending him to live with his aunt and uncle out of a sense of shame and confusion. The revelation about Saleem’s true parentage represents a major shifting point in this family’s history, one from which they can never return.
Since Saleem’s personal identity is inextricably entwined with that of India, Saleem’s disappointments may be seen as a reflection of the newly forming country’s own problems. Saleem wistfully describes the timeless Kolynos Kid, trapped forever in his billboard but free from the ravages of time and age. Saleem longs for his lost childhood in the same way that India is currently overcome by a sense of nostalgia, looking back longingly at its ancient past as it lurches inexorably into the future. With every uncomfortable step forward, something else must be discarded, a sentiment dramatically captured by Saleem’s lost finger. Saleem’s awkward, inadvertent sexual experience with his aunt represents a loss of a different kind of innocence. As uncomfortable as the moment is, it marks a turning point for Saleem. Immediately afterward, Mary shows up with new long trousers. As Saleem trades his short pants for long ones, he takes a distinct step into adulthood. The world as Saleem knows it is over, a point the Brass Monkey drives home when she steps on his globe, shattering it.
Like Saleem and the nation of India, the children of the conference and the families of the estate are also beginning to shed their innocence. The midnight’s children begin to take after their parents, developing prejudices and biases. Divisions begin to break them up, andSaleem and Shiva’s highly philosophical debate demonstrates the turmoil within the conference, which reflects the political turmoil facing India at the time. Saleem’s speeches align him with the Communist Party, while Shiva seems to espouse the benefits of a system based on individual-focused, free-market capitalism.
India’s difficulties in moving forward are also symbolized in Commander Sabarmarti’s trial. The debate surrounding the commander’s innocence pits traditional and progressive values against one another. That a judge finds Sabarmati guilty represents a victory for liberal progress, yet the favored treatment he receives, along with the fact that Lila is forced to abdicate custody of their children, seems to temper that victory.
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