Midnight’s Children

by: Salman Rushdie

Book Three: The Buddha, In the Sundarbans

Summary Book Three: The Buddha, In the Sundarbans

Analysis

In these chapters, Saleem transforms into a half-animal, half god-like figure. Relieved of his memory, Saleem cannot feel pain or emotion, implying that a connection to our past represents an essential part of being human. Saleem spends his days sitting under a tree, free from the trials of his past, the monklike hairdo he first adopted as a child giving him an added air of religious solemnity. Once again, we witness a melding of religious traditions, as Saleem comes to resemble both a Christian monk and the figure of the Buddha. Saleem’s new, divine affectation contrasts with the army’s derisive nickname for him, “the man-dog.” Part beast, part divine figure, Saleem one again represents the meeting point of the sacred and the profane. He willfully acknowledges how his life currently resembles a cheap movie, indulging in that similarity as he recounts the following events in the style of a movie trailer.

Saleem’s story hardly skips a beat between the two wars, the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir and the 1971 conflict over Bangladeshi independence. The central role that politics and warfare played in the shaping of India and Pakistan’s history becomes increasingly evident. The violence escalates and grows larger in scale as Saleem plays the dual roles of witness and active participant in the pillaging of Dacca. At this point, informing the reader of the factual details of the military conflict becomes one of the narrative’s clear objectives. Saleem takes care to list the names of major generals and political leaders, not to mention the political events occurring in India at the same time. In these chapters, Saleem’s story becomes equal parts history lesson and wartime memoir.

Saleem enters the Sundarbans to leave behind what he has seen and done, yet ironically manages to reclaim his memory there. The jungle of the Sundarbans is a densely magical place, populated by voices, ghosts, and apparitions. The massive, mysterious tidal wave that carries Saleem and his companions out of the jungle seems a fitting conclusion to the interlude. The snake that bites Saleem in the heel, thereby restoring his memory, represents the latest instance of the novel’s snake motif, following Joseph D’Costa’s snakebites, Dr. Schaapsteker’s life saving venom, and Saleem’s beloved Snakes and Ladders board game. Snake venom saved Saleem’s life once before, and now it brings that life back to him. As the young Saleem noted, the distinction between good and evil, or snakes and ladders, is always ambiguous. With his memory restored, Saleem can now encounter his childhood friends. In one of the novel’s more tragic and violent images, Saleem stumbles across the human pyramid of dying bodies, comprised of Eyeslice, Hairoil, and Sonny Ibrahim. The bodies of his dying friends, and the description of Farooq’s death, which very closely echoes Aadam Aziz’s prayer from the opening chapter, demonstrate how images of the past can become corrupted and deformed by the violence of the present. Time and age have only made matters worse for the former children of Methwold’s Estate.