(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Midnight’s Children is Saleem’s memoir, written during his thirtieth year. The shattered, impotent, prematurely aged resident manager of a Bombay pickling factory, he writes with his plump, illiterate mistress Padma as his only audience. Born precisely at midnight on August 15,1947, the moment of the creation of the independent countries of India and Pakistan, Saleem is dubbed “The Child of Midnight” by an exuberant press. His fortunes and those of one thousand other midnight children are mystically linked with the fate of India during the following thirty years. Saleem is a strange child: His huge, perpetually snotty nose resembles the Indian subcontinent, while his birthmark-stained ear and opposite cheek suggest East and West Pakistan. His complex family history also mirrors the troubled history of the area. Early in the century, the family patriarch, Dr. Aziz, who hails from Muslim Kashmir, the disputed region between predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, moves to India, where his granddaughter marries a well-to-do Muhammadan businessman, Ahmed Sinai. Saleem’s birth in Bombay is preceded by an unintelligible prophecy:

There will be a son . . . who will never be older than his motherland—neither older nor younger.... There will be two heads—but you shall see only one—there will be knees and a nose, a nose and knees.... Newspaper praises him, two mothers raise him! . . . Spittoons will brain him . . . wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him—tyrants will fry him.... He will have sons without having sons! He will be old before he is old! And he will die. . . before he is dead.

All these predictions come true. The narrator is not, in fact, the child of the Muslim Sinais, but rather of a Hindu street singer’s wife. The infants are switched in the maternity home by a nurse, Mary Pereira, who gives a knobby-kneed beggar child to the rich Muslim family and the well-born child to the Hindu street entertainer, who names him Shiva.

As the years pass, Saleem learns that his great, antenna-like nose...

(The entire section is 865 words.)