From the best exotic Marigold Hotel of today we go back to 1960’s India and Pakistan…
Here in this part, we see our protagonist Saleem Sinai’s changeling status finally revealed to his parents. The ‘Alpha and Omega’ chapter in our last section has let out Saleem’s blood type being neither A nor O, throwing question on his origin. Mary Pereira finally confesses to the crime of switching the two babies at birth.
This is where I find most true and moving. Saleem talking about his parents Ahmed and Amina:
Never once, to my knowledge, never once in all the time since Mary Pereira’s revelations, did they set out to look for the true son of their blood… maybe, despite everything, despite cucumber-nose stainface chinlessness horn-temples bandy-legs finger-loss monk’s-tonsure… my parents loved me. I withdrew from them into my secret world; fearing their hatred, I did not admit the possibility that their love was stronger than ugliness, stronger even than blood.
And from here, Saleem experiences two important moves of his life. One is being sent to temporarily live with his filmmaker uncle Hanif and his wife Pia Aziz, and has enjoyed a fun and pampered time in their home.
Later, in the sixteenth year of Saleem’s life and India’s independence, his father Ahmed makes the resolute decision: there is no future for them as a Muslim family in India. They are moving to Pakistan.
I’m afraid Mr. Rushdie begins to lose me here. As one not familiar with Indian/Pakistani political history, I can only follow his narratives on the surface regarding the war between the two countries. I must have lost the deeper meaning and parallels as he depicts the political turmoils there, or the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965.
While in Pakistan, Saleem’s sister Brass Monkey has changed her name to Jamila and turned into a singer of patriotic songs. Saleem is ambivalent about this… he is excited about Monkey finding her voice, but is apprehensive about her fanaticism. With his ultra sensitive Snotnose, Saleem can distinguish the different kinds of smells that pass through it, one of them being “the hard unchanging stink of my fellow-students’ closed minds.”
Despite being an outsider and not understanding the political parallels of the narratives, I can grasp Rushdie’s meaning about political ‘truths’ declared by the government. Saleem has gleaned some insights into his short life growing up in both India and Pakistan:
… and maybe this was the difference between my Indian childhood and Pakistani adolescence–that in the first I was beset by an infinity of alternative realities, while in the second I was adrift, disorientated, amid an equally infinite number of falsenesses, unrealities and lies.
And a little sardonic humour as he concludes:
A little bird whispers in my ear: “Be fair! Nobody, no country, has a monopoly of untruth.” I accept the criticism: I know, I know…
An outsider can still enjoy Rushdie’s stylish surprises.
It is also in this section that I’m a bit disappointed to read that along with the move to Pakistan, Saleem loses his supernatural power to tune into the minds of all other Midnight’s Children, thus terminating any more Conferences. I hope this is temporary though, for I relish the confrontations between Saleem and the others he calls to congregate in his mind, in particular, the opposing sides represented by Saleem and Shiva: idealism and pragmatism, thoughts and things.
I look forward to the last section, Book Three, and see how the story concludes. Hope you’re still with me…
Do go visit other reviews in the Group Read:
CLICK HERE to watch Salman Rushdie and Deepa Mehta talk about the film adaptation of Midnight’s Children at TIFF last year.