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Saleem describes how, during the holy fasting month of
Ramzan, he and his sister went to the movies as often as possible.
They particularly loved going on Sundays, when the movie theater
holds Metro Cub Club viewings, especially for children. There, Saleem
falls in love with an American girl, Evelyn Lillith Burns, who arrives
at Methwold’s Estate on New Year’s Day, 1957. Evelyn, however, loves
Saleem’s best friend, Sonny Ibrahim, who loves the Brass Monkey.
Saleem describes Evie’s braces and scarecrow-straw hair. A tough
girl, she impresses and conquers the children of Methwold’s Estate
on her first day by riding her bicycle while doing a headstand. Saleem
asks Sonny to speak to Evie on his behalf, and, to impress Evie,
Saleem tries to learn how to ride a bike. On his first attempt,
he crashes head-first into Sonny, his bulging temples meeting perfectly with
Sonny’s indented temples.
Saleem describes how India became organized into fourteen states
and six territories, based upon common language. Bombay, however,
remained a multilingual state. As a result, in February 1957, a
massive parade of demonstrators marched through the city, seeking
a partition of the state along linguistic lines. The children of the
estate watch the parade while Saleem tries to impress Evie with his
new bike-riding skills. She ignores him, so he delves deep into
her thoughts until he comes upon an image of her, standing in a
doorway, holding a knife that drips blood. Saleem delves so deep
into Evie’s thoughts that she can feel him there, and she pushes
him into the parade to get rid of him. Confronted by an angry, mocking crowd,
Saleem recites a rhyme in Gujarati to placate the crowd. They move
on, singing his offensive rhyme, until they run into a parade of
pro-Gujarati marchers. Throats are slit, and, in the end, the state
of Bombay is partitioned.
Padma has returned to Saleem. In an attempt to cure his
impotence, she put herbs in his food that left him delirious and
ill for a week. Still consumed by a fever, he returns to his narrative
once again. He says that during the first hour of August 15, 1947,
1,001 children were born in the newly independent India, each with
a special, miraculous power. He speculates that perhaps history,
arriving at a new frontier, wanted to endow the future with something
genuinely different from the past. Of the 1,001 children, 420 die
by the time Saleem realizes their existence, leaving 581 midnight’s
children. Saleem describes the children’s various powers, which
he discovers by traveling into their minds. He notes that the closer
to midnight the child was born, the more extraordinary the power
the child had. Parvati-the-witch has the powers of a real witch,
while Shiva, born with Saleem on the stroke of midnight, has the
power of war.
Meanwhile, Ahmed continues his steady descent into alcoholism and
isolation. Nonetheless, he remains a successful businessman, even
after all his secretaries leave him and Mary Pereira’s sister, Alice,
comes in to work for him. The ghost of Joseph D’Costa continues
to haunt Mary and will continue to do so until she confesses her
crime. Saleem’s tenth birthday arrives. He recounts all of the things
that happened that day, beginning with the failure of the government’s
Five-Year Plan, his mother’s suspicious blushing at the mention
of the word communist, and, finally, his decision
to create his own gang, the Midnight’s Children’s Conference (MCC).
From the moment Saleem and his sister begin to go to the
movies, the relationship between Saleem’s narrative and the cinema becomes
evident. Saleem pits the holiest month in Islam, Ramzan, against
the allure of the cinema. The experience of the cinema makes up
for the privations of religion, and yet this period doesn’t represent
a clash of cultures or values so much as a melding. The mirroring
of the Metro Cub Club, MCC, with those of the Midnight’s Children’s
Conference seems apt. In addition, Rushdie invests Evie with a cinematic
quality as soon as she enters the story. Riding her bike in circles
around the “Indian” children and armed with a Daisy air-gun, she
represents a childish caricature of the classical western film.
Instead of John Wayne, Methwold’s Estate has the American Evie Burns
to dictate commands and serve as the new leader of the Indians,
who fall almost immediately under her control. Given the significant
role of film in postcolonial India, Rushdie’s portrait is as much
social commentary as it is a faithful depiction of the influence of
film on a child’s imagination. The influence is also evident in
Saleem’s narrative style, which pulls back from an image and hovers over
the landscape like a camera sweeping over the city. Furthermore,
in its exuberant, populist melodramatics, Saleem’s narrative draws
on aesthetic conventions influenced by Bollywood, the massive Bombay-based
film industry that dominates cultural markets throughout the world.
Saleem’s failed attempt to woo Evie Burns is mirrored
in the pleas of the language marchers, who demand the creation of
their own language-partitioned region. In a chapter titled “Love
in Bombay,” love is the one thing that is missing. Instead of love,
frustrated desires dominate the chapter: the frustrated desire of
Sonny for the Brass Monkey, Evie for Sonny, and Saleem for Evie
all point to a world in which love is absent. In almost every case,
these desire are not only thwarted but result in acts of violence.
The theme of unrequited love continues, albeit in an altered form,
with the return of Padma, who genuinely loves Saleem yet is unable
to have a relationship with him. Even her good-natured attempt to
cure his impotence ends in a minor act of violence.
The arrival of the other midnight’s children, long-awaited
and foreshadowed, is a seminal moment in the novel. The children
are full of symbolic meaning, from their number, originally 1,001,
to their very existence. As Saleem notes, they mark a break from
the past—and perhaps an attempt on the part of history to bring
something new into the future. Their powers range from the fantastic
to the grotesque and unfortunate. To be one of midnight’s children
is not necessarily a blessing, and it can sometimes be a tragedy.
Like the ambiguity of the snakes and ladders, the midnight’s children
are also an ambiguous group—fortunate and scarred, poor and rich.
As such, they are a perfect reflection of India itself. In their
sheer numbers and range of powers, they are an argument on behalf
of plurality. They are the children of the country, and they represent
its range and scope.
Saleem notes that 1,001 is a magical number. Scheherazade,
the heroine of The Arabian Nights, tells 1,001
stories in order to delay her execution. Scheherazade is the archetypal
storyteller, and she provides a fitting model for Saleem’s own narrative
project. The number is also a palindrome, which means it can be
read both backward and forward. In this way, the number 1,001 represents
the reversal of Saleem and Shiva’s fortunes.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Midnight’s Children!