5. Futility of statistics: during 1971, ten million refugees fled across the borders of East Pakistan-Bangladesh into India—but ten million (like all numbers larger than one thousand and one) refuses to be understood.
This quotation appears in Book Three, in the chapter “The Buddha.” Saleem, now in the service of the Pakistani Army, finds himself aiding the violent repression of the Bangladeshi independence movement. In a novel already riddled with violence and massive causalities, this is a blunt acknowledgement of the fact that there is no way to express the scale of violence and suffering that is occurring. Even Saleem’s first hand account of the atrocities he witnesses becomes suffused with a sense that what he sees is incomprehensible. The human mind cannot grasp tragedies of this scale, and we require a microcosmic representation of the victims—midnight’s children—to attach individual identities to historical realities. One thousand and one is the largest number that can be understood, according to Saleem, and so rather than try and represent the loss of hope for an entire generation, Rushdie has him offer us the representative destruction of these children.