Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, Revelations | Summary

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Summary

The chapter opens with the mythology of the birth of Lord Khusro Khusrovani Bhagwan, India's "richest guru," originally, Cyrus-the-great, Saleem Sinai's classmate who disappeared from the cathedral school at age 10. Padma's acceptance of Saleem's version of Cyrus's life becomes the occasion for Saleem's acknowledgment of his unreliability as a narrator. He argues that believability is the criterion for acceptance, and Padma's reliability is his confirmation.

This revelation is followed by an account of Uncle Hanif's suicide: "Hanif Aziz espoused the cause of truth and put illusion to flight." It is no joke, however, that Hanif killed himself by flying off the roof of his apartment building. Saleem opts for his responsibility; by killing Homi Catrack, he confesses, he has killed Hanif, his uncle, as well. There seems to be no end to Saleem's willingness to entertain—even celebrate—his fault for events beyond his control. Thus, his unreliability is patent. Even if Padma believes him, the reader outside the text cannot.

The mourning family gathered in Buckingham Villa, the last of the Methwold Estate homes. Everything remaining, family and furnishings, was covered with the dust of the wrecking ball as the estate was demolished. In the clouds of dust, Saleem revisited the phantoms of the past residents and suffered the irritation of the extended family, thrown together for the long period of mourning.

One result of family conflict and family truth-telling was the reconciliation of Naseem Ghani (now known as Reverend Mother) and her daughter-in-law, Hanif Aziz's widow. Pia Aziz's mourning initially avoided the histrionics of the traditional Indian wife. Reverend Mother was irreconcilable and began one of her typical fasts in response to Pia's stolid behavior. Pia's relief began when Saleem apologized for his indiscretion with her when he was living on Marine Drive in his exile. His openness seemed to have unleashed the truth. Pia revealed her silence to represent her respect for Hanif's insistence on realism in film. Unburdened in telling her truth, Pia was able to mourn publicly and dramatically. Her sorrow unleashed all that she is, modern and open, sorrowing woman, performer, traditionally mourning widow. She was forgiven by her mother-in-law and invited to move to Pakistan and fulfill Reverend Mother's old dream, to become the proprietor of a gas station.

Aadam Aziz's failing health prevented Reverend Mother's move to Pakistan. Aziz, beset by phantoms of his past, traveled to Kashmir. Although he had had a revelation of God's presence, he retained his anger and disbelief in his unrelieved mourning for Hanif. Aziz died in Kashmir, the place of his beginning.

Mary Pereira, motivated by Aziz's vision and the return of Joseph D'Costa's decaying corpse, gathered the family to confess her sin. She named Wee Willie and Vanita, both dead, as Saleem's parents, and in her shame Mary returned to Goa and her mother. Alice Pereira, Mary's sister, remained to replace Mary as Saleem's ayah. At the end of the family's mourning period, Saleem began his "second exile."

Analysis

The demolition of the Methwold Estate marks an end to the commemorations of the raj, while the residue of British influence, marked by a persistence of aristocratic lifestyles among affluent Indians, had persisted. Hanif's death and the 40-day period of mourning force the family together, their resources sapped by the dust of demolition of the estate. Hanif the truth teller is dead, and Saleem is moving in his narrative toward an acknowledgment of the survival strategies that have affected his narrative. It's clear there are dangers for the determined truth teller, of which Hanif's fate is one example. For Saleem, Hanif's death seems to have provided an example for a heroic investment in truth telling and a caveat against it as well. Perhaps there is a third term, a way past the binarism of truth and lies in autobiography and in literature at large. Pia's reconciliation with Reverend Mother and their plan to go to Pakistan together, once Pia's mourning achieves traditional form, is an example of a promise for the coming together of the old ways and the new. Reverend Mother's capitalist dream, the management of a gas station, is indicative of the obvious—economic—path to modernization. This is a path that recapitulates Aziz family history, the path of Aadam Aziz's mother to abandon purdah in order to support the family when her husband was no longer able.

Also, the seeds of matriarchy and the advancement of women, so much a part of India's history, already hinted at in the power of Narlikar's women, perpetrators of the dust and destruction of Methwold Estate, now has resonance in the joined power of Pia and her mother-in-law.

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