During the month of fasting, Ramzàn, Saleem and the Brass Monkey go to the movies as often as they can. Sitting in the dark with their gang of friends from Methwold’s Estate, Saleem sits “next-to-and-in-love-with” Evie Burns, an American, while Sonny Ibrahim sits “next-to-and-in-love-with” Monkey, who sits next to the aisle thinking of food.
The fact that Saleem and the Brass Monkey spend Ramzàn at the movie theater is a reflection of their secular lives. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, observance of Ramzàn is incredibly important in the Muslim faith, yet the Sinais fail to observe its significance. Additionally, Saleem’s reference to the month of fasting as Ramzàn is a Romanized form of the Arabic word Ramadan. This too is evidence of Western influence as Saleem speaks the Latin form of the word instead of the original Arabic.
Evie lives with her widower father in a segregated area of the city just below Methwold’s Estate, and the first time Saleem meets her, he is playing cricket with the Monkey and the other children of Methwold’s. Riding a mint condition Arjuna Indiabike and packing a Daisy air pistol, Evie pedals into their lives, bossy and insulting. “From now on, there’s a new big chief around here. Okay, Indians? Any arguments?” In that moment, Saleem falls in love.
Evie’s takeover of Saleem’s crew is another small-scale example of European colonialism. She assumes that she is superior to the other children and she attempts to rule over them. Additionally, the games the children play are also evidence of colonialism and subsequent hybridity. They play cricket, the national sport of England, Evie’s air pistol is an American invention, and her bicycle is Indian-made.
Sonny is in love as well, and he is open with the Monkey about his feelings. Unfortunately, “the soft words of lovers roused in [Monkey] an almost animal rage,” and she repeatedly makes him pay for his admiration. She makes up tales to tell his mother to get him punished and pushes him into mud puddles, and still he pursues her. One day, the Monkey attacks Sonny, and with the help of her school friends, she strips him naked and leaves him crying in the street. “Why she do it man?” Sonny asks Saleem. Forever loyal to the Monkey, Saleem shrugs. “She does things, that’s all.”
Sonny’s affection for the Monkey is another example of gender inequality. She makes it clear that she is not interested in Sonny’s advances, yet he ignores her wishes and pursues her anyway. She is powerless to stop him, so she attempts to get him into trouble with his mother and responds with physical violence. By stripping him naked, the Monkey humiliates Sonny as his advances humiliate her.
Saleem convinces Sonny to talk to Evie on his behalf. As a nervous Saleem looks on, Evie shuts him down (“Who? Him?”) and instead falls for Sonny. “Now you, f’r instance: you’re cute.” Despite his bad luck, Saleem still agrees to appeal to the Monkey on Sonny’s behalf, and he is equally (again) shut down. “Don’t make me sick, Allah,” she responds.
Despite their close relationship, Saleem does nothing to stop Sonny’s advances on the Monkey. Quite the opposite, he even assists Sonny in pursuing his sister, and this is further evidence of the Monkey’s oppression as a woman—she is not given the choice regarding her suitor and it matters very little how she feels.
In an attempt to win Evie’s affection, Saleem vows to share her interests, which he currently doesn’t. He has never liked guns nor does he ride a bike (he doesn’t even have one), but he decides to begin with bike riding. Evie often teaches the other kids of Methwold’s Estate her bike-riding tricks, and on one such day, Saleem joins them. Without a bike of his own, Evie allows him to use hers.
Much like Sonny, Saleem knows that Evie is not interested in him, but this makes little difference regarding his behavior. He pursues her against her wishes and does not respect her choice not to become romantically involved. As a man, Saleem assumes this power over Evie, and it is evidence of their social inequality.
After Evie gives Saleem a healthy shove to start him off, he is coasting uncontrollably on her mint condition bike—heading straight for Sonny, who is riding his own bike as well. Unable to avoid each other, the two bikes collide, followed by their heads. Saleem’s bulging forehead fits perfectly into Sonny’s forceps dent, and they are both left ringing. As the other children run to see if they are okay, Saleem, for the first time, clearly hears the voices which have long since been trying to make their way to front of his mind. The other children of India born during the midnight hour of independence are sending him “here-I-am signals,” and he hears each individual “I,” “I,” “I,” “I.”
Just as Saleem is destined upon his birth to be the leader of the children of midnight, Sonny is destined to make this role possible. Sonny’s own birth, just five days after Saleem’s, is difficult and protracted, and the forceps needed to coax him out of the birth canal have left permanent dents in his head—creating the perfect cradle for Saleem’s bulging forehead. Without Sonny’s forceps dent, Saleem would never be able to hear the other children of midnight, and his destiny would remain unrealized.
That fall, October 1955, India is officially partitioned across language lines. The subcontinent is divided into fourteen states and six centrally administered “territories.” Still, Bombay remains intact, and the language marchers continue to march. One day, the longest parade of marchers yet passes by Methwold’s Estate, and the children, having been forbidden to approach the parade, ease closer.
As one of the only states left to partition, Bombay is at the center of the language marches, and they can quickly turn violent. After all, one of their riots has already led to the death of Dr. Narlikar, and now they march right past Saleem’s house. This is a stark representation of India’s social division and unrest.
Saleem is still unable to get Evie to pay attention to him, and after learning to ride bike during a family reunion in Agra, he attempts to show off his skills. Saleem rides around and around Evie, trying to get her attention, but she remains focused on the parade. Out of more reasonable options, Saleem decides to enter her thoughts.
Again, Saleem completely disregards Evie’s wishes and still continues to pursue her. He puts a tremendous amount of thought and energy into gaining her affections, yet he never once thinks to simply respect her. Instead, in an incredible display of disrespect, he invades her mind.
Saleem dives deeper and deeper into Evie’s thoughts, and she begins to hold her head and scream, “Get out! Get out!” He continues, going even deeper, and sees Evie standing in an unknown room while holding a blood-soaked knife. At that moment, Evie becomes even angrier and shoves Saleem’s bicycle down the hill—and straight into the parade of language marchers.
Inside Evie’s mind, Saleem discovers that Evie is evil (she later stabs an old woman and is sent to reform school), and she seems to know that Saleem has violated her thoughts. Evie’s character is allegorical, and she represents the individual European colonialist. She is considered civilized by Western standards, yet she is violent and evil.
Saleem is stuck in the angry mob, each of them speaking a different language. He hears Marathi, Kathiawar, and Gujarati—none of which he is able to speak well, if at all. The mob demands he speak to them in Gujarati, so he recites the only thing he knows, a school-yard rhyme: “Soo ché? Saru ché! Danda lé ké maru ché!” (“How are you? I am well! I’ll take a stick and thrash you to hell!”). The marchers begin to chant the meaningless rhyme and, thankfully, leave Saleem alone. That same afternoon, the marchers collide violently in Bombay, rioting and killing, chanting “Soo ché? Saru ché!” Three hundred people are wounded and fifteen are killed. The state of Bombay is set to be partitioned in the wake of the language riot, and Saleem, suddenly, is no longer in love with Evie Burns.
India is linguistically diverse, and has over twenty spoken languages, thirteen scripts, and some seven hundred various dialects. It is impossible to know them all, and Saleem only knows trivial rhymes. When the marchers adopt Saleem’s rhyme, Rushdie implies that spoken words are essentially arbitrary, just as chronological time is within Saleem’s story. The marchers’ message is clear in any language—Bombay must be partitioned. Ironically, despite proving that they don’t really need a unifying language to come together, they are still divided, and Saleem feels personally responsible.