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Saleem describes how Parvati succeeded in getting him
to marry her, on February 23, 1975. Having heard of Saleem’s impotence,
Parvati decides to take her fate into her own hands. Using a magical
spell, she summons Shiva to her. Not knowing why, Shiva becomes
compelled to come to the ghetto.
Saleem describes Shiva’s career for us. Following the
war, Shiva becomes a national hero. He grows more refined and sophisticated and
develops a reputation as a great lover and seducer. Soon, women
from the highest echelon of society are devising ways to have affairs
with him. They tuck secret notes into their toes, drop handbags,
and spill drinks. A number of illicit children are born from his
affairs, although he falls out of love with any woman who bears
his child. One woman, angry and bitter, approaches him during a
horse race and tells him that he’s become the laughingstock of all
the rich women. After this revelation, Shiva grows uncomfortable
in his new life and becomes unintentionally cruder than ever.
After Parvati casts her spell and brings Shiva to the
ghetto, Shiva takes her back to his barracks. The two are briefly
happy until, on September 12, she tells him she’s pregnant with
his child. Their relationship grows violent, and Shiva begins to
sleep with prostitutes, siring a line of poor illegitimate children
to match his earlier line of rich ones. Meanwhile, the political
situation grows darker, as students and workers begin protesting
government corruption. The protests lead to the development of an
opposition party, the People’s Front. Parvati releases Shiva from
her spell and he promptly returns her to the ghetto, where she finds
Saleem and Picture Singh running from tear gas, launched by the
police during a political rally.
In the magician’s ghetto, everyone shuns Parvati because
of her pregnancy. Picture Singh suggests again that Saleem marry
her, and Saleem finds himself unable to ignore his plea—fully aware
of the fact that, since Shiva is Ahmed and Amina’s true son, Parvati’s
child will be his parents’ true grandchild. Parvati converts to
Islam and becomes Laylah, and the magicians perform incredible feats
after the wedding ceremony.
While public dissent with the government grows, so does
Parvati’s stomach. On June 12, at 2 p.m.—the exact moment the prime minister
is convicted of campaign malpractice—Parvati goes into a labor that
lasts thirteen days. Her labor pains correspond to political events
involving the prime minister, until finally, at midnight on June
25, the prime minister declares a State of Emergency, allowing her
to arrest her opposition and censor the press. At the same moment,
Parvati’s child is being born, and Saleem laughs hysterically at
the sight of his son’s enormous, floppy ears. Saleem describes the
boy as a grave, good-natured child who refuses to cry. Saleem wonders
if his long-held belief in the intimate connection between the nation
and the individual has leaked into the prime minister’s mind, since
her new slogan has become “India is Indira and Indira is India.”
Saleem gives a brief synopsis of Indira’s life, including a description
of her husband’s death, and the prominent role her son Sanjay played
in the sterilization campaign of 1975. He points out that, in 1975,
Indira had been a widow for fifteen years.
Saleem says he can’t go on with the story, but that he
must. He struggles to find the right words, trying to tell it as
a dream, but then stops and decides to tell it directly. He says
that the winter of 1975–76 brought with it an endless darkness.
His son, Aadam, suffers from tuberculosis, and neither he nor Parvati
can cure the boy. Saleem insists that, as long as the Emergency
lasts, his son will be ill. Parvati tries to make Aadam cry by using
magic, but instead he holds in all of his sound. Meanwhile, the
government alters the constitution, giving the prime minister nearly
unlimited power. Saleem can smell danger in the air.
On the last night before “what-has-to-be-described,” Nadir Khan
visits Saleem and tells him to hide. However, it’s already too late,
and the next morning bulldozers announcing a “civic beautification
program” invade the ghetto. Soldiers drag people into vans and a
rumor spreads that the people are being sterilized. The magicians
fight back and are successful until military troops arrive. Saleem
loses Parvati and Picture Singh. Major Shiva comes and captures
Saleem. Parvati dies violently, and by the end of the afternoon,
nothing remains of the ghetto, including Saleem’s spittoon.
