Midnight’s Children

by: Salman Rushdie

Accident in a Washing-chest, All India Radio

Summary Accident in a Washing-chest, All India Radio

Saleem begins hiding in an old clocktower. There, he enters the thoughts of strangers all across India, from movie stars and politicians to cab drivers and tourists. Despite his belief that he can see and know everything, Saleem fails to see Dr. Narlikar’s murder by a crowd of language marchers, who hurl him into the sea, along with his concrete tetrapod. The doctor’s death ends his father’s plan to reclaim land from the ocean. A group of very competent female relations takes over the doctor’s businesses and possessions. Shortly after Dr. Narlikar’s death, Ahmed begins to grow paler and paler. Saleem traces the cause back to the Rani of Cooch Naheen, who may, he speculates, have been the first victim of a disease that turned India’s businessmen white. He closes the chapter by noting what lies ahead—including his alter ego, Shiva, and Evelyn Lilith Burns—and by saying, as an afterthought, that Wee Willie Winkie, “in all probability,” met his death at the end of 1956.

Analysis

By burying himself in a laundry bin of dirty clothes, Saleem is able to take the first step toward realizing that important destiny he has so desperately longed for. That Saleem can only find comfort in the company of dirty clothes indiactes something about his self-perception: mocked and ridiculed by his classmates, Saleem inevitably sees himself as soiled. He finds comfort in the washing chest not only because it provides isolation but also because he sees a reflection of himself in the stained clothes. He describes his birth as crime-ridden and his face as stained, which make him a perfect match for his hiding place. At the same time, there is a direct causal link between Saleem’s hiding in a basket of dirty clothes and the discovery of what he initially believes to be his god-given powers. In Midnight’s Children, the sacred and the profane are inextricably linked. Therefore, it seems appropriate that Saleem would hear what he believes to be angels while watching his mother naked and relieving herself.

Saleem demonstrates his exalted sense of purpose, as well as his wide-ranging cultural inspiration, by comparing himself to the Hindu Ganesh, the Muslim Mohammed, and the Judeo-Christian Moses within a single chapter. This contrasts with Saleem’s other perception of himself as dirtyand also illustrates the multiplicity of religions that have played a role in India’s development. India is primarily Hindu, whereas Saleem’s family is Muslim and his ayah, Mary, is Catholic. The narrative incorporates them because all three are a part of India. The narrative, in many ways, becomes a sacred kind of text in its own right.

Undermining Saleem’s perception of his narrative as a sacred book, however, are the historical inconsistencies that he freely acknowledges. Saleem has made a mistake in his account of Gandhi’s death, an obviously seminal moment in the history of India. Yet, rather than dwell on it for too long, he insists on the primacy of his story and moves on. Narratives make their own truth and are inevitably fictitious, whether they are novels or religious texts. Saleem has created his version of reality and is determined to uphold it.

Saleem’s dedication to multiplicity finds a contrast in the language marches beginning to parade throughout India. Like the religious divisions that led to the Partition of India and Pakistan, the language marchers are concerned only with their singular, shared identity and seek to exclude others who are dissimilar. Saleem has moved from the washing chest to the clocktower, which, given the narrative’s insistence on the importance of time, is perhaps a more fitting symbol. While crowds gather in defense of a single tongue, Saleem finds inside of his head a purer form of communication that transcends the barriers of language. Given the essential nature of communication that Saleem has discovered, the differences between any one language and another are petty, since a universal thread unites us all, despite any surface differences. The babble of voices in Saleem’s head makes an argument for plurality in a country that is struggling to remain united. The citizens of India constitute an enormous range of humanity, and Saleem illustrates that wide range by traveling from the mind of a cab driver directly into 1the thoughts of the prime m

nister.