Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children

by

Salman Rushdie

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Midnight’s Children: Book 2: At the Pioneer Café Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
 Saleem tells Padma of a strange dream he had while delirious. In the throes of fever—which he assures Padma is not from her herbs, as he has felt this fever before—Saleem shivers and speaks of a Widow, who with the help of the Hand, has come to destroy the children of midnight. It makes very little sense to Padma, but she is eager to continue the story.
Saleem’s fever is a physical response to his connection to his country. When India is in turmoil, Saleem becomes ill. Saleem’s dream foreshadows the entrance of Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, whom Saleem refers to as the Widow, into his story.
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Saleem is in the office of the pickle-factory, and his son has come to visit. He is accompanied by a caretaker whom Saleem refuses to identify—yet. Padma hints that Saleem should see another doctor, but he refuses. He must continue to work if he is to finish his story in time. Saleem says, “My son will understand. As much as for any living being, I’m telling my story for him, so that afterwards, when I’ve lost my struggle against the cracks, he will know.”
Saleem is determined to finish telling his story so that his son will know his own history and identity. Saleem desperately wants his story to have some deeper meaning, or purpose, beyond the pain it has caused. Since Saleem doesn’t yet know his purpose, he hopes that he will find it in the telling of his story. 
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Related Quotes
Evie Burns and the rest of the Methwold’s Estate children have taken over the clock tower, and since Evie has kicked Saleem out of the gang, he no longer has a private place to commune with the other children of midnight. He begins communicating with them “only at midnight, during the hour which is reserved for miracles” and “is somehow outside time.”
Saleem isn’t safe from Evie’s wrath anywhere, and this represents the far-reaching effects of colonialism. She gets to him in even in the broken clock tower, which similarly to the midnight hour, “is somehow outside of time.”
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Meanwhile, Saleem continues to suspect Amina of keeping secrets and makes a plan to stow away in the trunk of her car when she goes on one of her shopping trips. Saleem enlists the help of Sonny, a master at picking locks, to teach him how to break the lock from the both the outside and the inside of the trunk. Within thirty seconds, Sonny shows Saleem how to pop the trunk using only a small strip of pink plastic.
Saleem is highly suspicious of his mother, and his mind turn obsessively to thoughts of infidelity. Saleem sees his mother’s presumed unfaithfulness to his father as a slight on his own relationship with her, and he becomes increasingly resentful of his mother.
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It is not long before Amina must go on another shopping trip (which, Saleem notes, always occur after a wrong number phone call), and he slips unnoticed into the trunk of her car. As she drives, he enters her thoughts to follow their route and finds “an alarming degree of disorder” in her “habitually tidy mind.” They arrive at the Pioneer Café, and Saleem slips undetected out of the trunk.
Amina’s cluttered mind is a reflection of her broken heart and conflicted emotions. She desperately loves Nadir, but she is dedicated to her role as Ahmed’s wife. She has been taught her entire to serve her husband, and her true feelings, sadly, do not factor into her choices or marriage.
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During morning hours, the Pioneer Café is the daily meeting spot for film extras; but in the afternoon, the Pioneer Café turns into a Communist hangout. Now, in the afternoon, Saleem watches his mother meet a man with “poetically long hair.”
By simply going to the café, Amina becomes, at the very least, a communist sympathizer. Saleem’s family does not support the communist efforts in India, and this negatively affects how Saleem sees his mother.
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Amina sits down at a table across from her first husband, Nadir Khan. Nadir has since changed his name to Qasim Khan, and he is an official candidate of the Communist Party. Through the crowded café, Saleem watches his mother and Qasim share an “indirect kiss” via a drinking glass, and he immediately wishes he hadn’t come.
Amina and Qasim’s “indirect kiss,” created by Amina’s brother, Hanif, is sensual and heartfelt—it is also incredibly sad. This is yet another example of Amina’s social oppression as a woman in Indian society. She is not permitted to decide on her own when, and to whom, it is appropriate to show affection.
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Saleem slips back into the trunk and vows never to stow away in his mother’s trunk again. Instead, he follows Amina by entering her thoughts. There, he witnesses additional meetings with Qasim in which his mother, working on behalf of the Communist Party, gives aid to the poor.
Amina very clearly supports the communist cause and works on its behalf. After her horror at the poverty of Old Fort, Amina has been compelled to act on behalf of the less fortunate.
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During his nightly visits with the other children of midnight, Saleem officially forms the Midnight Children’s Conference. Instead of using words and language, Saleem communicates with the other children through pictures, and it is not long before he meets Shiva again. Shiva hasn’t been to Methwold’s Estate since he threw a rock at another kid, blinding him (hence the name Eyeslice) and his father, Wee Willie Winkie has long since died. Saleem immediately takes note of Shiva’s knees, “two of the biggest knees the world has ever seen.”
Shiva’s aggression and violent tendencies are established early on when he blinds Eyeslice in their childhood, and there is tension between Shiva and Saleem from the very beginning. Saleem’s ability to communicate with the other children without language further argues the arbitrary nature of language and the possibility of uniting in the absence of unified language.
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Shiva is mean and aggressive, runs a gang, and frequently threatens to squeeze people between his knees. After reminding Saleem that they were both born at the stroke of midnight, Shiva suggests that they be “joint bosses of this gang.” Saleem sees the conference as more of a “loose federation of equals,” but Shiva is determined to be the boss.
The children exist in a hierarchical fashion, despite Saleem’s protests otherwise, and Shiva is not happy with second place. Like Saleem, he wants to lead the children, but they are divided—Saleem is at the top and everyone else comes after him.
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Saleem’s story jumps back to the 1957 election, in which Qasim Khan is nearly elected and the Communist Party becomes the single largest opposition to the All-India Congress. On polling day, Shiva and his own gang, The Cowboys, are hired by an unknown paymaster to stand outside polling stations armed with sticks, rocks, and knives. Padma interrupts Saleem to ask about the date, and he suddenly realizes that he has again made an error in his storytelling. The 1957 election took place before Saleem’s tenth birthday, not after.
Shiva’s presence outside the polling stations and the close result of the race suggests that the All-India Congress is not the true winner of the election. Presumably, Shiva is there to intimidate voters into casting their votes against communism, and since Qasim is only narrowly defeated, this implies that communism has a large support base in Postcolonial India.
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