Saleem is taken to Benares and locked in the palace of
the widows, on the shores of the Ganges. Though Saleem cannot remember how
he was induced to do so, he tells his interlocutors where all of the
midnight’s children can be found. The walls of Saleem’s cell begin
to whisper with the voices of the children. He gives them a long
apology, but they are so excited and happy to hear each other again
that they remain unconcerned. He becomes briefly optimistic, until
on New Year’s Day a beautiful woman explains to him that the people
worship the prime minister as a god, and that nothing can compete
with her supremacy.
Saleem and the other midnight’s children undergo sterilization operations,
although—not wanting to leave anything to chance—the doctors perform
more aggressive operations on them than on the rest of the population.
The doctors remove testicles and whole wombs from the midnight’s
children, who, as a result, lose all their magical powers. Saleem
learns that Shiva had a voluntary vasectomy, and begins to laugh,
since Shiva’s namesake was the god associated with procreation,
and Shiva himself has already fathered a whole new generation of
midnight’s children. In late March of 1977, Saleem is released,
along with the other midnight’s children. The prime minister calls
for elections and loses. Shiva is arrested, and then later killed
by the same woman who had mocked him for impregnating her. Back
in Delhi, Saleem walks around until he eventually finds Picture
Singh, holding a small boy of twenty-one months.
The novel begins to come full circle when Saleem marries
Parvati. As Saleem prepares to raise Shiva’s child, he finds himself
in a similar position to his father, who also raised another man’s
child. And just as Saleem’s midnight birth corresponded to the birth
of a new nation, so too does his son’s birth correspond to the beginning
of a new era in Indian history. However, there are crucial differences between
this iteration and the original instance. Whereas Saleem was born
at a moment suffused with optimism, his son Aadam is born during
the State of Emergency, a time of anxiety and discord. With the
birth of Aadam, the story of the original band of midnight’s children
draws to a close, only to begin a new story. Instead of Shiva’s
knees and Saleem’s nose, Parvati gives birth to a baby with a pair
of enormous ears. Shiva had the power of war, and Saleem the ability
to smell. Aadam, with his enormous ears, will have the power to
listen to his father’s story.
Shiva is unmade by women and saved by a war, just as Saleem had
promised at the start of the novel. For all of his military might and
rumored prowess as a lover, Shiva remains unable to accept or give
love. He turns on the midnight’s children, and on Saleem in particular.
In his wanton desire to destroy Saleem, he voluntarily permits himself
to be destroyed as well. Throughout the novel, Shiva’s greatest
insecurities stem from his class standing, and thus generate his
resentment and hatred of Saleem. By the end of the novel, however,
the reversed fortunes of the two have righted themselves. Shiva,
the poor child who should have been rich, becomes wealthy and respected,
and Saleem, the rich child who should have been poor, loses his
inheritance and dwells in a slum. However, Shiva remains unable
to shake the legacy of poverty that shaped him, emphasizing once
again that our personal histories mold us in inexorable ways.
In these chapters, Saleem finally reveals the mystery
of the Widow’s identity: she is Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime
minister. With this revelation, Saleem’s life and the nation’s history
become unified a final time. When Saleem was born, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s
first prime minister, wrote him a letter and welcomed him into the
world. Now Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, bears the responsibility
for destroying Saleem. After declaring the State of Emergency in
1975, Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties, engaged in massive
arrests, initiated a campaign of forced sterilization, and destroyed
ghettoes throughout the country. The political and human rights
abuses of those years are among the novel’s central tragedies. Rushdie
has his Indira Gandhi specifically target the midnight’s children,
sterilizing them and thereby draining them of their powers. Rushdie
implies that Gandhi was responsible for destroying not only the
hope and future of an entire generation, but that of a still fledgling
democracy as well. The chant “India is Indira and Indira is India”
represents a call for singularity. Just as Pakistan defines itself
according to a single god, the slogan for Gandhi reduces the entire
multitudinous nation to a single woman. In their multiplicity and
the diversity of their powers, the midnight’s children post a threat
to Gandhi and the single-ruler state. At the Widow’s hostel, the
prophesy of Saleem’s birth is fulfilled, the nightmare of green
and black is illuminated, and the Midnight’s Children’s Conference
is brought to its resounding end.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Midnight’s Children!