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Saleem begins describing the political events of 1947.
He interrupts his story at one point to complain that a Dr. N. Q.
Balliga has dismissed his claims to have cracks in his body. He
returns to his historical account and describes his mother and father’s
departure from Agra and their subsequent arrival in Delhi. Amina
remains in love with her first husband, Nadir Khan. However, with
her typical assiduousness, she trains herself to fall in love with
her new husband by focusing on one part of his body or personality
at a time, echoing the courtship of her mother and father through
the perforated sheet. Without fully being aware of it, she slowly
transforms her new house into the basement she used to live in,
and Ahmed gradually begins to resemble Nadir Khan as he puts on
weight and loses his hair.
One morning, two of Ahmed’s business associates, Mr. Mustapha
Kemal and Mr. S. P. Butt, arrive at Ahmed and Amina’s house. The
men tell Ahmed about a fire at one of his warehouses, set by a radical
anti-Muslim organization named Ravana, after a many-headed demon.
On the street, a young man named Lifafa Das calls out for people
to come “see the world” through his peepshow box. The peepshow contains
as many postcard images as Lifafa could find depicting global scenes.
As eager young children surround him, one girl starts a chant, scorning
Lifafa as a Hindu. Soon, others join in, and a mob forms, accusing
Lifafa of being a rapist. Amina brings Lifafa into her house, securing
his safety by announcing to the crowd that they’ll have to kill
her, a pregnant woman, before she’ll let them harm him. In exchange
for saving his life, Lifafa offers to take Amina to see his cousin,
a great seer who will tell her unborn child’s fortune. Musa, a household
servant, says nothing, although Saleem notes that Musa will eventually
be responsible for destroying the world, albeit by accident.
Saleem questions the roles that chance and providence
play in determining the future. He wonders about his father’s perspective
on fate as it relates to Saleem’s own impending birth and considers
the role time plays in the partition of India. He notes that what’s
true isn’t necessarily what’s real and briefly introduces his ayah,
or nanny, Mary Pereira and the stories she told him during his childhood.
Amina Sinai sets off to visit the seer as her husband
sets off, with money hidden under his coat, to pay off the Ravana.
The narrative jumps back and forth between these two clandestine
journeys. As Amina leaves the city in a taxi with Lifafa, she loses
her “city eyes” and becomes aware of the abject poverty around her:
the beggars, cripples, and starving children clutching at her saris.
Meanwhile, Ahmed, surrounded by the stench of failure, is consumed
by his money problems and the knowledge that he will never rearrange
the Quran in chronological order, as he has always wanted too. Saleem relates
a host of disappointments and missed opportunities that will haunt
his unhappy father for the rest of his life, as well the tragic deaths
awaiting Ahmed’s companions, Mustapha Kemal and S. P. Butt. Lifafa
reassures and comforts the frightened Amina as they walk up dark
steps, past cripples, to the room where Lifafa’s cousin appears
to be sitting six inches above the ground. Ahmed and his companions
follow the orders of the Ravana and deposit the money at an ancient
fort overrun with wild monkeys who are taking the building apart
brick by brick. In the room with the prophet, Ramram, Amina lets
him touch her belly, at which point he falls into a trance and begins
to deliver an almost incomprehensible prophecy. He tells her that
her son will never be older or younger than his country and there
will be two heads, knees, and a nose. He eventually collapses onto
the floor, overwhelmed by what he has seen. At the temple, wild
monkeys attack the Ravana members assigned to collect the ransom,
and Ahmed and his associates begin scrounging to re-collect their
money. As a result, the Ravana burn down the men’s warehouses. Ahmed
decides to get out of the leather business and move to Bombay, where
land is cheap. On June 4, as Earl Mountbatten announces the partition
of India into two separate nations, Ahmed and Amina board a train
Historical patterns become more apparent now, as Saleem
reflects on the incidents leading up to India’s independence as
well as on his parents’ relationship. The role of the perforated
sheet, which first appeared in the love affair between Aadam and
Naseem, seems to be reprised between Ahmed and Amina. One person
falls in love with the other through a series of isolated glimpses,
creating affection in a piecemeal fashion. This approach fared poorly
for Aadam and Naseem, who, after falling in love with each other
in parts, failed to recognize each other as whole people. Whether
the same will be true of Ahmed and Amina’s relationship remains
to be seen. However, as these patterns grow clearer, a sense of
inevitability begins to emerge. Indian history seems to be moving
inexorably toward independence, and the power of Amina’s reenactment
of the perforated sheet proves so great that it seems to physically
transform Ahmed Sinai into Nadir Khan. However, just as the formal
patterns of the novel are becoming increasingly complex, Saleem
casts doubt over his reliability as a narrator. Saleem tells us
that Dr. N.Q. Balliga has rejected Saleem’s self-diagnosis and that
the doctor cannot find any cracks on his body. Saleem takes the
parallels between India and his physical body as evidence of the
fact that he, as an individual, represents the totality of Indian
history. If that piece of evidence is questioned, it is possible—and
perhaps wise—to doubt all the patterns and parallels that Saleem
has so painstakingly insisted upon.
The incident with Lifafa Das represents another manifestation
of the tension between pluralism and singularity. Lifafa’s peepshow box
literally symbolizes the concept of looking at the world through a
multiplicity of perspectives and viewpoints. The mob that surrounds
him, however, can only see Lifafa’s religion and nearly kills him
because of its singular view. The allusion in these chapters to Ravana,
a many-headed demon from the Indian epic the Ramayana, emphasizes
the frightening specter of mob mentality. The incident with the
peepshow box exemplifies the nationwide tension already threatening
to tear India apart along religious lines. That tearing will, of
course, become literal once India gets divided into the Hindu India
and Muslim Pakistan.
That Saleem’s birth should first be proclaimed to an angry
mob foreshadows the intensely public role Saleem will play for the
rest of his life. This event also provides a glimpse into the world
he will be born into, a world divided by religious tension and constantly threatened
by outbreaks of violence. As the story draws closer to his birth
and India’s independence, Saleem begins to cryptically foreshadow
many forthcoming events. He introduces his ayah, Mary Pereira, and
enigmatically refers to Musa’s destruction of the world, as well
as the role of fate, chance, and lies. The prophecy of Ramram represents
the most significant and explicit example of foreshadowing in these
sections: although we can understand very little of what he says
at this point, his divination will prove crucial.
Amina’s experience with Ramram includes a shocking, vivid
portrayal of the destitution and abject poverty that afflicts so
much of India. In the world of Midnight’s Children,
the magical and the squalid are interconnected. As Amina encounters
the impoverished people she had once ignored, Ahmed and his business
associates carry huge bags of money earmarked for a terrorist ransom.
When the Ravana members drop the money, Saleem describes Ahmed and his
partners scrounging through dirt and feces to pick it up, just as starving
men, women, and children beg Amina for spare change in order to
survive. The narrative deliberately oscillates back and forth between
these two scenes, calling attention to the drastic divide that separates
rich from poor in India.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Midnight’s Children!