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Saleem tells us that Lord Khusro, today the wealthiest
and most famous guru in India, was once his childhood friend, Cyrus-the-great.
After Cyrus’s father dies from choking on an orange seed, Cyrus’s
fanatical mother begins claiming her son is a holy child and invents
a history for him based, in part, on a Superman comic book that
Saleem had once given to Cyrus.
As the Narlikar women begin to demolish the houses of
the estate, Pia calls to tell the family that Hanif has committed
suicide. The entire family gathers at the house for a forty-day
mourning period. Infuriated by the dust from the demolition, as
well as Pia’s refusal to mourn, Reverend Mother vows not to eat
until her daughter-in-law shows her dead son some respect. After
twenty days, Saleem breaks the stalemate by apologizing to his aunt
for his previous indiscretion. Pia tells Saleem that she refuses
to mourn because Hanif always tried to avoid melodrama in his films,
and she wants to respect that. Once she finishes explaining this,
however, Pia breaks into a torrent of grief that amazes everyone.
Pia begs Reverend Mother for forgiveness and places herself in her
mother-in-law’s control. Reverend Mother declares that Pia will
move to Pakistan with her, where they will realize Reverend Mother’s
long-held dream of purchasing a petrol pump.
On the twenty-second day of the mourning period, Aadam
Aziz sees God. Aadam tells his family that he asked God why his
son died, to which God replied: “God has his reasons, old man; life’s
like that, right?” Mary believes that Aadam actually saw Joseph D’Costa’s
ghost, but she keeps this to herself, and the vision of an indifferent
god haunts Aadam for the rest of his life. In his old age, he takes
to shouting and cursing at mosques and holy men. Finally, on Christmas
Day, he takes a train to Kashmir. Two days later, at a mosque in
Kashmir, a man fitting Aadam’s description steals a lock of hair
that once belonged to the Prophet Muhammad. Later, the government
replaces the stolen lock with a replica, claiming to have recovered
the precious artifact.
On the thirty-eighth day of mourning, Mary sees the ghost
of Joseph D’Costa for herself. She calls the entire family together
and confesses that eleven years ago she switched Shiva’s nametag
with Saleem’s. Ahmed recognizes the supernatural figure, however,
and realizes that it isn’t the ghost of Joseph D’Costa, after all.
The “ghost” is Ahmed’s old servant, Musa, now afflicted with leprosy and
returning to seek forgiveness. Mary returns to her mother’s house
in Goa, though her sister, Alice, stays on to assist Ahmed.
Afraid that Shiva will discover the truth about their
parentage, Saleem bans him from the children’s conference. Meanwhile,
Ahmed, distraught over what has happened, drunkenly berates his
wife. Reverend Mother advises Amina to take her two children away from
Ahmed, so Amina, Saleem, and the Brass Monkey move to Pakistan to
live with Emerald and General Zulfikar. At the general’s opulent
house, Emerald and the general treat Saleem and his family worse
than the general’s mine-sniffing dog, Bonzo. Once in Pakistan, Saleem
finds himself unable to communicate with the other children.
One evening, General Zulfikar hosts an important dinner, attended
by many high-ranking military officials. During the dinner, the
general allows his son, Zafar, and Saleem to join the men at the table.
The commander-in-chief of the army, General Ayub, declares that
the government has failed and announces his plans to take over Pakistan.
When Ayub decrees a state of martial law, Zafar—who has a tendency
to wet his pants—gets frightened and has an accident. General Zulfikar
chases his son out of the room, then asks Saleem to come help him.
Saleem helps the officers map out their strategy, using pepperpots
and other condiment jars to symbolize troop movements. On November
1, General Zulfikar takes Saleem to the president’s house, where
Saleem watches as the general forces the naked president out of
bed and onto a plane.
Saleem and his family stay in Pakistan for four more years,
during which time he becomes a teenager and his sister grows increasingly
devout, falling under the country’s religious spell. Relationships
between India and Pakistan deteriorate. Along the Indian-Chinese
border, skirmishes arise.
On her fourteenth birthday, the Brass Monkey sings, astonishing everyone
with her beautiful voice. Everyone begins referring to her as Jamila
Singer, and Saleem acknowledges that from then on he would always
take second place to her.
With the revelation of Saleem’s true parentage, the action
of the story begins to mimic the style of the narration. Rather
than describe his life in a linear, straightforward fashion, Saleem
chooses to skip back and forth in time, hashing up and then reassembling
his biography in order to reveal connections that might have otherwise gone
unnoticed. In this way, Saleem does more than just recount his life
story: he draws attention to particular themes, motifs, and patterns,
thereby shaping his story and giving it meaning. When Mary Pereira
reveals the truth about Saleem’s birth, the characters experience
a similar time warp, as the past forcefully asserts itself on the present.
History is never dead, as we have seen throughout the novel. History
not only repeats itself, but it also comes back—sometimes, literally
back from the grave—to destroy the illusions of the present. Midnight’s
Children, with its tangled, circuitous chronology, to some
degree, attempts to destroy the illusions of time itself.
The chapter title “Revelations” evokes the Book of Revelation, the
final section of the New Testament, which describes the end of the
known world and the salvation of the faithful by Jesus. In addition
to meaning “a dramatic disclosure,” the word revelation can also
carry a theological dimension, meaning “the disclosure of a divine
will or truth.” In Midnight’s Children, one seemingly
divine revelation has already occurred—when Saleem mistakes the detached
voices of the midnight’s children for the miraculous voices of angels.
In this chapter, his grandfather Aadam has a false revelation as
well, mistaking the ghost of Joseph D’Costa for a vision of God.
In both cases, these false revelations have dire consequences. When
Saleem announces his newfound ability to his family, his father
strikes him, leaving him forever deaf in one ear. Aadam, in his turn,
becomes so distraught over what he believes to be God’s indifference
that he becomes consumed by a need to seek revenge on his faith.
Aadam becomes overwhelmed by the hole inside him, which appeared
after he hit his nose on the hard ground of Kashmir and which represents
the absence of his faith. Just as the sanctity and integrity of
time has been shown to be an illusion, many of the revelations experienced
by the characters are also exposed as false impressions. Saleem’s
voices were no more the voices of angels than decrepit Musa was
the ghost of Joseph D’Costa, or Joseph D’Costa was, in turn, God.
In a novel so suffused with magic, it seems ironic that
many of the most fantastical, supernatural elements are eventually
revealed to have human sources. However, this trend emphasizes the
novel’s larger theme: to show that no solid, definitive truths exist. Midnight’s
Children operates on several different levels of reality, including
the political, the personal, the fantastical, and the factual. Each
of these provides a lens through which one might view the story
in question. Each lens will provide a different vision, but each of
those visions remains valid in its own right. Even fictions can claim
to have their own kind of reality. Saleem may not be Ahmed and Amina’s
biological son, but the fiction, once it is revealed as such, proves
impossible to shake off completely. Similarly, Saleem knows that
his friend Cyrus-the-great possesses no special powers and that
the myth of Lord Khusro is nothing more than a fictional concoction,
dreamed up by a fanatical mother and inspired by an American comic
book. Whether or not the Pakistani government replaced the sacred
hair of Mohammed with a fake replica remains irrelevant, since the
people continue to have faith in the artifact. Legitimacy lies not
in fact, but in the willingness and ability to believe. Saleem emphasizes
this point when he continually defends the validity of his fantastical
narrative to Padma, his skeptical listener.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Midnight’s Children!