Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 3 In The Sundarbans Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 3, In the Sundarbans | Summary

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Summary

The buddha (Saleem Sinai) and his three young friends drifted south in a borrowed boat. Saleem acknowledges that the buddha was not chasing an elusive enemy but, in fact, deserting the army. When Padma tells Saleem she is glad he ran away, he insists it was the buddha, the "not-Saleem," who ran. Saleem's criterion for judgment is that the buddha was still "separated from his past." He did remain, however, in possession of a bit of his past, the silver spittoon.

The jungle closed in on the quartet "like a tomb." The men turned on Saleem, and Ayooba Baloch began to cry inconsolably. He cried for hours or days or weeks until heavy rains came, and he didn't have to cry anymore (or that at least is Saleem's deduction). The trees of the swamp responded to the deluge, growing rapidly, their roots "snaking about thirstily in the dusk." The trees were getting so tall that "birds at the top must have been able to sing to God." The leaves of the palm trees swelled until they appeared to be giant cupped hands. As the boat filled with water, the crew had no recourse but to land and sleep in the boat.

When they awoke there was blood everywhere. They were covered with leeches, and the fallen fruits of the nipa palms "exuded a liquid the color of blood." Lost in the jungle, they began preparations for survival. They survived by strangling snakes and spearing birds. Ayooba one night dreamed of a translucent figure of an old man with a hole in his heart and a scythe in his hand. Ayooba lost the use of his right arm when a colorless fluid from the hole in the figure's heart leaked onto his arm. When he awoke, his arm was paralyzed.

The men began to believe the forest wreaked vengeance for their crimes committed against humanity; their punishment included the "accusing eyes of the wives of men they had tracked down" and "the screaming ... of children left fatherless." The buddha, finding it difficult to breathe, feared the forest was closing in on him. Finally, there was an end to their suffering, and the men began to have nostalgic dreams that elicited the best and most ethical insights. Ayooba came to see his mother as a real person rather than the object of a marriage contract; Farooq recognized the childishness of his crying for food and began to question his motives; Shaheed Dar, struck by his memories of his father, learned responsibility. Only the buddha was slow to recover. Bitten on his heel by a blind serpent, Saleem recovered his memory and recounted for his accomplices the story of his life. What was clear to Saleem, however, was that an important detail was missing. Padma interrupts to mumble: "The buddha had forgotten his name."

Saleem, unimpeded, continues relating the story of sexual reawakening at the magical site of a Hindu temple. Bewitched by four beauties, the men remain for an unaccountably long time, finally recognizing that like the serpent that bit Saleem, they were growing translucent. As they fled and found their boat, a tidal wave swept them out of the Sundarbans. On dry land Ayooba fell victim to a sniper.

Somewhere outside of Dacca, the survivors were distracted by a field of rotting corpses, Indian soldiers, and a "vendor of notions" scavenging the bodies for his inventory. He explains that the men have not been felled by guns but by an avenging soldier who kills by crushing his victims with his knees. Saleem makes a second discovery in the field, a pyramid of dying men, easily recognized by characteristics from which their nicknames were made: Hairoil, Eyeslice, and Cyrus.

Later, Saleem admits to the truth: "The purpose of that entire war had been to reunite me with ... my old friends."

Analysis

Distancing himself, the historian, from his younger self, the buddha, Saleem separates I from he in his recitation about his time in the Sundarbans. He travels with three young soldiers, for whom he is the tracker, as far from the war as they are able to get.

The stay in the magic jungle becomes a classically familiar journey at life's end: to purgatory, and in these cases, one goes to hell and three are reassigned to hell on earth. Released from the jungle and heading back to Dacca, they find that war is a special hell and more dangerous than the potentially healing forms of the jungle purgatory. The jungle is rife with dangerous forms but also offers redemption. Although they share survival strategies, each of the men has his own particular sin or shortcoming for which he must atone. In an interesting parallel to Saleem's impulses for relating his life from his earliest memories on, each of the three young men with the buddha must confront early memories and understand them before he can move on.

The journey toward nostalgia begins in a bloodbath followed by a purging of guilt. Once on land, they are sopped by heavy rains and made ill by a meal of earthworms and nipa fruit, their literal purge, a siege of diarrhea. Recovery is initiated by memories of past failures and family lessons. Once past their childhood insights, they find a Hindu temple in a clearing and discover their sexuality. Coming of age sexually, with four beautiful young accomplices, effectively ritualizes and confirms their manhood.

Redeemed by a tidal wave—perhaps an allusion to riding the waters as a sort of a traumatized Noah—they are not home free. War is the sin in the real world. And although they have atoned for their personal lives, in their historical lives there is nothing symbolic or magical about their deaths. Two of the trio are killed by bullets: Ayooba by a sniper and Farooq by an Indian soldier lying near death in the killing field. Only Shaheed, who remembered his responsibility, was spared.

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