Midnight's Children | Study Guide

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight's Children | Symbols

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Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi, the green and black Widow, symbolizes the duality of India after its independence. She originates in Saleem's recurring dream and returns in a daydream or a nightmare, riding—not a broomstick—but a stream of memories and a wave of accusations at the close of the Emergency. Her face is as green as agricultural India, the Indian flag, and the chutney Saleem Sinai loves, a staple of the Indian diet. (Indira is India; India is Indira was her slogan.)

The part in her hair separates black hair from white. It is this division in her judgment that costs her reelection in 1977: her black deeds and her white resolutions. Black represents the torture, the sterilization, and the destruction of the slums, which place responsibility for improvement and modernization at the feet of the most helpless and impoverished citizens. Black is also the color of the darkest citizens, most often a sign of identity at the lowest end of the caste ladder. On the other hand, white is the color of economic success, the skin color of British industrialists. Whiteness is the condition to which the wealthy Muslim merchants aspire. Ahmed Sinai's warehouse is burned by terrorists attempting to raise funds for radical Hindu groups. Ahmed is turning white with his economic successes—nearly as white as the members of the raj who got rich in India, championing deindustrialization and securing profit for competing British industries.

Color

Green

On the night of Saleem's birth, the night on which Nehru proclaims India's independence, the world turns saffron (yellow) and green, the colors of the flag of India. Amina's room where she will give birth has "saffron walls and green woodwork." In the next room Vanita is "green-skinned, the whites of her eyes shot with saffron." Outside the fireworks are saffron and green; the men wear "shirts of zafaran hue," the women in "saris of lime" and "lamps burn saffron, the others flame with green." Blue and yellow police uniforms turn green and yellow in the amber light. The blood of the crowd turns yellow and green; their celebration treats are green, pistachio sweetmeats and saffron laddoo-balls (Indian dessert often served at festivals or religious ceremonies).

A world seen through green and yellow lenses represents a world of united vision, communal purpose. The dream at the birth of India is colored by hope as innocent as the midnight babies. This hope is represented in a world of unified colors, a cinematic trick, a matter of lighting, an homage to Bombay and to Bollywood (film empire located in Bombay, now Mumbai), and to technical triumph. The success is economic development, hard to come by in the post-Independence era and essential to India's identity (home of Bollywood) and to modernization. Braganza chutney with its cooked in green promise of economic success is also a symbol of hope, of international cooperation in its worldwide distribution, a taste brought home by the departing members of the raj and eventually distributed across European cultures. Finally, for Saleem, the green chutney represents nurturing love, safety, and all-too-fleeting pleasure. It is his ticket home. The novel comes full circle when Saleem finds the pickle factory and is reunited with his ayah (nurse or maid). The world may be in fragments, but the art of the novel repairs these fractures.

Red

Red is the color that in its shades and values generates multiple versions of Indian history. Red is the color of economic improvement, bloody riots, war, transgression, violence, and politics. Red is initially manifest in Dr. Aziz's blood, which turns to rubies; a nosebleed that marks his rejection of religion; his mother's economic success as a jewel merchant; and her sacrifice, which pays for Aziz's education and travel in Germany. A half-century of history of riots and war is washed in Indian blood. Saleem's quest is a matter of bloodlines. India's emergence as a democratic nation is also a matter of blood. The family dynasty that ruled India in its emerging years is a question of bloodlines. In "In the Sundarbans," the men awake, covered with leeches. The effect is a blood ritual, which could be a purification rite. Subsequently, all four men (Saleem and the three soldiers with him) die, despite the redemptive influence of their trial in the jungle. There is no redemption for the blood-stained men of this era. This is a world viewed through a red lens, a national history that was a half-century-long bloodbath.

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