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Saleem asserts that though he appears to be a perennial
victim, the kind of person “to whom things have been done,” he persists
in seeing himself as the protagonist of his story. He contemplates
how an individual’s life might be connected to the history of a
nation and says that he is linked to India “literally and metaphorically,
both actively and passively,” and every combination after that:
“actively-literal, passively-metaphorical, actively-metaphorically,
Saleem returns to his story, to the day he left the hospital
after losing a portion of his finger. Mary Pereira and his uncle
Hanif pick him up from the hospital instead of his parents. They
assuage his fears with promises of sweets and food as they drive
to Hanif’s home on Marine Drive. On the way, they pass a billboard
for Kolynos toothpaste, which depicts the brand mascot, the Kolynos
Kid, brushing his teeth. Grateful to his uncle and his uncle’s wife
Pia, he vows to be an exceptional son to the childless couple.
Mary stays with Saleem, feeding him enormous quantities
of food, which fuel a rapid growth spurt in him. She tells him fantastic stories
in which India’s ancient past returns to life. Now that he’s growing
up, Saleem can’t help but notice his aunt Pia’s beauty, which persists
even though her film career has begun to fade. She blames her career
failure on Hanif, who has refused to write anything besides strictly
realist film scripts, which, in the current film industry, will
never get made. Hanif and Pia only manage to make ends meet because
Homi Catrack continues to pay Hanif a studio salary. During one
of his aunt and uncle’s popular card parties, Homi Catrack hands
Saleem a note. He tells him to give it to his aunt without telling
anyone, or he’ll have Saleem’s tongue cut out. Later that evening,
Saleem has a nightmare and goes to his aunt and uncle’s bed. Curled
up next to his aunt, he hands her the note and feels her body stiffen.
The next day, she comes home and launches into a tirade against
her husband. She storms off to her bedroom, and Saleem follows.
Pia throws herself onto the bed, and, while attempting to comfort
her, Saleem is overwhelmed by his aunt’s beauty and fondles her.
Pia smacks him and calls him a pervert. Mary appears in the doorway,
embarrassed, and tells Saleem that his parents have just sent him
his first pair of long trousers.
Amina comes to the apartment on Marine Drive to bring
Saleem home. On the drive back to their house, she tells Saleem
to be good to his father, as Ahmed is unhappy these days. Saleem
recalls his mother’s indiscretion and is filled with a desire for
revenge. In the meantime, the children’s conference has been set
After returning to Methwold’s Estate, Mary Pereira discovers
that Joseph D’Costa’s ghost has fallen into decay. The ghost tells
Mary that until she confesses to having switched the babies, he
will be held responsible for her crime.
Saleem realizes that his father no longer wants anything
to do with him and that his sister, the Brass Monkey, has become
the new household favorite—a fact that surprises her as much as
it surprises him. In an attempt to lose her favored position, she
tries to become a devout Christian. Saleem notes that this is the
first instance of the Brass Monkey’s fanatical tendencies, which
come to dominate her life in later years.
The Midnight’s Children Conference begins to fall apart.
Many of the children are already beginning to go their separate
ways, as they become increasingly affected by the religious, cultural,
and class-based prejudices of their parents. Saleem and Shiva openly debate
the merits of the conference. Saleem pleads for mutual tolerance
and a sense of shared purpose, while Shiva mocks him as a naïve
“little rich boy,” full of idealistic notions.
Saleem begins to visit the old, crazy Dr. Schaapsteker.
From him, Saleem learns about snakes and how to watch for his enemies.
With his new knowledge, Saleem plots his first attack against Homi Catrack
and Lila Sabarmati to punish them for their illicit affair. He clips
out letters from newspaper headlines that, once assembled, spell
out “Commander Sabarmati Why Does Your Wife Go to Colaba Causeway
on Sunday Morning?” He hides the note in the commander’s clothes.
Commander Sabarmati hires a detective to follow his wife.
One Sunday, after receiving the investigator’s report, the commander checks
out a revolver, finds Lila and Homi Catrack, and shoots them both.
