The theme of trauma happening one after another is clearly a tragedy of the Sinai dynasty. Interwoven in the turbulent political times in the postcolonial India during which there are many wars with the neighbors, the theme comes out clearly in Salman Rashdie’s novel Midnight’s Children. The distress caused by the experiences of the members of the family of the Sinai dynasty is as varied as they are enormous. Some of these memories especially those experienced by Saleem, the main character in the novel lead him down a path of intense trauma as witnessed in the hiding in the washing closet in his childhood to his desertion of the army after a war that claimed most of his family members. His uncle’s suicide and his own father’s self-destruction with alcoholism and later violence when he learns of Saleem’s questionable paternity are vivid indications of a family clearly falling apart. The family to moves from country to another time and again and his grandfather loses his faith, which leaves a “hole” inside of him. It is of little wonder that when all seems to have come to a normal tolerable conclusion Saleem is literally falling apart and even goes on to disclose his unsettling prophecy of his violent death at a mere age of thirty-one to his devoted caretaker and lover Padma .
Saleem’s grandfather, Aadam Aziz a doctor of his future wife marry on the day marking the end of the Second World War. His loss of faith affects him greatly. He becomes a staunch supporter of the optimist activist Mian Abdullah who took a firm anti-Partition stand. It is this political position that eventually leads to his assassination. After Abdullah’s death, Aadam provides refuge for Abdullah’s assistant, Nadir Khan who falls in love with his daughter Mumtaz (Amina Sinai). He stays hidden in the basement against his wife’s wishes. Nadir Khan’s relationship with his daughter, Mumtaz ends as they separate because of his impotence.
The novel’s setting is at a critical period in India’s history. It marks the end of colonization and the start of the turbulent postcolonial era for the young nation. It is this historic moment of India’s independence from the British in 15th of August 1947, which coincides with the birth of Saleem Sinai on the same day at midnight. Saleem is the main protagonist in the novel and gifted in telepathic powers which he later loses and gains a very keen sense of smell that can detect people‘s emotions. His fate in life depends on a midwife’s misguided sense of social justice that makes her switch Saleem at birth with Shiva who later turns out to be one of his main rivals. This saves him from a life of abject poverty and single-parent upbringing into a life of privilege, wealth and political influence in the Sinai dynasty.
Saleem’s family, Sinai dynasty experiences one trauma after another. In addition, religious, geographical and class struggles characterize the first few decades of the postcolonial period for India. The first in many tragedies to befall the Sinai family is the arsonist attacks on his father’s factory by a terrorist organization. This results in Ahmed Sinai, Saleem’s father and Amina Sinai, his mother moving to Bombay, India, where they buy the house of a departing British national, William Methwold. Methwold is a wealthy neighbor of a poor man Wee Willie Winkie, who makes a living out of entertaining wealth families. Methwold is a known philanderer and fathers the child of his poor neighbor wife, Vanita. Coincidentally Amina and Vanita both go into labor and have their sons in the same nursing home. Mary Pereira, a midwife in the nursing home switches the two newborns out of her misplaced love for radical socialism fuelled by a desire to please her radical socialist lover Joseph D‘Costa. Vanita, however dies during labor. Guilt later gets the better of Mary Pereira and compels her to take up the role of being Saleem’s nanny.
Saleem’s birth is of great importance and is even reported in the media because it coincides with India’s independence. However, unable to deal with the enormous accomplishments expected of him and the constant ridicule he gets from his peers due to his huge nose resorts to hiding in a washing closet on several occasions. It is during one of these times he discovers his telepathic power to enter and read people’s thoughts.
When Saleem ends up in hospital for the loss of a part of his finger, his blood group reveals that he was not his parent’s biological son. This astounding discovery precedes his being sent away to live with his uncle, Hanif for a short while. On his return however, tragedy befalls the Sinai family when his uncle Hanif commits suicide. To make matters worse, Mary Pereira comes clean about the switching of Saleem and Shiva at birth. His father Ahmed was now an alcoholic and was becoming violent. His mother, his younger sister Jamila Sinai, aptly nicknamed Brass Monkey for her cheeky nature is forced to move to Pakistan. It is while still in Pakistan that General Zulfikar, his aunt Emerald’s husband successfully stages a coup de tat against the Pakistani government and overthrows it to bring in an era of martial law.
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Ahmed Sinai, Saleem’s father dies from heart failure four years later. Saleem and his mother and sister move back to Bombay, India. Saleem undergoes an operation to because of his regularly congested nose which results in the loss of his telepathic powers to read people‘s thoughts. In a surprising and interesting twist, the operation on Saleem’s nose also results in him getting an amazingly powerful sense of smell, which can even detect other people’s emotions. Politically, a war is in progress between China and India. India loses the war to China and Saleem’s entire family moves to Pakistan.
India soon gets into another war with Pakistan. This unfortunate armed conflict wipes out the entire Sinai family in a single day except for him and his younger sister Jamila Sinai, now a very famous singer. Even then, his grandfather’s silver spittoon hits him in the head and he loses all his memory as a result.
Saleem later finds himself serving in the army. He strongly suspects his sisters hand in it, as a punishment for having fallen for her. While in the army, he helps in the quelling of the Bangladeshi independence movement but the grim atrocities of the war weigh too heavily on him that he decides to dessert the army and runs into the wild with three of his colleagues.
Saleem recovers the memory of his name, the only one he does, and escapes into India and lives with a snake charmer, Picture Singh in the magician’s ghetto. One of the midnight’s children, Parvati-the-which is desperate to marry Saleem. Saleem will not marry her and so in her disappointment she ends up having an affair with Saleem’s archrival Shiva, now a renowned war hero. The relationship soon fails and she returns to the magician’s ghetto carrying a pregnancy. Saleem has no option than to marry her to help her stay in the magicians' ghetto after she is shunned for her condition. Parvati’s son, Aadam Sinai, is born. Soon after the government destroys the magician’s ghetto, Shiva captures Saleem and takes him to a sterilization camp and Parvati-the-witch dies.
Saleem has into revealing the names of all the midnight’s children. They are all rounded up and sterilized to relieve them of their powers, which are considered a threat to the prime minister. In the political arena, Indira Gandhi loses in her first election. Saleem and the rest of the midnight’s children are released.
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Saleem sets out on a mission to find Aadam who was staying with Picture Singh. The trio leaves for Bombay where Picture Singh is on a mission to challenge a snake charmer claiming to be the best in the world. It is while hear he finds Padma his constant lover. He makes up his mind to marry her on his thirty-first birthday, which will also be India’s thirty-first anniversary of its independence. Saleem’s prophecy is that that will be his last day. He will die disintegrating into millions of specks of dust.
This whole synopsis goes to show that true to Zadie Smith’s words , “a trauma is something one repeats and repeats, after all, and this is the tragedy of the Iqbals--that they can’t help but reenact the dash they once made from one land to another, from one faith to another, from one brown mother country into the pale , freckled arms of an imperial sovereign."