Literature Study GuidesMidnights ChildrenBook 3 The Shadow Of The Mosque Summary

Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Book 3, The Shadow of the Mosque | Summary

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Summary

Saleem Sinai is in a rush to complete his story "before memory cracks beyond hope of reassembly." He also acknowledges that he will improvise where memory fails. Although Padma is angling for a trip to Kashmir, Saleem reads it as her wish for him to marry her. Saleem, however, insists that "the cracks" are narrowing his future, and his goal is simply to be able to finish his tale.

He begins by rethinking his unfortunate affection for Jamila Singer, his sister, and understands that this incestuous love was for sister-India. He saw in his right to choose a better life for himself his right to choose a better life for India. He was prepared to dedicate himself to the task, encouraged by the success of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi's (1917–84) New Congress Party and its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

Saleem was staying in the magicians' ghetto, in the shadow of the Friday mosque. He was nearly attacked by Resham Bibi, an old woman wielding a frying pan. He is widely welcomed, however, because his presence is marked by good fortune in the slum. More performances than usual are sought by rich patrons, the jugglers manage to keep 1,001 balls in the air, and the month goes by, inexplicably, without the regular police raid. No matter, Saleem is determined to leave. He passes through the ghetto of the illusionists and walks toward Delhi.

Saleem sought out his uncle, Mustapha Aziz, a civil service employee who might be of help in his goal to save India. Before he left the ghetto, Saleem learned from Parvati-the-witch that Shiva, a hero of independence, had given her a lock of his hair. Saleem was greeted by his uncle's mad wife, an Iranian named Sonia Aziz. Sonia recognized Saleem and recalled to him his desire to be God—all because, she noted, of the prime minister's letter at his birth. Saleem speculates that she is envious, never having received such a letter herself. Mustapha Aziz had been second in line for promotion for years and had been passed over 47 times. Saleem attributed Mustapha's regular beating of his children to his frustration at work, which he attributed to "Muslim bigotry." Sonia, who was equally violent, was institutionalized by her husband.

Saleem learned in his uncle's house of the death of his parents and most of his family. Jamila Singer was alive and presumed taken by the government for her change-of-heart politics and her hostility to the present government. Saleem dreamed that Jamila is safe, having returned to Karachi and the convent of Santa Ignacia and the nuns who bake her favorite bread.

Saleem stayed in his uncle's house for 420 days of mourning, a full period for each of his lost relatives. In the meantime, Parvati sought him out and climbed into his bedroom at night. Mustapha discovered the couple in bed and sent Saleem away. Saleem left the Aziz family home on February 23, 1973, the date on which coal mines and the wheat market were being nationalized.

Saleem returned to the hut of Picture Singh and to the magicians' ghetto, where most were members of the Communist Party. He realized almost immediately that the religion he knew was "Businessism" and that as a renegade of his father's whiteness, Saleem was as red as could be. He found in communism his revolutionary drive. He also discovered the many political factions into which India had dissolved.

Parvati, who kept her real magic from the members of the ghetto, secretly demonstrated her astonishing curative powers for Saleem. She did manage to improve his appearance, causing hair to grow in his bald spot, helping with his bandy legs and the scars on his face. She could not, however, accomplish her true desire. No matter how she tried, she could not cure Saleem's impotence.

As a result, Parvati's expression was frozen. She could only pout, and despite concerted efforts none of the magicians could find a way to make her smile. Finally, it was conceded that she needed to marry. When she refused nearly every eligible boy in the ghetto, it was finally proposed to Saleem that he marry her. He refused, insisting on his impotence that cast him out of the running.

Analysis

One might ask what it means when an unreliable narrator announces or owns (as Saleem does) that his unreliability is a problem with memory. In fact, he is no longer unreliable when he admits to needing to make up what he can't remember or what he doesn't know—if anything, an entirely human trait.

Saleem's stay in his uncle's house and his return to the ghetto and the hut of Picture Singh demonstrate his emerging interest in India's political life. At the same time his reunion with Parvati holds promise. He has mourned his family and disavowed the importance of family relationships, while in the ghetto he reconstitutes family with members of his own choosing.

His impotence is his nagging personal problem, compounded by what he sees as its cause. That is, he sees Parvati's face become Jamila's at the crucial moment of love. And it is not merely the familiar face of Jamila that he sees but her face marred by disintegrating flesh. Perhaps this illusion is a version of Saleem making up what he can't remember, his version of facing an illusive reality. He also recalls the history of impotence in his family: his Uncle Hanif's, his father's, and Nadir Khan's. Since he is not the biological offspring of Ahmed and Amina Sinai, the genealogy is meaningless, except as it demonstrates magical thinking on Saleem's part.

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