237. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Midnight's Children (Vintage, 1981*; 463) by Salman Rushdie is a magical realism cum historical novel about India and its partitioning. It is also the story of Saleem Sinai, born at midnight of India's independence. However, Sinai was not the only one who was born on the stroke of midnight - the eve of India's independence. Altogether, there were one thousand and one children born at or seconds after midnight and these children have been endowed with the special powers. There is a direct relationship between the time of a child's birth and the strength of the powers he or she receives. The closer the time is to midnight the stronger the powers. Saleem and his arch-nemesis Shiva were born on the stroke of midnight and consequently consider themselves as defacto leaders of the children. However, their vision for the children are in direct conflict with each other; whilst telepathic, runny nose Saleem wants to work with all the children for the common good of India, Shiva of the knees, knees which make him dangerous and which will bring him laurels, wants to use their gifts for themselves. This choice between individualism and communalism is one that many newly-independent countries faced as the traditional system of common property was replaced, during colonisation, with individual property rights. Thus, Shiva represented the mentality of the units, which would later define the future, whereas Saleem represented India's past. But Saleem and Shiva are not just diametric in their views, they are bound by a secret at their births that would likely break them and smash the children into smithereens.
The life of the Midnight's children, especially that of Saleem Sinai and Shiva (and later Parvati-the-witch), runs parallels with the life of post-independence India. The children are the actualisation, the physical manifestation, of the people of the region, exhibiting all the characteristics of the people. However, Saleem believes he has a special role to play in the determination of his country's future. He believes that a mission to aright and straighten India's future has been bestowed upon him; his only threat being the villainous Shiva. However, it turned out that Saleem is the country and that he bears the physical and emotional brunt of his country's misdeeds as the struggle for power and control engulfs the elites and aristocrats. Saleem becomes the grass of their elephantine struggles. The country's political turmoil is the travails of the his family. The partition of India, which led to the formation of Pakistan and the partition of Pakistan which led to the formation of Bangladesh divided his family and also took him through a dreamy journey through the magical Sundarban forest. One can say that Saleem's family's problems are the effects of the country's political and socio-cultural upheavals or that they run parallel with the upheavals. Whatever the argument may be, it cannot be denied that as the hopes of the newly-independent country fade and disillusionment spreads to all, Saleem's family's fortunes, its aspirations and hopes, its essence of living also fell accordingly. The family migrated from India to Pakistan when Ahmed Sinai's businesses failed and a group of women - the Narlikar women - set out to takeover his estate for development.
The fate of the children will be determined by Shiva working with Indira Gandhi in her quest to hold on to power. This led to the killing and castration of several of the children. Thus, the story contains some historical figures.
Midnight's Children is a complex story filled with unexpected twists and turns. The narrative style is unique; Saleem narrates his life's story to a woman he has come to love, Padman. He tells the story of his life like an omnipresent observer; he knew everything that was done and said by his grandfather, Dr Aadam Aziz, even when he had not yet married.
This novel is full of allusions, allegories, associations. The religious symbolism is numerous, in addition to creating an exotic mosaic, enriches the story.
* Year of First Publication