Saleem’s story continues in the winter of 1975-6, in the middle of Mrs. Gandhi’s Emergency, where young Aadam Sinai is sick with tuberculosis. There is “something darkly metaphorical” about his illness, and Saleem knows that Aadam will never be well as long as the Emergency lasts.
Like Saleem’s own connection to India, Aadam physically manifests his country’s turmoil as an illness. The Emergency is creating considerable social unrest, and Aadam is dying.
Saleem’s nose smells trouble, and soon the Constitution is altered to give Indira Gandhi absolute power over India. He also smells something rotten, something he discerns as “retributive knees.”
Saleem’s power is not completely gone. His nose is still able to sense trouble—just like Aadam Aziz’s was.
As Aadam’s illness rages on, he doesn’t grow and he makes no sound. He doesn’t cry or cough, and he appears to hold all of his sound inside himself. Saleem soon smells danger again, and he knows that the “truest, deepest motive behind” Mrs. Gandhi’s Emergency is to destroy the children of midnight.
Vans and bulldozers soon arrive on the magicians’ ghetto, and under the auspices of the “civic beautification program,” an operation under the Sanjay Youth Central Committee, they must all relocate, as the ghetto has been declared a public eyesore. Beds and surgical equipment is unloaded from the vans, and volunteers move about.
The Sanjay Youth Central Committee is headed by Sanjay Gandhi, and it is a cover for his sterilization program. Sanjay’s sinister program accomplishes several things; it controls India’s massive population, stops the poor from reproducing, and ensures, specifically, that the children of midnight will not reproduce. The Committee is a representation of postcolonial India’s classist society.
A rumor quickly spreads around the ghetto: “Sterilization is being performed!” and soon, the rioting begins. Fires are started, people are assaulted, and troops are soon sent in. Major Shiva has arrived as well, and he is looking only for Saleem, who he quickly pulls into a van. Saleem believes that Gandhi’s sterilization program is a distraction that will enable Shiva to destroy him.
Saleem is sure he will be killed. After all, sterilization is no threat to him. Saleem’s assumption that the sterilization program exists simply to destroy him and the other children is proof of his self-absorbed nature.
While captured by the Widow, Saleem tells his captors everything they want to know, including all the information about the children of midnight, and they tell him that Parvati is dead. Saleem is held prisoner during the Emergency, a fate shared by “either thirty thousand or a quarter of a million” people during the same time.
Obviously, there is a huge difference between thirty thousand and a quarter of a million. This true statistic of Indira Gandhi’s emergency is a reflection of the marginalization and oppression present in postcolonial India. The government cared so little about the people killed that they couldn’t be bothered to officially count them.
During his imprisonment, Saleem speaks a letter aloud to the other children of midnight. He tells them that we all “get the leaders we deserve,” and he blames himself for the state of their nation, claiming, “I should never have dreamed of purpose.”
Saleem is beginning to recognize his full complicity in the events of his life. India is divided because Saleem and the other children have divided them.
On New Years’ Day, Saleem is visited by the Widow’s Hand, and by the end of the day, each member of the Midnight Children’s Conference, including Saleem, is permanently and irreversibly sterilized.
The Widow’s Hand, another historical character in the novel, is in charge of sterilization. In 1976, over six million men alone were forcibly sterilized during the Emergency.
Saleem is released from his imprisonment in March of 1977, along with the other four hundred and twenty children of midnight. Saleem returns to the ghetto, but it is gone, and he can’t find Picture Singh. All of the children of midnight silently depart, and they never see each other again.
Without the ability to procreate, the children of midnight cannot produce more magical children, and their purpose will never be realized.