Reading ‘Midnight’s Children’ has been quite an experience, and I’m both glad and sad that it’s over. This is the final set of questions that wraps up this modern literary classic and I would like to thank JoV at Bibliojunkie for hosting this readalong, the insightful questions she posed and for all the people who joined in.
I can say that best part of this has been answering the questions. It’s forced me to take a really good look at what I’m actually reading. Interpretation is what gives a book its flavour. Discovering that you have your own spin on something also sheds light on what kind of reader you are (and subsequently, what kind of WRITER you might be if you put your mind to it). So I took the opportunity to look at some of Rushdie’s more elaborate motifs/ use of language as a way to develop myself as a writer. This was why it probably took me so long to finish the thing!
Question 1: What is the role of the 1001 children?
At first glance this question had me a bit stumped. I think the number 1001′ comes with its own special meaning; the most obvious being the ‘1001 Nights’, the legendary Arabic story-within-a-story that winds and rewinds around itself to create a continuous narrative. Therefore the children could be just this; people who signify stories, and who come to culminate and echo inside Saleem’s mind, or the ‘Midnight Conference’ as it’s known. At first, Saleem converses with his fellow brethren within the fictional realm of the psyche. The children are really nothing more than voices who are telling their own stories. It is only later, when that secret agora is permanently destroyed that Saleem actually meets some of the midnight children in reality.
Each child has his/ her dark gift bestowed by the powers of midnight and each is like a prophet in their own right, a little living god/ goddess. Rushdie uses a lot of religious symbolism, often juxtaposing Islam (Monotheism) and Hinduism (Polytheism). At the beginning we are introduced to Aadam Sinai, whose faith in Islam is suddenly tarnished when he accidentally hits his nose on the ground during prayers. This foreshadows the breaking of the country into two pieces (Pakistan and India). People of different faith who have managed to live together for centuries suddenly feel an urge to separate. This nationwide feeling or obligation to choose sides grows like a cancer in the population. The most affected by this are probably the mothers, whose as of yet unborn babies are suffused with this unbearable sense of divide and the ‘yoke of destiny’, as Saleem puts it.
In a sense, the country undergoes a caesarean section of sorts. There is a cutting and a taking out. A certain set of people are forced to leave their homes and make a life elsewhere. While birth is the creation of life, it can also be an expulsion of it. What was in the womb, or ‘mother India’ is expelled, and the moment of expulsion when ‘both hands meet’ is the creation and expulsion of the children. It is in effect the cancer made manifest. The ‘1001 children’ also personify the common hatred of the two communities. In effect they are quite literally born out of the synchronised birth/ death of a nation. These magical imps are each a vessel of foreboding and prophecy. Saleem’s often inadvertant hand in political scheme of things (pepperpots) indicates this. The rounding up and systematic castration of the midnight’s children also shows that anyone who understands the real reason of the breaking up of India, knows that the children are a gross representation of the many-headed gods/ beliefs/ ideologies that made the break possible in the first place.
Question 2: Why did the author give so many characters two names?
At the heart of the story we have a country who is hacked in two and given a different identity. The hopes and misgivings that such a divide causes is questioned by the thought that midnight might bring the two nations a fresh/ different set of values. When this is so, Rushdie probably went one step further and mirrored this in his characters. The notion of midnight is one of change or magical transformation. The idea that things morph during this particular moment into something else is also thwarted, as many people expected the land to undergo some sort of magical transformation and become better, more fertile and lucky for its inhabitants. The only transformation that midnight had was on the people themselves. This also goes for what became Pakistan, or ‘land of the clean’ as it was so hopefully named.
There is also the fact that a person is born with a given name. That name may have set values or expectations that come with it. Saleem is constantly called ‘little-piece-of-the-moon’ by his mother and is faced with the tremendous expectations of his family. But as a person grows and begins to ‘become’ the person they are, they may change names to suit their evolving identity.