Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 2 My Tenth Birthday Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, My Tenth Birthday | Summary

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Summary

Padma has returned, declaring her love and carrying with her an herbal potion she has concocted at the advice of a holy man. She has spiked Saleem Sinai's food with the potion designed to cure impotence. The potion works, and it doesn't. Saleem is delirious for a week, too ill to move, and according to Padma, "stiff as a board."

Saleem appreciates Padma's efforts, which have put him in touch with the "world of ancient learning and sorcerers." That is, he has regained valuable parts of the Indian past. He begins a digression on ancient legend and recovers when Padma rushes for a cold towel to revive him. Believing himself close to death, Saleem regains the will to continue to the "heart" of his story, to "write in plain unveiled fashion, about the midnight children."

He returns to his birth date and the birth of India. On that date 1,001 children were born between midnight and 1 a.m. within the borders of India, all with "miraculous" talents or faculties. It is unclear, he states, if a similar miracle occurred in Pakistan. By 1957, 581 surviving children were nearing their 10th birthdays. The most gifted of midnight's children were born closest to the stroke of 12. Among them was Parvati-the-witch, born with exceptional gifts of conjuration and sorcery. Only two of the midnight children, Saleem and Shiva, were born exactly at 12 o'clock. Shiva was given the gifts of war, and Saleem, the ability to "look into the hearts and minds of men." Born, according to Indian legend, in the "Age of Darkness," the two found it easy to be brilliant but "confused about being good." Padma doubts Saleem's account, although he swears its truth.

In the meantime, the Sinai household has become a den of disorder. Saleem recounts his father's slow decline. Ahmed Sinai had tantrums at breakfast, ignored his family, and finally closeted himself in his downstairs office with a female secretary. After having liquefied his assets, he spent his days playing the stock market by telephone. Ahmed's great financial success exceeded Amina Sinai's good fortune in her betting days.

Ahmed, however, had lost touch with reality, and his behavior became increasingly strange. He bought a series of pets whose pedigrees were falsified: a common budgie sold to him as a bulbul (Indian nightingale) and an Alsatian whose champion bloodlines were misrepresented. When the bird died, Ahmed began experiments on a stray dog who had adopted the family. When the stray dog died, Ahmed purchased the Alsatian as a birthday gift for Saleem. The second dog died of venereal disease.

The reigning chaos extended to employed members of the household. Mary Pereira convinced her sister, Alice, to take a position as Ahmed's secretary. Mary was haunted by dreams of Joseph D'Costa and finally began to see his ghost around the house. She recognized that she would not be free until she confessed her role in switching the boys at birth. Loving Saleem too much, she continued to suffer, unable to reveal her secret.

Although the Indian economy, rooted in manufacturing, increased far beyond what it had been under the British, Jawaharlal Nehru's second Five Year Plan expanded from the attention to agriculture in the first plan to concentration on other aspects of modernization, including, most notably, education and industry. According to Saleem, the failure was related to the weather: freak storms and hail and floods from a cloudless sky. And illiteracy, despite expanded efforts and, in part, because of an expanding population, was proving intractable.

To make matters worse for Saleem, Evelyn Lilith Burns, who had become an archenemy, led a group of Saleem's one-time friends to take over the clocktower, thus depriving him of his shelter, his private hiding place. Also, Saleem chose subterfuge as he recognized the frequency of his mother's outings to the Pioneer Café and decided to follow her to uncover her secret.

Analysis

On Saleem's 10th birthday, which was also the 10th anniversary of Indian independence, India is grappling with unresolved problems and a weak economy. Still, nearly 200,000,000 people voted in the largest general election ever held in the world. Eighty percent of the voters were illiterate and accommodations were made, including ballots with photos of the candidates. For those who couldn't sign their names, thumbprints were accepted. In a change of regime and shifting public sentiments, the Communist Party began its ascent, becoming the largest single opposition party to the All-India Congress.

Saleem cites the formation of his "own gang," a gang spread out over the whole country with headquarters "behind [his] eyebrows." True to his version of his importance to the new nation, Saleem's leadership of the midnight children seems a development parallel to the election results and a portent, perhaps, of his mother's participation in Communist Party politics.

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