The novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ was written by author Salman Rushdie. Through this novel, we explore the historical chronicles centering on the life of Saleem Sinai, the protagonist of the story, who was born at the precise moment of India’s Independence from the colonial powers of Great Britain. It focuses on Saleem’s recollection of a sequence of events that led to the Independence of the Indian subcontinent on August 15th, 1947. He plays a significant role in shaping the history of India and the lives of other characters.
He starts by informing us about his birth that coincided with India’s Independence. We immediately sense that he is an important representative of India. He begins by narrating the account of his grandfather – Aadam Aziz, in Kashmir of 1915.
Aadam has Quranic significance and is referred to Adam – the first man on Earth. Adam and Eve resided in the bountiful Garden of Eden. Kashmir is similar to Paradise in terms of its serene beauty. Aadam’s marriage to Naseem advances the plot, just like Adam and Eve led to the beginning of life on Earth.
The character Tai is the foremost representative of magic realism – which Rushdie uses ingeniously as a post-colonialist device to refer to extraordinary events and characters. Tai has been living from one generation to another. What make him so intriguing are his craziness, ambiguity and warped mentality. Later in the story, Aadam fantasizes his mother transforming into a lizard and sticking out her poisonous tongue. He felt his mother was holding him back from what he wanted to do, hence, leading to his confinement and suffocation. This also signifies mind’s tricks on perception – a consequence of traumatic childhood experiences that alter our perspective. In certain cases, cinema becomes the vehicle for magic realism. Lifafa Das is an Indian cinema arch-type eccentric person who is verbally harassed, attacked and forced to leave. The fortune-teller - Ramran also plays a crucial role in foreshadowing the upcoming events. Saleem prepares us for the crucial hour of his arrival and departure of the British.
The perforated sheet metaphorically represents fragmented love and a limited perception of life as everything is viewed through a lens. It also relates to disconnection and broken homes and families that result from the Partition. It also has a biblical reference to Adam and Eve who were invisible to each other despite being completely exposed. This fragmented love proves to be detrimental as it leads to marital complications between Aadam and Naseem. Much emphasis has been laid on knees and nose. Whereas nose is symbolic of heritage and is useful as a warning of tumultuous events, knees signify humility and respect. On the contrary, the three drops of blood relate to family ties, three generations and physical relationships.
Rushdie has emphasized on family life which is apparent when every important event in the family coincides with a significant moment in history. For instance, the day Aadam sees Naseem’s face for the first time is when the World War ends. In another case, the day Naseem breaks her vows of silence is when America drops the bomb in Japan. Rushdie used this literary device to enable us to remember important family events. Moreover, the public announcement of Saleem’s birth coincides with the Cabinet Mission’s announcement of India and Pakistan’s division.
In the midst of Saleem’s historical account, we encounter Padma who plays a crucial role in the novel as a listener and the readers’ voice of reason. A matronly figure, she prevents Saleem from drifting away into excessive fantasy. He fears breaking apart into 630 million pieces – the population of India. He is symbolic of India of modern times and considers himself a manifestation of Indian history. His crumbling body is a metaphor of the Partition and highlights the theme of fragmentation leading to events of alteration and disintegration of Indian traditions. Indian lifestyle is disappearing slowly; it will never be the same again. The red medicine, Mercurochrome, signifies bloodshed during the Partition. The colour red is symbolic of blood and fury. Inundation and devastation is often the result of brutal mob mentality, implying the capabilities of human beings, such as when an attacking mob decided to kill the single Hindu in a Muslim community – Lifafa Das. This situation highlights the prevailing ethnic, religious and racial tensions during that time in India. Additionally, the killing of Mian Abdullah is symbolic of India’s declining hope and unison. Despite disintegration, people were living with positive perspectives towards life, in essence, denying reality that could be detrimental in the long-term – a situation called the “optimism epidemic.”
Towards the end of the story, it becomes clear that Saleem’s history is actually Shiva’s history – the boy he gets switched with by Mary Pareira. At that precise moment, British occupation of the Indian subcontinent comes to a drastic end.
The novel is written in first-person narrative. Salman Rushdie is known for his haphazardous and heavily descriptive content and disorganized writing style. His confusion concerning important historical dates makes him an increasingly unreliable narrator. At times it becomes hard to follow the narrator due to simultaneous, perplexing narration of events of the past and present. This is referred to as a ‘stream of consciousness’ where many events that do not take place simultaneously are narrated at the same time. Through his vivid description, the author reveals his gift with metaphors that have been used brilliantly throughout the narration of events. These powerful metaphors, along with inflated words, give us a clear picture of events in our imagination. He is full of surprises when narrating events that we least expect and often makes them hilarious when it is supposed to be a serious novel. The whole story is like watching a Bollywood movie. Rushdie’s influence of cinema is apparent in the rapidly changing events, fragmented love and the sudden pace that he picks up at the end of the book. The whole experience is dizzying, yet fantastical, captivating and exhilarating.