Caught behind but not out!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Midnight's Children

This blog has taken two weeks to create. That’s how long I took to find time amidst the crevices of the day to read the book. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children. The story reinforces something which I keep pointing out to myself everytime- its not the story that counts but how the story has been told. The book I must warn you is tedious reading. It requires effort to read it and really see the different layers that unfold as the book progresses. Rushdie handles his characters with ease. Each one of the characters has a significant role. Probably the kind of movie in which every character is hero and villain personified.

The protagonist of the book is Saleem Sinai, the narrator. He is one of the 1001 children born when India breathed freedom. Those born closer to the midnight hour hold greater powers than others. There are children who have the power to change form, pass through mirrors, travel through time etc. Saleem, who was born exactly “at the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps……” has the power to read minds. He is the most powerful of them all.

Apparently the book has some underpinnings in Gunter Grass’s The Tin drum. I haven’t read the book but its definitely up on my reading list.

The prophecy of the birth of Saleem Sinai unfolds in a very interesting manner. That’s something I might not be able to delve into but however for the sake of completeness I must include it.

A son……..A son, Sahiba, who will never be older than his motherland- neither older nor younger. ……..There will be two heads but you shall see only one- there will be knees and a nose, a nose and knees. ..listen carefully, Padma; the fellow got nothing wrong! “Newspapers shall praise him, two mothers shall raise him.! Bicyclists love him, but crowds will shove him! Washing will hide him- voices will guide him! Friends mutilate him- blood will betray him! Spitoons will brain him- doctors will drain him- jungle will claim him – wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him- tyrants will fry him. He will have sons without having sons. He will be old before he is old.. And he will die….before he is dead

In a nutshell, that’s the whole book! All 533 pages knotted down to a few lines. Easy isn’t it?

Saleem enters a classic Prince and the pauper scenario where two children born at the midnight hour in the hospital are switched. The one to be doomed to poverty ends up under affluent circumstances. Saleem’s distinguishing feature is his long nose. Shiva, the child who by the twist of fate ends up in poverty has powerful knees- the power endowed by midnight. The name Shiva is no accident- he is the procreator and the destroyer.(Recall the prophecy, nose and knees, knees and nose)

A very interesting note which I cant resist mentioning. The Prime minister, Nehru, writes a letter to Saleem Sinai:

Dear baby Saleem , My belated congratulations on the happy accident of your moment of birth! You are the newest bearer of that ancient face of India which is also eternally young. We shall be watching over your life with the closest attention; it will be a sense, the mirror of our own.

Saleem continues to narrate about how every blow India took hurt him as well. He takes blame for the fortunes and miseries of India. (Disbelief is best discarded!)

Rushdie is full of clever lines throughout the book. For instance, history reaches the stage where Gandhi is shot by Godse. Every muslim is in hiding until the name of the shooter was out. Nathuram Godse.

Thank God, Amina burst out, its not a muslim name”. And Aadam, upon whom the news of Gandhi’s death had placed a new burden of age: “This Godse is nothing to be grateful for!”……….”Why not, after all? By being Godse he has saved our lives!

The story progresses quickly as Saleem’s life undergoes several twists and he ends up in Pakistan post partition. Rushdie’s love for Bombay is very clear in these instances and his eagerness to bring Saleem Sinai back to where he belonged is evident. That’s what eventually happens.

The several layers of the book also slowly reveal themselves. Saleem writes:

….I had also been overwhelmed by an agonizing feeling of sympathy for the country which was not only my twin in birth but also joined to me (so to speak) at the hip, so that what happened to either of us, happened to us both. If I, snot- nosed and stain faced etcetera, had had a hard time of it the so had she, my sub continental twin sister; and now that I had given myself the right to choose a better future, I was resolved that the nation should share it too.

