Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children Summary and Analysis of Book Two: Drainage and the Desert; Jamila Singer; How Saleem Achieved Purity

Summary of "Drainage and the Desert"

Amina receives a telegram saying that Ahmed has had a heart attack. She still loves her husband, so the family moves back to India so she can help with Ahmed’s recovery. Saleem reconvenes the Midnight Children’s Conference while India prepares for war with China. Yet once China begins attacking India, the children become upset with Saleem for not including Shiva in the Conference. One by one, each of the children leave him while China wins the skirmishes. Yet India still remains optimistic. This conflict causes Saleem’s sinuses to remain congested. The pressure builds with the war, but China ultimately wins the war.

The day after India’s defeat, Saleem’s parents take him to the hospital for a sinus operation. After the surgery, he realizes that his magic ability to connect with others is gone. However, he realizes that he now has a magical smelling ability. He is able to smell the tiniest of scents, but he can also detect emotions through his nose. The family moves back to Pakistan together, and Saleem leaves a number of childhood items buried on the property.

Summary of "Jamila Singer"

In Pakistan, the family buries an umbilical cord from Amina’s birth under the foundation of their new house, though Saleem isn’t sure if it is his umbilical cord or Shiva’s. Jamila becomes a popular singer, but she wears a white burka to cover herself. Also, when she is onstage, she sings behind a white curtain with a hole cut out for her lips.

With Jamila’s rising popularity, Saleem begins to feel romantic feelings towards her. He even asks a prostitute to try and smell like Jamila but runs away when he realizes that the scent which arouses him is his sister’s. A prince’s son has also fallen for Jamila and asks Saleem to convey his feelings to Jamila. Instead, Saleem uses the charm and words that the boy gives him and instead uses them for his own feelings. Jamila is horror-stricken, and the two remain distant towards each other afterward.

Summary of "How Saleem Achieved Purity"

Unfortunately, relations are tense between Pakistan and India. During an air raid, a number of bombs kill every one of Saleem’s relatives who live in Pakistan, save for Jamila. Saleem is almost hit himself, but he is just out of the way. Nonetheless, a silver spittoon, which was given to his mother as a dowry present, hits him on the head. He is knocked unconscious and wakes up with no memory of his past or even his identity. The present-day Saleem tells Padma that the war between India and Pakistan was a Jehad against him in order to destroy his family and his life.


Because each event in India’s history coincides with an event in Saleem’s life, the war between India and China is directly related to his magical abilities. The small skirmishes peck away at the Midnight Children’s Conference, their arguments and accusations tearing away at Saleem like China does at the Indian border. Then, as the pressure between countries builds, the pressure in his sinuses becomes unbearable. Just as the end of the war drains India of its happiness and quells the second optimism epidemic, Saleem’s nose is drained of its congestion.

It is important to note the effect that surgery has on Saleem. He completely loses his mystical powers that allowed him to connect mentally with any person in India. This can be seen as a conflict between Eastern culture and Western progression; the East is very much influenced by its history, myths, and culture. Saleem’s powers can be seen as an extension of those myths. However, with the abrupt introduction to Western progression and medicine, the histories and myths of a culture are eradicated and destroyed.

Burying belongings under the earth has long been used in all cultures to create a tie between that person and their land. Saleem’s childhood belongings – the letter from the prime minister congratulating his fortuitous birth, his photo from the newspaper, and an old tin globe – keep Saleem emotionally tied to Bombay.

When Ahmed buries the umbilical cord under the foundation of their home in Pakistan, it is meant to symbolize the family’s devotion to their new home and new beginning. The confusion of the umbilical cord creates a unique twist on the situation. Not knowing whether or not the cord belongs to Saleem creates a foundation of uncertainty in the family. Without a strong and clear cornerstone, the family will fall apart.

Saleem’s confession of love to his sister is the second time that Rushdie has used the story of Cyrano de Bergerac as an influence on the tale. Last time, the situation did not work out like he planned and was more in line with the roles that the original story prescribed. This time, though, Saleem inverts the trope in order to be more favorable for him. He uses the attractive boy’s words and charm to woo his sister rather than having the attractive boy do the speaking for him. The trope still does not play out for him and instead causes embarrassment for both parties.

The “purity” that Saleem achieves is not purity at all. Traditionally, purity requires an act of contrition and repentance. In Saleem’s case, he was hit on the head so hard that he forgot everything about his identity. In many stories, trying to find this purity and redemption is an important plot point that the protagonist must experience in order to have a complete tale. Because Saleem insists that he is the protagonist of this story, he must construe aspects of his life to fit the traditional hero arch. The attempts seem insincere, though, due to Saleem also insisting that he is a victim. He sees the war as a personal attack and refuses to acknowledge the social, political, and unreligious unrest that plagues the two nations.