Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 2 All India Radio Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, All-India Radio | Summary

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Summary

Padma has not returned, and Saleem Sinai complains of the cracks beginning at his navel and spreading across his body like a spider's web. The heat brings memories of 1956 and his experience as a nine year old. His free association in the heat links versions of what grows in India's heat. He begins with agriculture—coconut palm, cotton, certain grains, tea, and rice—and moves on to the disagreements, marches, and riots among Indians of different ethnic and regional groups identified by their diverse languages. His own experience of the country's distinct language groups brings Saleem full circle to himself and his radiolike reception of voices from all over the country. He acknowledges that his first impression of a religious experience has been replaced by the certainty that the voices he heard were secular, "profane." With some concentration he is able to find the babble of diverse voices faded, and he could receive "universally intelligible thought-forms which far transcended words." He came to interpret these thoughts as the "unconscious beacons of the children of midnight." He could receive the thoughts of his birth peers! Eventually, he came to see he could receive the unconscious impulses of those close to him: friends and family. Wary of being thought peculiar, he learned to hide his forbidden knowledge: the fears and desires of those around him.

Cheating at school and at the same time recognizing that his special knowledge could be used for the good of the country, he recognized that he was formed by a desire to do what is right in conflict with doing what is "approved of." Hiding in the abandoned clock tower on the estates, he became a tourist-voyeur, entering the inner lives of mundane strangers and celebrities from all parts of India. Exalting in his power, he entered Jawaharlal Nehru's life and managed to bring elements of the Five Year Plan "into harmonic alignment with the music of the spheres." Understanding that he was creating a world, he saw himself as an artist, as one who could make anything happen. This was his past.

Saleem's free association persists as he recounts the events of 1956. Dr. Narlikar, who was involved in Ahmed Sinai's loss of assets in a bad business deal, renewed their affiliation, this time with no paperwork to involve Ahmed and his endangered assets. Narlikar, a gynecologist and birth control advocate, died in a riot, and, as a result, left Ahmed with no recourse but to claim the funds he had invested in the land reclamation operations the two had proposed. As time passed, Ahmed, who like many of his peers, had envied, likely unconsciously, the white skin of the British, began to turn pale. He was heard to acknowledge that "all the best people are white under the skin." Saleem recalled that many who had benefited from the first of the Five Year Plans evinced similar transformations: "The businessmen of India were turning white."

Analysis

The chapter opens with Saleem's contention: the farther one gets from the past, the "more concrete and plausible it seems." The present, by contrast, up close, cannot be seen as a whole. And to add to the difficulty of perceiving the present, small details take on "grotesque proportions."

With that warning, the reader is prepared for a memoir, a representation of reality that is concocted out of grotesque close-ups in which the truth is made from the free associations of a wandering mind, a consciousness prepared to go anywhere at all to prove his worth. The narrative of growth meanders from the diversity of produce in India's hot climate—an allusion to Nehru's Five Year Plan—to the heat of disagreement that characterizes the linguistic diversity of the population, to Saleem's acknowledgment of a moral dilemma as he recognizes his own power with respect to the diversity of voices and unconscious wishes of the population at large.

He thinks about himself as an artist, as creator of a world, and in the process comes to see and speculate on the effects of Indian independence and development just as he thinks about developmental moments in his own life. The chapter closes with Saleem's growing recognition of possible positions not couched in binarism. An earlier example occurs in the notion of poison and cure in the therapy of cobra venom in the "Snakes and Ladders" chapter. Here, it is Narlikar's position that makes him an enemy of a people whose tradition includes wealth measured in many children. It also makes him a hero among modern women who celebrate his position on birth control. The situational irony (in which what happens is the opposite of what is expected to happen) of India's attention to the potential social improvement in economic growth is balanced by the irony of whiteness among businessmen. To them success includes, presumably, the inequities and greedy potential for abuse adopted from the successful business practices of the colonizers. Here is another example of ambiguity—an appreciation of how the dilemmas of old and new, colonialist and postcolonial practice, destroy the either/or of binarist models and replace them with a third term, a reconciliation or accommodation to searing oppositions.

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