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Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, The Fisherman's Pointing Finger | Summary



The chapter's title refers to a painting on the wall over Saleem Sinai's crib. The section opens with Padma's despair over Saleem's impotence. Unconcerned, he returns to the past and begins to describe his early development. He was a very big and very hungry baby with an unsettling characteristic. He could not blink. Mary Pereira and Amina Sinai would close his eyes when it was time for him to sleep.

Mary and Amina became rivals for the baby's affection. Saleem calls them his two-headed mother. He also thought of his four fathers: Ahmed Sinai, William Methwold, Wee Willie Winkie, and Nadir Khan. Wee Willie was the husband of Vanita, and Nadir Khan was the first husband and dream lover of Amina. Amina started dreaming of her first love on the night after Saleem was born. She dreamed that Nadir had impregnated her, and the dream had such reality that she had started to believe it during her waking hours.

Saleem also documents what remained of the British presence. While most on the Methwold Estates got rid of the contents of their homes left by the original owners, some elements of British life remained. The painting of the fishermen over Saleem's crib and Winkie's cocktail hour entertainment—accompanied as always by his infant son, Shiva—were part of the cultural inheritance from the raj. In fact, Wee Willie was tolerated on the estate despite the decay of his voice and the violence of his young son.

Saleem notes the development of his personality and point of view as the sum of all the doting individuals in the estate. On the subject of identity he was "bombarded with a confusing multiplicity of views," all of which he swallowed, hoping to make sense of later. What he did make sense of was his father's alcoholism as his fault—the beginning of what he saw as his power to change the world.

Actually, Ahmed Sinai, deprived of the attentions of his wife, sexually harassed his secretaries and succumbed to Dr. Narlikar's scheme to attempt land reclamation as the British had done in the 17th century. Caught in a scandal and with his assets frozen by the government, Ahmed grew cold to all around him. Amina, in an attempt to comfort him, took her husband back into her bed. In their first liaison after the birth of Saleem, she conceived a daughter, Jamila, called by her brother the Brass Monkey. The Sinai's liaison was short-lived. Just as Ahmed's assets had been frozen, Amina discovered her husband's testicles were like ice cubes, and there was nothing she could do to remedy the situation.

That January, according to Saleem, a bad sign appeared on Chowpatty Beach and two others. All were littered with dead fish, pomfrets, the local fish that had once been the pride and sustenance of the land before the British effected the reclamation that destroyed the seven islands and turned Bombay into a peninsula.


Although Saleem takes credit for all the changes that occurred after independence, the details of what remained once the British had left and the story of Ahmed's alcoholism and decline operate allegorically with the complications of independence. The chapter opens with a question about the significance of the painting left by Methwold that hangs over Saleem's crib. The fisherman in the painting points his finger, and Saleem imagined the trajectory. He guessed that the finger pointed outside the house and to the bay. At the chapter's close, the dead fish on the beaches point to the early history of Bombay before the British. The chapter is framed by the early history before the British and the recent history of the British departure. The matter of what remained and how those who remained were affected is taken up in the allegory of a power vacuum. Only Saleem believes he has any power. For Amina and Mary it is a matter of service to their young prince; attention to royalty occupies both women entirely. Their attitudes toward their young prince generate, moreover, a competition rather than a partnership.

Ahmed, bereft of his role as husband, turns to another source of masculine power, his gifts at making money. His inheritance from the Raj, however, is a liquor cabinet and a drinking habit.

The failures at survival in the early period after British departure are registered finally in the "ominous corpses" on the beaches. The dead fish are signs of failure. The riches of the past will not return, nor the sustenance of the natural world for early peoples living in a state of nature. For Bombay, at this moment, the future may be read in an ominous sign.

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