While Part One of the book is a macro view of historical background and family genealogy dating back a few generations, Part Two is what we’re all waiting for, the emergence of Midnight’s Children, in particular, our young hero Saleem Sinai. This present section of our Read-Along is the first part of Book Two, ending with the chapter ‘Alpha And Omega’.
We see Saleem Sinai growing up from a protected infant doted on by mom Amina and maid Mary to a thinking, mature, yet mildly timid and clumsy ten year-old. He shares his childhood in the family with his sister Brass Monkey, one year younger, ‘untamed, unfeminine’. Faced with the ambivalence of sibling rivalry and camaraderie, he learns in time the axiom that blood is thicker than water.
By all standards, Saleem’s first ten years (so far) have been eventful. Not long after his birth, Ghandi is assassinated. Saleem’s father Ahmed’s assets are frozen but later rescinded by the court. He spies on his mother and follows her secretly as she meets her ex-husband, now the Communist Party leader.
Saleem’s great sense of imagination is nurtured by various cultural traditions, a generous share of fairy tales, super heroes and the cinema.
Hatim Tai and Batman, Superman and Sinbad helped to get me through the nearlynine years… I became Aladdin, voyaging in a fabulous cave… I imagined Ali Baba’s forty thieves hiding in the dusted urns… I turned into the genie of the lamp… I was mild-mannered Clark Kent protecting my secret identity…
Other memorable episodes include a first taste of unrequited love from his crush on Evie Burn. As for school, colonial traditions stay. Saleem goes to a Christian mission school where he gets his multi-cultural exposure. Some learning is hard, that’s expected. But he gets more than his fair share as he tastes the ultimate in corporal punishment and humiliation as a clump of his hair is pulled out by his Peruvian geography teacher. Later in the school dance, in front of his new crush Masha Moviac, he shows her he is a man after all as he knees his insulters. Mayhem ensues that ends with a mutilated finger in the emergency room. I can see lots of movie moments, hilarious yet endearing.
But above all, growing up in Methwold’s Estate and his part of Bombay is a close encounter with multiplicity. And to a young boy tossed in the net of a myriad of interwoven cultural strands, Saleem is preoccupied with the search for an identity. Further, with his secret, supernatural gift of tuning into other people’s mind, he eagerly looks for a purpose and meaning to his life. And here is how Rushdie so brilliantly parallels Saleem’s birth to that of a nation.
On my tenth birthday, everyone at Methwold’s Estate tried hard to be cheerful, but beneath this thin veneer everyone was possessed by the same thought: “Ten years, my God! Where have they gone? What have we done?
Saleem holds a Midnight’s Children Conference right in his mind, he himself the self-imposed leader of the 581 surviving Midnight’s Children, all born with unusual gifts. His leadership is challenged by none other than his changeling, Shiva, born at the stroke of midnight with him. While Saleem ponders on the purpose and reason for his supernatural power, his counterpart Shiva, coming from the slums, opposes him with the facts of life:
Rich kid,” Shiva yelled, “you don’t know one damn thing! What purpose, man? What thing in the whole sister-sleeping world got reason, yara? For what reason you’re rich and I’m poor? Where’s the reason in starving, man? God knows how many millions of damn fools living in this country, man, and you think there’s a purpose! Man, I’ll tell you–you got to get what you can, do what you can with it, and then you got to die. That’s reason, rich boy. Everything else is only mother-sleeping wind!
Crisp and simple. Existential pondering a luxury to many… ?
How I look forward to the rest of the book, and the movie. BTW, it has been shown to selective previewers, who were told not to write any reviews as yet. They sure know how to build up expectations and curiosity.
If you’ve written a post on this section, do let us know in a comment. I’ll add your link on the list.
Next section: Book Two, Part B. From ‘The Kolynos Kid’ to the end of Book Two. Share your view May 31st. You still have time to catch up if you like to start the book now.