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Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 1, Under the Carpet | Summary



Aadam Aziz suffered the defeat of the Hummingbird and this early prospect for partition by burying himself in his work at the university and among the underclasses. In this he was buoyed by the affections of his favorite child, Mumtaz Aziz. When the poet hidden by Rashid, the rickshaw-wallah, after the murder of Mian Abdullah, revealed himself to Aziz, the doctor agreed to hide him in the basement of his home. Naseem Ghani objected to a single man living in a household with her three beautiful daughters. When Aziz insisted, Naseem took a vow of silence that affected the entire household, including Rashid, the rickshaw boy. The silence was so complete in Naseem's demands that it extended to the common insects and animals in the courtyard. This portion of Saleem's narrative introduces yet another genre for narrative. The silence of the insects is an element of magic realism, an interruption of the narrative's naturalism by unnatural, magical elements that support the narrative in making a point. Magic realism as a technique may be viewed as yet another fissure in the text, a break with the historical narrative, which is also a break with reality. That it tells the truth perhaps more clearly than a bald statement, which can be suspect, is part of the situational irony (in which what happens is the opposite of what is expected to happen) of a text that purports to be historically accurate.

Despite the reigning silence of humans and insects, romance flourished in the Aziz house. General Zulfikar and the youngest daughter, Emerald Aziz, fell in love, as did Ahmed Sinai and Alia Aziz, and Mumtaz and Nadir Khan, the poet hidden in the basement. It is 1945, a year of disasters: the United States bombed Hiroshima; there was worldwide flooding, and in the Aziz household romantic liaisons rose, succeeded, and failed. Mumtaz married Khan, and the couple took up a brief, happily married life in the basement.

Living under the carpet, the newlyweds playfully took up the hit-the-spittoon game, using a wedding gift from the Rani of Cooch Naheen, a jewel-encrusted spittoon. When the basement flooded, Mumtaz was forced upstairs by a fever, and her father, in his medical examination of his daughter, found the marriage had not been consummated. Emerald, outraged by this violation between her sister and the poet, ran to Zulfikar to expose the family secret, the sinful farce of the marriage, and the basement honeymoon. Khan fled, and the family celebrated the youngest daughter Emerald's marriage to Zulfikar. At the celebration, Ahmed Sinai found he and Mumtaz were better suited than he and Alia. They married, and Mumtaz, at Ahmed's urging, changed her name to Amina Sinai. Alia vowed never to marry.


In the preceding chapter, much was made of the rivalries between India's major religious groups, Muslims and Hindus. This chapter opens with a comment on further divisions, here the oppressive privileging of lighter-skinned Indians, even as the distinctions are made within the liberated Aziz family. Mumtaz, the Azizes' dark-skinned daughter, is shunned by her mother—although by the end of the chapter, Mumtaz has found love that counteracts the shame of her desertion by the impotent Nadir. Her name change is significant as she sheds Mumtaz and assumes the vital name of Amina at the advice of her appreciative husband. Saleem suggests that Ahmed, in this sense, is both husband and father to her. It may be noted in this novel about the confusions of parenthood and history that Mumtaz was also the name of the favorite wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1592–1666), who erected the Taj Mahal in her honor after she died in childbirth. A joke is contained in the allusion, as the namesake of Shah Jahan's bride is spared the tragedy of an early death since her marriage was not consummated.

The period of the chapter, the time of floods that caused worldwide disasters, is followed by drought and crop failure, and in India, a revolutionary movement cut off before it took hold. The jeweled spittoon, however, survives the failure of the basement liaison with promise for Amina and Ahmed's future. The spittoon and the game the elders play operate as allusions to the simple past of colonized India and to sexual activity and procreation. The jeweled spittoon is a vulgar allusion to the sexual act and lessening of the female body to a receptacle for bodily fluids. That it is jeweled represents a worn-out view of a traditional bride's potential worth.

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