Plot Boxes & Maps (in process)

In this section I've collected the summaries or 'plot boxes' from the other pages, along with maps and other items.




Rushdie's narrator, Saleem, is writing his life story in a pickle factory in Bombay in the novel's present, which is immediately following the 1975-77 Emergency, in which Indira Gandhi suspends the Indian parliament. This anti-democratic act — along with Saleem's skepticism about the open, democratic nature of subcontinental society — has him worried. (In addition, India has just got the nuclear bomb and tensions are still high between India and Pakistan.) He's therefore anxious to write his account before India and his body (which is prematurely old) fall apart. ❧ Going back in time, Saleem recounts the story of his grandfather Aadam Aziz, who returns to Kashmir in 1915, after having become a doctor in Europe. Saleem's account then follows the life of Aadam, who rejects tradition in Kashmir, and moves to Amritsar (Chapter 3) and Agra (Chapters 4-5). Aadam then stays behind in Agra while the narrative shifts to his daughter Amina, who moves with her new husband Ahmed to Delhi (Chapter 5-6) and then finally to the city of Saleem's birth, Bombay (Chapters 7-19). (Bombay is of course now called Mumbai, but in the novel Saleem is eager to get back to Bom! and he writes about the bomb in Bombay, so the old name is important). ❧ The first section of the book (Chapters 1-8) give readers a fictional, personalized take on some of the key moments of early- and mid-20th century history, especially the Amritsar Massacre in 1919, the communal politics in the 1930s and 40s that lead to the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, and the departure of the British in 1947.


Mapping the Madness


Each of the five trajectories above contains a historical period paralleled with a period of Saleem's family history. The novel creates a cycle of sorts, from Saleem's grandfather Aadam Aziz to Saleem's son, Aadam Sinai.

1. The early years under the British, including the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 and the struggles leading to Partition // Aadam Aziz is present at the Amritsar Massacre and joins a conference in Agra which aims to unify Muslims and Hindus; Amina struggles against Hindu-Muslim violence in Delhi

2. The British leave India in 1947 // In Bombay Methwold mimics the British departure at the moment of Saleem's birth (Independence Day)

3. Pakistan slides from democratic rule, and engages in war with India // in Pakistan Saleem witnesses a military coup and watches his sister become a star of the generals

4. Pakistan's civil war leads to the state of Bangladesh // Saleem feels so bad about participating in the war that he escapes to the Sundarbans

5. Indira Gandhi suspends parliament during The Emergency of 1975-77, shaking confidence in Indian democracy; some citizens are sterilized // the Widow and General Shiva drain -- or 'sperectomize' -- the hope from Saleem and from the nation he represents; these dark deeds are countered by the positive energies of Durga, Picture Singh, Parvati, Padma, and Saleem's son, 'the new Aadam.'

Attar's Journey & Midnight's Children

Attar's 12th century Conference of the Birds is a long mystical poem in which birds debate the value of their journey and then travel over the valleys of mysticism to the Mountain of Qaf. At the start of their journey they are told that the King of Birds, the Simurg, resides on the peak of Mount Qaf. When they get there, the 30 remaining birds — si murgh in Persian — realize that there's no immanent King; rather, their united spirits are the transcendent King (who lies beyond any type of icon or number). This realization makes them transcend their limited selves and they reach mystical annihilation. ❧ Attar's poem openly structures Grimus and covertly — yet powerfully — structures Midnight's Children. As comic and quietist as old Aziz sahib’s vision may seem, it's also germinal. It takes dynamic political and narrative form: first in Aadam's Free Islam Convocation — which tries to unify Hindus and Muslims in one state; second, in the Midnight's Children's Conference — which Saleem tries to convene in order to unite the diverse personalities of India; third, in the songs of Saleem’s sister Jamila — which the Pakistani generals use in a militaristic manner; and fourth, in the structure of the novel itself -- Saleem writes thirty chapters and speculates on the meaning of the 31st chapter, the nature of the annihilation to come. Playing a sort of numerological game (beloved by mathematicians and mystics alike), Rushdie conflates the happy ending of Scheherazade — at 1001 nights — and the ambiguous ending implied in his use of Attar's 31.


In their Agra basement, Aadam Aziz's daughter Amina looks after the poet Nadir Khan, who worked with her father on the Free Islam Convocation. Terrified of the violent extremists who destroyed the Convocation, Nadir hides in Aadam Aziz's basement, where he falls in love with the dark-skinned Amina. [...] and then this girl comes with food and she doesn't mind cleaning away your pots and you lower your eyes but you see an ankle that seems to glow with graciousness, a black ankle like the black of the underground nights... (56)  The silver lapis lazuli spittoon, which was the symbol of the Free Islam Convocation around which the members used to debate, also becomes the symbol of the underground love between Nadir and Amina (whose original name is Mumtaz): Like Shah Jehan and his Mumtaz, Nadir and his dark lady lay side by side, and lapis lazuli inlay work was their companion [...] a wondrously-carved, lapis-inlaid, gemstone-crusted silver spittoon. (58) ❧ Even later in Bombay, when Amina is married to Ahmed, she still meets Nadir in secret. Saleem's rage about his mother's (rather chaste) affair leads inadvertently to the death of his Uncle Hanif, who espouses political ideals similar to those of Nadir. ❧ Amina is linked not just to her father, to whom she's very close (her mother can't accept her dark skin), but also to the politics of her father's fellow Convocation-goer, Nadir. The silver spittoon starts off as a symbol of the Free Islam Convocation and the related love between Amina and Nadir. It ends up as the battered object Saleem hangs onto, even when he doesn't know why. But the reader knows why: it represents the ideal of subcontinental unity espoused by Aadam Aziz, Nadir, and Amina. ❧ Amina most clearly champions this ideal when at the risk of her own life she protects the itinerant Hindu Lifafa Das, who is about to be killed by a misinformed and angry Muslim mob. This connects to Saleem, first of all because the moment Amina stands up to this mob she announces that she's pregnant. (We find out later that the baby is actually Shiva, but while Saleem grows up he believes that Amina announced that she's pregnant with him.) Secondly, the spittoon's link to subcontinental links it to Saleem's own convocation or conference: the Midnight's Children Conference. The spittoon thus helps to tie together Attar's Conference, old Aziz sahib's birds (and his gems, for the spittoon is gemstone-encrusted), Aziz's Convocation, the lapis-lazuli silver spittoon, the love between Amina and Nadir, and the ideal which gives the novel its name.

(work in progress)





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