Summary of "The Perforated Sheet"
Midnight’s Children begins with the narrator Saleem Sinai introducing himself as the child born at the same time as India gained its independence from the British Empire. He says that, even though he is nearly thirty-one years old, he can feel his skin cracking and peeling as he gets closer to his death. Saleem believes it is important that he tells the story of his life and how it coincides with India’s own history.
Saleem’s story begins in 1915 with his grandfather, Aadam Aziz, returning to the Kashmir region after obtaining his medical degree in Germany. While praying on his mat upon reaching Kashmir, he hits his nose on the ground. Three drops of blood fall from his nose onto his mat. Saleem also mentions that Aadam has a large, cucumber-sized nose, which is the most prominent feature of his face. After the accident, he vows never to follow any religion. This causes a “hole” to open inside him.
He is waiting for Tai the boatman to take him to his village when he reminisces about how Tai once told him that his nose would always guide him in the right direction for his life. Tai yells out that the daughter of prominent landowner Ghani is sick and needs his assistance. Once Saleem arrives at the house, the blind Ghani has his daughter hidden behind a large white sheet with a seven-inch hole cut in the center of the sheet. Ghani informs Aadam that, because of his daughter’s purity, Aadam can only perform the check-up through the sheet.
As Aadam is called countless times to Ghani’s house to treat “illnesses”, he begins to fall in love piece by piece with Naseem, the girl behind the sheet. However, he has never seen her face, only the part of the body that she claims is in pain. Finally, on the day that World War I ends, Naseem says she has a migraine and needs Aadam to treat her head. When Aadam sees Naseem’s face for the first time, he is completely smitten with her. When both his parents die, he decides to ask for Naseem’s hand in marriage. The two are married and move to Amritsar.
Summary of "Mercurochrome"
On August 7th, Mahatma Gandhi called for Hartal, a day of mourning in protest of British imperialism. Riots break out, however, and Aadam tries to help the wounded by using Mercurochrome. Days later, the people hold a peaceful protest and are rounded up and put into a compound. Aadam is there by accident. His nose begins to itch violently, causing him to sneeze. He falls to the ground right before the troops fire on all the people. The bullets miss Aadam.
Summary of "Hit-the-Spittoon"
Immediately after their marriage, Aadam and Naseem (who now goes by Reverend Mother) are having difficulties. Aadam despises Naseem for her religious fervor, and Naseem hates that Aadam acts like he is more intelligent than he is. Regardless of their feelings toward one another, they have five children: three daughters and five sons.
In 1942, Aadam begins to politically align himself with Mian Abdullah, who is known as the Hummingbird because he is always humming. He is the leader of the Free Islam Convocation, a group that does not want a Muslim state separate from India. He and his assistant Nadir Khan are attacked by political assassins. Abdullah begins to hum, which causes the killers’ eyes and the windows to shatter. His voice also calls the local dogs to the scene, and the dogs begin to kill the assassins. Abdullah is killed, but Nadir manages to make it out. Aadam and his family take him into hiding, letting him live in the house’s basement.
Throughout these chapters, present-day Saleem is telling this story to Padma, a woman who has been tasked with taking care of the decrepit Saleem. He is critical of her sturdy stature and hairy body, and he constantly makes fun of her name, which means “dung.” She takes offense at his jabs at her, but she still tries to have sex with him. Unfortunately, he is unable to perform regardless of how hard she tries. Saleem’s body keeps deteriorating and cracking, which makes him want to tell his story faster.
From the beginning of the novel, there is an immediate connection with religion and folklore. Aadam Aziz is the embodiment of Adam from the Old Testament, the first man who lives in Eden. Kashmir is described as being beautiful and lush, so the parallels are apparent. This gives Saleem a way to create his own mythological backstory. If he can make comparisons between religious texts and his own life, he will have a stronger case for his mystical connection with India.
The same type of parallelism occurs in the first chapter when Saleem compares himself to Scheherazade, the narrator and protagonist of One Thousand and One Nights. Like Saleem, she is trying to tell fantastic stories in order to stay alive. She and Saleem both have a death sentence, and telling compelling and magical tales to the audience might help to stave off their death.
It is Saleem’s allusion to famous tales and characters that makes him difficult to believe. He has a God complex, one that makes him see himself as an epic hero with a significant origin story. Saleem needs to feel like his life has held meaning beyond the mere mortal plane. Because he was born at the same moment India gained independence from the British Empire, he sees himself as superior to others. He shows his haughty side when he talks about Padma, his constant companion and caretaker. He dismisses her attempts to make him well. He pokes fun at her name and lightly criticizes her burly appearance.
The role that Padma plays, though, is an important one. Saleem has a few foils in Midnight’s Children, and Padma is one of them. While the sickly and frail Saleem waxes poetic about his life and its meaning, Padma is urging him to stop thinking about himself and instead continue with the story. She performs the same function as the audience, which also wants Saleem to keep his exposition to a minimum and instead focus on the action. Like the audience, she is critical of Saleem’s supernatural powers, but she enjoys both him and his stories because they are captivating and entertaining.
Once Saleem jumps back into his stories, it is apparent that there is a struggle between the East and the West. Aadam’s tale takes place before India’s independence, and he represents one way that imperialism slithered into Indian culture. People like Tai were critical of Aadam’s Western medicine. They believed it to be foreign and unnatural, and they constantly fought against it. However, others like Ghani came to embrace Western medicine because they believed that it was superior to what Indian doctors could provide. Ghani’s blindness symbolizes his blind faith and acceptance of Western culture.
The perforated sheet is a constant motif in Midnight’s Children. Its beginnings start with Aadam falling in love with Naseem one body part at a time. However, it largely symbolizes the disconnect that the two have even after the sheet is dropped and they marry. Because Aadam fell in love with Naseem piece by piece, he never learned to love her as a full woman.
This fractured foundation immediately causes problems in their marriage, namely on their second night of marriage when Aadam urges Naseem to move “like a woman” (31). This can be attributed also to his acceptance of Western culture. He doesn’t see Naseem as a woman because she does not have sex in a way that is pleasing to him. This shows he does not see Naseem as a woman, nor as his equal. Because of her traditional religious ways and her modesty, he never learns to love or respect her in the way that husbands and wives should.
To make up for his lost interest in his wife, Aadam throws himself into politics. Mian Abdullah, Patient Zero of the epidemic Saleem calls the disease of optimism, is Aadam’s new obsession. In the British-controlled India, there were talks of splitting the country in two to make both a Hindu and a Muslim state. Mian Abdullah and his followers believed that India should be free to people of both religions. His optimism towards this cause was infectious, causing others to flock to him and support the cause. Unfortunately, his death marked the end of the epidemic, leaving everyone to feel the heavy weight of England controlling their lives.