Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 2 Love In Bombay Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, Love in Bombay | Summary

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Summary

It is "Ramzan, the month of fasting," and the Muslims at Methwold Estates go to the movies to avoid the pangs of hunger—and repentance. Saleem Sinai recalls the arrival of Evelyn Lilith Burns on New Year's Day 1957. He recalls the typical nature of love affairs around age 10: at the movies Evie was sitting next to Sonny Ibrahim, whom she loved, who was sitting next to Jamila Singer, whom he loved, who (unable to love according to her brother) was sitting next to the aisle and feeling hungry. Evie arrived on a silver Arjuna Indiabike, speeding and doing stunts in circles around the surprised observers. She had a pellet gun with which she dispatched targets as she rode. Saleem admitted that he fell instantly in love with the American girl.

Sonny, in love with the Brass Monkey, was given his due, punished by Saleem's sister and her cohort, a group of 15-year-old Europeans who swam in a local, racially segregated pool. The girls attacked Sonny and stripped him, leaving him nude and humiliated as they headed for the school bus. At the same time, a variety of political groups agitated for everything from rest homes for sacred cows to rights of inheritance for Hindu women. Change was in the air.

Sonny convinced Saleem to make his case with the Brass Monkey in exchange for Sonny's appeal to Evie Burns for Saleem. Saleem decided to learn to ride a bike, assuming that was the way to Evie's heart. With Saleem on Evie's bike and Sonny on his blue bike, Saleem lost control and a fortuitous crash ensued. In midair and head to head, the bulging temples of Saleem come into perfect contact with the hollows on Sonny's forehead. The connection produces the clear signals of midnight's children in Saleem's head.

Saleem, without a chance to quietly explore this development, was rushed off to Agra to his grandfather's home for his recovery at a family reunion. There, he encountered his Auntie Emerald Aziz, married to General Zulfikar, now a major general and the seventh richest man in Pakistan. He saw his grandfather as an old man, worn out by time, with a notable shadow at the core of his being. Saleem also befriended Rashid, the rickshaw boy who hid Nadir Khan in a cornfield. Nadir taught Saleem to ride a bicycle, a feat he concealed from his parents. The Sinais' leave-taking from the family was abrupt after the Brass Monkey incinerated General Zulfikar's boots.

Although the States Reorganization Committee reported their findings to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955, nothing was done until a year later. India has been divided anew into 14 states and six territories. The boundaries did not respect terrain but instead circumscribed language groups, "walls of words." Bombay state had not been divided and instead divisions were marked by competing political parties and dominated by marches and riots. Saleem, pushed on his bicycle by Evie Burns, found himself on a bike at the center of a violent march that ended with the partition of the state of Bombay. He believed that his chanting of a Gujarati slogan taken up by the marchers triggered the violence that led to partition.

Before his encounter with the marchers, Saleem had used his new sensibilities to enter Evie Burns's head. What he believed he had found were memories of the violent death of Evie's mother at the girl's hand. What he learned from Evie's wrath, the last time he ever saw her, was that "when you go deep inside someone's head, they can feel you in there." Finally, he recognized that although women have played important roles in his life, the hole in his center, inherited from his grandfather, is about more, about the consideration of "all possibilities—they always made me a little afraid."

Analysis

This is a chapter about testing possibilities, about cooperation and its failures. The range, as in all of the chapters, moves between the personal and the political and plays with literary potential as well. Here ambiguity as a goal operates blatantly at the linguistic level, asking us to seriously consider bad puns and a sort of carefree silliness as part of a serious literary production. To consider the pun is to recognize how incompatible meanings bang together and implode. The pun does not operate out of polar oppositions, binary terms, but out of two distinct and incompatible meanings. It is the clash in simultaneous and incongruously paired meanings that sets the comedic tone. Purposefully, the chapter operates out of the atmosphere and politics of prepubescent love while documenting the growing pains of an evolving nation. Possibility and its defeat are at the core of this section.

This work about political development is also about linguistic possibilities: here bad puns, which are the ghosts of wit in the human comedy, are about toying in unconventional ways with literary allusion and the meaning of words. This is fun and games in a chapter that tests possibility and concludes that the experiments make one "a little afraid." Saleem, the writer, in this sense, is fearless.

This section introduces Evelyn Lilith Burns, whose very name announces the theme of ambiguity. She is Eve the innocent and Lilith the temptress, a violent and showy American, a troublemaker with the potential for burning. She shows up with her Daisy air pistol, a gun whose brand is incompatibly named for a wild flower. Evie fires her Daisy at a wreath of flowers, a "chain," that Saleem has purchased for her. For Saleem, despite or perhaps because of this compelling behavior, she was Eve, "the Adam's-apple of my eye." To unpack: there is a "chain," as in (by close association on the line) "daisy chain," an expression for an orgiastic linking of bodies, a hint of the rank and unexplored eros at the scene, an allusion as a sort of atmospheric joke about unexplored, virginal sexual impulses. Then there is that Adam's apple, as though the whole thing sticks in the throat and conflates the folksy apple of my eye cliché with this allusion, from another genre entirely, to the Hebrew Bible's Adam and Eve.

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