Midnight’s Children is a 1981 novel by author Salman Rushdie. The story is narrated by Saleem Sinai, who was born on the 15th of August, 1947, at the stroke of midnight. While he grows along with India, we learn that he isn’t the only one. Many other children born around the same time have special powers. Saleem’s is telepathy and a keen sense of smell to point out danger. When he learns of this power, he tries to gather all these special children under a special purpose.
With this premise, we get a taste of the real history of India in a postcolonial, postmodern, and magical realist style through geographical locations ranging from Kashmir to Punjab to Bombay to Pakistan to Bangladesh to the Sundarbans, through a kaleidoscope of characters that are as colourful as a tie-and-died dupatta.
Midnight’s Children won both the Booker Prize and a bunch of other awards and is considered Rushdie’s masterpiece, and rightfully so. I have read his Shame, The Moor’s Last Sigh, and the recent Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. While they too are great, Midnight’s Children truly elevates your mind. My 2013 edition from Vintage also included an intro from the author, which was delectable to read.
“Things, even people have a way of leaking into each other like flavours when you cook.”
Like India, this book rushes at you, invading every sense organ. There are tastes in food that reveal guilt and vengeance of the cook. There are sights like hallucinations deep in the middle of the Sundarbans or that of a forbidden black mango, or that of different body parts seen through a perforated sheet. A 500-year-old prostitute who knows how to smell just what takes one’s fancy. The feeling of icy cold balls, or the pain of uprooted hair or a severed finger.
Like India, the book is a jumble of emotions and sensory perceptions. At times, I felt like chiding Saleem Sinai many times for taking an obviously wrong decision or thinking the wrong thought.
Born at the exact stroke of midnight along with India, Saleem and Shiva are India. With his elongated nose that never dries, birthmarks on his forehead like a map, and bandy legs, Saleem tries to make sense of his powers. On the other hand, Shiva, with his super strong knees, like his namesake, seeks to destroy.
“optimism is a disease”
Their births rouse questions about knees and nose, good and evil, rich and poor, strength of physique and strength of intellect. They are both India, with all aspects walking parallel, till they culminate in the Emergency.
It’s an epic, nothing is small. It’s India, with her myriad sights, smells, sounds, feels, and so much sensuousness. It is one of those books that leave the reader with a sense of accomplishment, of having achieved wisdom.
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”