Such was the conjoined nature of Saleem’s life. Shiva’s story keeps playing its own tune in the background and intertwines into Saleem’s life when he returns to India from Pakistan. It is here that the story takes drastic turns and Rushdie’s vents his fury against Ms. Gandhi. His life passes through the peak of her regime and the chaotic times of emergency. Rushdie alludes to Ms. Gandhi’s hair – black and white- as reflecting the duality of evil that lies within. Referring to her as ‘the Widow’ he squarely blames her for the ensuing pit that his life falls into.

And as the story progresses down the long winding road where the end is near. Saleem Sinai ends up in a pickle factory run by the nurse who switched the children at the midnight hour- his second mother. (remember the prophecy!) I cant refrain from pointing this out as it builds to a very clever line which interjects its way:

One day, perhaps, the world may taste the pickles of history. They may be too strong for some palates, theur smell may be overpowering, tears may rise to eyes; I hope nevertheless that it will be possible to say of them that they possess the authentic taste of truth….that they are despite everything, acts of love.

The story at this point comes a full circle. Saleem Sinai’s tumultuous life is about to end.
As Rushide, beautifully puts it “….because it is the privilege and curse of midnight’s children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes and to be unable to live or die in peace.”

So ends the book. Midnight’s children. Its very hard to capture the entire essence of the book or to give some flavour of the story that it is. I hope I have done well.


This book won the 1981 Booker prize and followed it up with a 1993 Booker of Bookers.

In the book, Saleem Sinai narrates the story to Padma. Interestingly Padma Lakshmi is Rushdie's present love interest.

Other interesting links for the more enthused:

Review by the Times Literary Supplement
More quotes from Wikiquote
A feature on Times list of all time 100 novels


  • Hey Kau!
    U have given a good description of the story...and i am tempted to read...though I might not end up reading!
    But I guess this descrition will do for me!

    By Blogger Vignesh, at 1:04 AM  

  • Vignesh, Thanks a lot. :-) I'm glad you liked it

    By Blogger Kaushik, at 5:33 AM  

  • Good post, though you don't seem to think so highly of the book. Weirdly, it makes me want to read the book.

    By Blogger Aarthi, at 11:11 AM  

  • Aarthi, au contraire I liked the book very much. I'm not sure what really gave u the impression I didnt like it :-)

    By Blogger Kaushik, at 1:18 PM  

  • The book is a must read for anybody who enjoys a book where characters are built up as the story goes on. Towards the middle of the book you really start seeing things as Saleem sees them.

    I didn't see any similarity with 'The Tin Drum', which is much tougher to read than this. The story there is also an autobiography by the narrator and starts from his birth but the story gets interesting only when he wills himself not to grow up.

    By Anonymous IndianPad, at 11:13 PM  

  • Indianpad, that's so true! the book really grows on you. I'm looking forward to reading the Tin drum. Thanks for the warning :-)

    By Blogger Kaushik, at 12:03 AM  

  • kaushik,
    you got me hooked again! becoz thia book is a beauty...specially for a mumbaiite like me. and i totally agree that it is not just the story that matters but how it is told...and salman rushdie is brilliant there.
    the book consumes you..becoz it is not just easy reading but interweaves so many things,stories and even histories.
    cool man. you did a good job.

    By Blogger nishwish, at 8:46 AM  

  • Thnaks a lot dude! Mumbai must definitely be an awesome place. I really want to come there sometime.

    By Blogger Kaushik, at 12:17 PM  

  • Kau you have tempted me to read this book...would do it post term exams...

    By Blogger Padma, at 8:20 AM  

  • hi kau
    i'm just reading the book about to finish it. this is the first book that is occupying my mind so much .
    you told that midnight's chikldren are gifted what i percieve is that the author has expressed realities into fantasies. in the later part also parvati captures him into a box and also reminds him his name there he is telling she gave him new life not excatly that she actually puts him into box

    By Blogger sangeeta, at 10:45 PM  

  • I’m planning to get my nose straightened… I find this is good info for people who would try to know something about rhinoplasty

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:59 AM  

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