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Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, Drainage and the Desert | Summary



India was on the verge of war, and the Sinais were summoned home. Ahmed Sinai had had, according to a telegram received by Amina Sinai from Alice Pereira, a "heartboot." For Saleem Sinai India's war was a foreshadowing of his own conflicts. "History had decided to put me firmly in my place," he declares.

In Bombay Alice Pereira, who had been Ahmed's main support, was lured away to work for the Narlikar women, who were responsible for the destruction of most of the estate. They were on a campaign to purchase the last remaining villa, the Sinais' Buckingham Villa. In the meantime Amina and her children returned to Bombay, and Saleem celebrated the beauty of his city and his parents' renewed love.

There was no love lost, however, between Saleem and the Midnight Children's Conference. On the very date that the Chinese defeated the Indians at the Kashmir border, the conference rebelled against Saleem. Even Parvati-the-witch noted that her friend had been "badly changed." Saleem equated his desertion by the midnight children to the disarray of the Indian troops as they left, in all directions, the scene of their defeat. He blamed the diverse troops and their petty disagreements—"bickerings, prejudices, boredom, selfishness"—for the dispersal of the troops.

Saleem continues, handcuffed to history, as he first described himself, yet creating ever more strained narratives. He thinks of Shiva and his own guilty knowledge and finally comes to see Shiva as the source of all violence that has taken over the times. Also, naming his own preferences, he talks about an Indian love of correspondences. He offers the example of the Indian flag when it was raised for the first time, flying in a field in Delhi against a rainbow of saffron and green. The correspondence was seen as a good sign, a moment for optimism and rejoicing.

With a ceasefire between India and China in effect, Ahmed and Amina proposed a picnic celebration, and instead of a picnic jaunt they took Saleem to a clinic where his sinuses were drained. In shock he recognized that he will never be able to receive information telepathically. His reward for his coming-of-age labors, however, was "the astonishing delights of possessing a sense of smell." Finally, on February 9, 1963, the family arrived in Karachi, Saleem having completed the first steps toward manhood and Jamila Singer on the path to fame and a career in which she was to be known as "Pakistan's Angel" and "Bulbul-of-the-Faith."


Saleem's four quiet years seem from the perspective of this chapter to have been a matter of exile. Pakistan's history was not his, and try as he briefly did, he could not own it. On the other hand, his return to India is imminent, with everything that means. It would seem that when Saleem, at the novel's opening, pronounces himself "handcuffed to history," it is clear that is the case, so long as the history is Indian.

All is, however, not well in India. Chinese forces are gathering at the Kashmir border. On September 9, 1962, V.K. Krishna Menon (1897–1974), the defense minister, in prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's absence, decided to use force against China, at the place on the Kashmiri border where Tibet and China and India meet. Although the Indian press reported success during the month of October, recent scholars have demonstrated in detail the failures, strategic and military, of the Indian army, its officers, and the Indian government. All had missed the level of Chinese preparation and the Indian army's shortcomings with respect to equipment, terrain, supply, and communications. The opposing forces were not on equal footing. The Chinese had a huge advantage, and a joint misunderstanding about the actual border significantly made worse the territorial dispute. In the official analysis there was less tension among the various Indian troops (as Saleem had imagined) than there was mishandling at the command level. Saleem, of course, making up everything he could not know, created the parallels between the desertion of the conference members that he suffered and the dispersal of the Indian troops. Even as the parallels failed, he was driven to recreate them.

At the same time that his parallel narratives seem strained, Saleem calls himself a historian and childishly assumes future generations will turn to his work as a main source for the period. Saleem's reliability as a narrator comes into question, or his self-deceptions begin to fail as his parallels are less and less convincing, and the idiosyncrasies of his "history" tell readers more about him than about the historical record.

When Saleem equates troubles with his "long-suffering nasal passages" and the Indian government's response to defeat at Chinese hands, he emerges as perhaps not a historian but as an outsider who is able to read with compassion the Indian oppression of India-born Chinese. In India there were governmental measures that he could not abide. There were mob attacks on Chinese businesses, and there were internment camps for citizens of Chinese descent. Saleem claims that in that atmosphere he found it hard to breathe; he felt as though he were being asphyxiated.

Before the Sinais' leave for Karachi, Saleem had put aside childish things; he had buried the tin globe that his sister had smashed along with his birth photo from the newspaper, and the birth letter from the prime minister.

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