He manages to kill Homi Catrack and severely injure his wife. Afterward,
he approaches a traffic cop and tries to turn himself in. The officer
flees when he sees the gun, so Commander Sabarmati is left to direct
the traffic until a squad of police officers arrives to arrest him.
Ismail Ibrahim, the lawyer who once defended Ahmed, agrees to defend
Commander Sabarmati, as well. The Commander becomes a national hero,
and the first jury to hear his case acquits him. The judge, however,
overturns the verdict. The special treatment has turned the public
against him, and the president refuses to pardon him.
Amina never again goes to the Pioneer Café to see Qasim
Khan. The residents of Methwold’s Estate begin selling their houses
to Dr. Narlikar’s female relatives, who want to raze all the houses
and build an enormous mansion for themselves. Ahmed, still angry
over the tetrapods, refuses to sell. After everyone else has moved
off of Methwold’s Estate, Saleem sits in the yard playing with a
small globe. The Brass Monkey comes outside and crushes the globe
with her feet. Saleem speculates that perhaps she did so because
she missed Sonny Ibrahim, her long-time admirer.
Midnight’s Children represents an attempt
by both Rushdie and Saleem to write a new history of India, one
that takes all facets of the great nation into account. The hyphenated
terms Saleem generates to describe his relationship with India suggest
that there are multiple, varied, and equally legitimate ways in
which to experience—and, therefore, write—history. These new, hyphenated
definitions reflect Saleem’s intention to redefine national history
according to his own personal narrative. In order to succeed, Saleem
must bend and reshape language. Words get jammed together, just
as the details of Saleem’s life are jammed into the political history
of India. By redefining language, Saleem redefines reality. The
old, formal conventions of narrative can’t sufficiently convey this
new story, so Saleem breaks those conventions, playfully violating
the rules of time, space, and language.
The themes of nostalgia and lost innocence run throughout
these two chapters, triggered by the shocking discovery that Saleem
cannot be Ahmed and Amina’s biological son. The exile that follows Saleem’s
hospital stay bears a painful resemblance to his first days in Methwold’s
Estate, when his mother reluctantly shared the newborn Saleem out
of a sense of pride and love. Now, Saleem’s parents have banished
him from their home, sending him to live with his aunt and uncle
out of a sense of shame and confusion. The revelation about Saleem’s
true parentage represents a major shifting point in this family’s
history, one from which they can never return.
Since Saleem’s personal identity is inextricably entwined
with that of India, Saleem’s disappointments may be seen as a reflection of
the newly forming country’s own problems. Saleem wistfully describes
the timeless Kolynos Kid, trapped forever in his billboard but free
from the ravages of time and age. Saleem longs for his lost childhood
in the same way that India is currently overcome by a sense of nostalgia,
looking back longingly at its ancient past as it lurches inexorably
into the future. With every uncomfortable step forward, something
else must be discarded, a sentiment dramatically captured by Saleem’s
lost finger. Saleem’s awkward, inadvertent sexual experience with
his aunt represents a loss of a different kind of innocence. As
uncomfortable as the moment is, it marks a turning point for Saleem.
Immediately afterward, Mary shows up with new long trousers. As
Saleem trades his short pants for long ones, he takes a distinct
step into adulthood. The world as Saleem knows it is over, a point
the Brass Monkey drives home when she steps on his globe, shattering
Like Saleem and the nation of India, the children of the
conference and the families of the estate are also beginning to
shed their innocence. The midnight’s children begin to take after
their parents, developing prejudices and biases. Divisions begin
to break them up, andSaleem and Shiva’s highly philosophical debate
demonstrates the turmoil within the conference, which reflects the
political turmoil facing India at the time. Saleem’s speeches align
him with the Communist Party, while Shiva seems to espouse the benefits
of a system based on individual-focused, free-market capitalism.
India’s difficulties in moving forward are also symbolized
in Commander Sabarmarti’s trial. The debate surrounding the commander’s
innocence pits traditional and progressive values against one another.
That a judge finds Sabarmati guilty represents a victory for liberal
progress, yet the favored treatment he receives, along with the
fact that Lila is forced to abdicate custody of their children, seems
to temper that victory.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Midnight’s Children!