Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 2 The Kolynos Kid Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 2, The Kolynos Kid | Summary

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Summary

In the narrative present Saleem Sinai begins by asserting his place at the center of Indian life. He cites an excerpt from the letter sent to him by the prime minister on the date of his birth and the birth of the state: "Your life, which will be, in a sense, the mirror of our own." Wishing to answer to how an individual's life can "impinge on the fate of a nation," Saleem pursues "modes of connection," both literally and metaphorically.

Saleem recalls having been picked up from the hospital by his uncle Hanif Aziz and his ayah, Mary Pereira. He wondered about returning home to his parents but did not ask. Hanif assured him that he would enjoy life with Pia Aziz, his aunt who was childless, and his uncle. He did not know his parents had rejected him.

Hanif's once successful movie career had collapsed, and Pia, his wife and star, was also unemployed. Hanif, moreover, had stopped writing Bollywood spectacles and to Pia's disdain was dedicated to social realism, to scripts that were before their time. He was, in fact, writing a film treatment of the Ordinary Life of a Pickle-Factory. Reverend Mother wrote to her daughter-in-law begging her to give up dancing "naked on the screen" in exchange for respectable employment. Reverend Mother offered to make Pia respectable by purchasing a concession on "a good petrol pump."

Mary Pereira's reports of overheard conversations conveniently linked for Saleem popular fantasy and historical reality. Just as her guilt represented itself to her in her nightmares and sightings of the ghost of Joseph D'Costa, Mary overheard, as she rode public transportation between the Sinai and the Aziz homes carrying treats for Saleem, recitals of "supernatural invasion." The demons and ghosts of ancient rulers and religions walked the streets of Bombay; the tomb of Jesus had been found in Kashmir.

Although Hanif laughed at such gossip, Saleem had a viable explanation. He found that, even as an adult, he could imagine that in the "time of accelerated events and diseased hours the past of India rose up to confound her present." The "new myth of freedom" provided grounds for reverting to their old ways. He believed that "the body politic began to crack"; he saw potential in his injured finger to release "fountains of confusion."

Saleem learned that his Aunt Pia had been having an affair with Homi Catrack and that Homi had dumped her in favor of a rising film star. Hanif sent Saleem to Pia's bedside to comfort her after her rejection. Lying with his auntie, Saleem became aroused. Pia was horrified, and Saleem's exile with his aunt and uncle ended. Mary Pereira appeared with a gift from the Sinais; it turned out to be Saleem's first long pants. Talking with his mother, he revealed his awareness of the Pioneer Café, and Amina Sinai reassured him that "everything will be all right."

Analysis

Saleem, in a sense, teaches readers how to read the novel when he offers the "literal" and "metaphorical" modes that demonstrate his tangled connection to the world. This commentary from a fictional character defines the uses of autobiography, even autobiographical fiction, for the real-world reader. Midnight's Children, a work of fiction, demonstrates the role of history in individual lives as a universal constant. One could say that Salman Rushdie has an ax to grind. To the extent that the novel is about the birth of independence and the work of modernization for India after years of British rule, the novel is an Indian developmental tale, a story about identity as subject to history, about how growing is not merely a matter of genealogy but also—and equally—a matter of time and place. What is true for the individual is equally true for the developing nation and demonstrated in parallels that operate throughout the narrative.

Naseem Ghani, who was renamed Reverend Mother in her resistance to modernization, has gone modern in her vision of her daughter-in-law as proprietor of a gas station. That is, her ambivalence is revealed as she chooses between a daughter-in-law whose modernization as film star is repugnant and a version acceptable to her despite her preference for purdah, a daughter-in-law as gas station proprietor.

Literal and metaphorical distinctions provide the examples in Saleem's eyes of the prophetic nature of Hanif's film scripts, the indirect kiss of his earlier efforts foreshadowing Amina's reunion scene in the Pioneer Café, and the later naturalism of the chutney factory run exclusively by women, predicting "a prophecy of deadly accuracy." It seems that any mode, even magic realism, can depict reality.

Mary Pereira's reports of "supernatural invasion" are the crowning example. Saleem understands that the project of modernization works on a collective unconscious, provoking hallucinatory effects as ancient history is summoned to ameliorate the fears of a conservative and mostly illiterate public. Common fears produce common fantasy, and out of such fear, the bloody riots and political revolts that characterize the decade after independence. His bloody finger has released fountains of confusion.

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