Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 2 Jamila Singer Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, Jamila Singer | Summary

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Summary

The Sinais moved into the home of Alia Aziz, the embittered Aziz sister who never married. There, Saleem Sinai claimed the power of his drained nose, the power of sniffing out the truth. Not drawn to Karachi, Saleem explored the city on a Lambretta (motor scooter) and found there the "fatalistic hopelessness of the slum dwellers and the smug defensiveness of the rich." He complains that "submission" is the "name of the faith upon which the city stood." Blessed by a mullah (educated religious man) in attendance at the groundbreaking, the American-style house that Ahmed Sinai had chosen was in the works. At 16 Saleem recognized that he and the subcontinent's new nations had left childhood behind. He recognized moreover in the history of Pakistan and in his present time inherited ideas of "self-denial, hatred-of-Hindus, holy war." Although his parents declared that "we must all become new people," Saleem was "forever tainted with Bombayness," a respect for diversity that begins with "all sorts of religions." He is highly critical of Karachi, ruled by submission to religion.

Ahmed, on the other hand, was more involved in business than religion, manufacturing towels (Amina brand) as a means to success. Economic gain is in the cards for the Sinais, not only in Ahmed's business enterprise but also in the commercial success of Jamila Singer.

Major (retired) Alauddin Latif, later named Uncle Puffs by Jamila, was an impresario who made Jamila famous. He also had promised Ahmed that Jamila's purity would be protected. When she finally appeared to an adoring public, she wore a white burqa adorned with gold embroidery and a three-inch hole behind which she sang. Pakistan fell in love with the 15-year-old girl who sang through a perforated sheet.

And sister-love became the rationale for his interest in "women of the street." He found his match in the "whore of whores," Tai Bibi, who claimed to be 512 years old.

When Padma learns of Saleem's disastrous adventure with Tai Bibi, she is revolted. Saleem turns to a new narrative, a fairy tale, to distract her. In the fairy tale Saleem, faced with his lust for his sister in the middle of the night, confesses his love. He reminds Jamila that they are not related by blood. When she rejects him, Saleem notes that the literal truth (he is not her brother) has been overruled by a truth made by the holiness of passing time.

The tale ends with election results, the "crushing" victory of the Muslim League over the Combined Opposition Party.

Analysis

Saleem's sense of smell is highly developed, and what he smells informs his knowledge. Alia, and Karachi and Islam, are identified by their objectionable odors: acquiescence and conformity, intelligence and stupidity, sadness and joy. Saleem and Jamila seem to possess complementary talents: he can sniff out ugliness and despair, while her songs produce poignancy and beauty. Saleem's ability to know the world through the senses and to understand Jamila's singing as a correspondent vehicle for primal knowledge resonates with the system of cracks and leaks at the metaphorical level of the text. Things, even people, have a way of leaking into each other; the blue of the sky has a habit for dripping into Kashmiri eyes; streams of abuse pour from Tai Bibi; and "certainly Padma is leaking into me. As history pours out of my fissured body, my lotus is quietly dripping in, with her down-to-earthery." When the rains failed, dust ate the road, and Alia has "vengeful odors leaking out of her glands"—acrid fumes of envy.

Saleem experiments with categorization. For his work to have any value it must acquire "moral dimensions." Although he learned to distinguish between good and evil, at 16 he preferred the course of evil. Or so he confesses. The evil is his interest in prostitutes and the revelation wrought when Tai Bibi exudes Jamila's fragrance and accuses Saleem of what he knows is the truth: his sister-love.

Saleem's case of sister-love with a woman behind a perforated sheet recalls his grandfather's courtship of Naseem Ghani and suggests an identification between Saleem and Aadam Aziz. The question of truth is raised in this correspondence since genealogically Saleem and Dr. Aziz are not relatives—except in the history of belief and family stories.

When Padma objects to the direction of his narrative, Saleem recovers by telling the fairy tale in which he confessed his love to Jamila. She rejects him even though they are not related by blood. And he thought about how weak that truth is in the context of family relations, of the time he and Jamila spent as siblings.

The chapter begins with Saleem thinking about his "Bombayness," his preference for Bombay over Karachi. It ends with his application of the truth, a definition he develops out of his recognition of the ambiguity of his own truth with respect to the Sinai family and his version of the truth in an analysis of the cities of his childhood and adolescence.

At the end of the chapter, Saleem learns of Pakistan's election results and the victory of the Muslim League. He thinks about the difference between his Indian childhood and his Pakistani adolescence, the former governed by an "infinity of alternative realities," and the latter by an infinity of falsenesses, unrealities, and lies. His takeaway is that truth is relative, and no nation has a "monopoly of untruth."

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