Saleem is the sickly narrator and protagonist of Midnight’s Children. He was born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the same moment that India gained its independence from the British Empire. The time of his birth infused him with powers of telepathy, a gift he used to find the other children born near midnight on that same day. Later, he acquired a gift of smell that allowed him to discern emotions and personalities in people. In terms of his narration as a rhetorical device, he often forgets facts of his story. His assertion of magical powers and a supernatural connection with India in his narration also makes him unreliable storyteller. Combined with his narcissistic attitude and God complex, it is difficult for the reader to ascertain whether or not he is reading too deeply into his own existence. Overall, his story is an allegory for the birth and rise of India as an independent nation.
Padma is Saleem’s present-day caretaker. She is physically strong and brawny compared to Saleem’s frail, cracked body and therefore represents a more down-to-earth presence that keeps Saleem grounded. Rhetorically, her role is that of the audience as Saleem tells her about his growth in conjunction with India’s growth. Whereas Saleem will follow tangents and try to explain the significance of himself and his life, Padma is more interested in the action of the tale. It is her influence that balances out Saleem’s long-winded, prosaic story-telling. She also embodies the skepticism that the audience has for Saleem’s narration. Her disbelief of Saleem’s magic powers and metaphysical connection with India mirrors that of the reader.
Shiva is Saleem’s “midnight twin” although they were born to different parents. Due to a switch-up at birth and uncanny physical similarities between the two babies, Saleem was given to Shiva’s parents while Shiva was given to Saleem’s parents. Other aspects of Shiva’s life are inverted characteristics of Saleem’s life. For example, Saleem is sickly and introverted, whereas Shiva is robust, healthy, and extremely violent. Shiva's attributes which coincide with those of the Hindu god Shiva. Two other aspects of the god Shiva are part of Shiva’s storyline: destruction and procreation. These manifest when Shiva puts an end to the Midnight’s Children Counsel, and in the fact that he fathered hundreds of children with women all across India during his 20’s.
Aadam Aziz is Saleem’s grandfather. Saleem’s story begins with Aadam, an Indian doctor, returning to his homeland after obtaining his medical degree from Germany. He remains a wispy figure in Saleem’s life as Aadam became increasingly absent due to a “hole” that grew inside him after he lost his faith.
Naseem Ghani/”Reverend Mother”
Naseem is Saleem’s grandmother. While she and Aadam had a unique courtship, their marriage turned sour quickly due to Aadam’s disgust with Naseem’s religious fervor. She became known as “Reverend Mother” because of her religious devotion, and grew large and powerful in response to Aadam’s shriveling personhood.
Mumtaz Aziz/Amina Sinai
Amina Sinai is Saleem’s mother. Born as Mumtaz, the second daughter to Aadam and Naseem, she enters a marriage to refugee Nadir Khan. Once the family finds out that the two never consummated their marriage, Mumtaz is divorced and then marries Ahmed Sinai. It is Ahmed who changes her name to Amina to signify her new life as his husband. As a mother, she is devoted and loving and always puts her children first when Ahmed’s alcoholism threatens the family.
Ahmed is Saleem’s father. He tries to be a successful businessman, but his attempts at personal wealth fail -- according to him, because of a fake “family curse” he invents one night while drunk. He resents his wife and family and spends most of the story as an alcoholic.
“Brass Monkey”/Jamila Sinai/Jamila Singer
“Brass Monkey” is the nickname of Jamila Sinai, Saleem’s sister. She goes by Brass Monkey for the majority of her childhood because of the red color of her hair and her aloof, destructive personality. It isn’t until the Sinai family moves to Pakistan that her real name, Jamila, is revealed. Immediately, she becomes famous celebrity "Jamila Singer" because of her magical, pure voice. While she and Saleem are fond for each other during their childhood, she forever shuns him after he admits that he is in love with her.
Mary is Saleem’s nanny, known as an “ayah.” Saleem comes to see her as a second mother, even after he finds out that she was the person who switched Saleem and Shiva at birth. At the time, Mary wanted to do her part in an effort to impress her revolutionary lover, Joseph. After the switch, however, she felt guilty for her crime and dedicated her life to raising Saleem for free as compensation.
Parvati-the-witch is Saleem’s loyal friend in the Midnight’s Children Counsel. As an adult, she takes the name Leylah when she and Saleem marry. Though she carries Shiva’s biological son, Parvati and Saleem raise him as their own child.
Indira Gandhi/"The Widow"
The Widow is the fictitious representation of Indira Ghandi, the fourth Prime Minister of India. Her father was the first Prime Minister, giving her a unique position as a child of India’s independence. During her first term, she realized that the Midnight’s Children Counsel represented a threat to her leadership. With the help of Shiva’s strength and Saleem, whom she took captive, she had all the surviving members of the Midnight’s Children Council captured and sterilized so that their magical powers could not be passed down, thus securing her claim as the only “legitimate” child of India.
Midnight’s Children Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Midnight’s Children is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.