Midnight's Children

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Midnight's Children
First edition
AuthorSalman Rushdie
Cover artistBill Botten
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreMagic realism, historiographic metafiction
PublisherJonathan Cape
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)

Midnight's Children is a 1981 novel by Indian-British writer Salman Rushdie, published by Jonathan Cape with cover design by Bill Botten, about India's transition from British colonial rule to independence and partition. It is a postcolonial, postmodern and magical realist story told by its chief protagonist, Saleem Sinai, set in the context of historical events. The style of preserving history with fictional accounts is self-reflexive.

Midnight's Children sold over one million copies in the UK alone and won the Booker Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981.[1] It was awarded the "Booker of Bookers" Prize and the best all-time prize winners in 1993 and 2008 to celebrate the Booker Prize 25th and 40th anniversary.[2][3][4][5] In 2003 the novel appeared at number 100 on the BBC's The Big Read poll which determined the UK's "best-loved novels" of all time.[6]

Background and plot summary[edit]

Midnight's Children is a loose allegory for events in 1947 British Raj India and after the partition of India. The protagonist and narrator of the story is Saleem Sinai, born at the exact moment when India became an independent country. He was born with telepathic powers, as well as an enormous and constantly dripping nose with an extremely sensitive sense of smell. The novel is divided into three books.

The first book begins with the story of the Sinai family, particularly with events leading up to the fall of British Colonial India and the partition. Saleem is born precisely at midnight, 15 August 1947, therefore, exactly as old as independent India. He later discovers that all children born in India between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. on that date are imbued with special powers. Saleem, using his telepathic powers, assembles a Midnight Children's Conference, reflective of the issues India faced in its early statehood concerning the cultural, linguistic, religious, and political differences faced by a vastly diverse nation. Saleem acts as a telepathic conduit, bringing hundreds of geographically disparate children into contact while also attempting to discover the meaning of their gifts. In particular, those children born closest to the stroke of midnight wield more powerful gifts than the others. Shiva "of the Knees", Saleem's nemesis, and Parvati, called "Parvati-the-witch," are two of these children with notable gifts and roles in Saleem's story.

Meanwhile, Saleem's family begin a number of migrations and endure the numerous wars which plague the subcontinent. During this period he also suffers amnesia until he enters a quasi-mythological exile in the jungle of Sundarban, where he is re-endowed with his memory. In doing so, he reconnects with his childhood friends. Saleem later becomes involved with the Indira Gandhi-proclaimed Emergency and her son Sanjay's "cleansing" of the Jama Masjid slum. For a time Saleem is held as a political prisoner; these passages contain scathing criticisms of Indira Gandhi's over-reach during the Emergency as well as a personal lust for power bordering on godhood. The Emergency signals the end of the potency of the Midnight Children, and there is little left for Saleem to do but pick up the few pieces of his life he may still find and write the chronicle that encompasses both his personal history and that of his still-young nation, a chronicle written for his son, who, like his father, is both chained and supernaturally endowed by history.

Major themes[edit]

The technique of magical realism finds liberal expression throughout the novel and is crucial to constructing the parallel to the country's history.[7] The story moves in different parts of Indian Subcontinent – from Kashmir to Agra and then to Bombay, Lahore and Dhaka. Nicholas Stewart in his essay, "Magic realism in relation to the post-colonial and Midnight's Children," argues that the "narrative framework of Midnight's Children consists of a tale – comprising his life story – which Saleem Sinai recounts orally to his wife-to-be Padma. This self-referential narrative (within a single paragraph Saleem refers to himself in the first person: 'And I, wishing upon myself the curse of Nadir Khan...;' and the third: '"I tell you," Saleem cried, "it is true. ..."') recalls indigenous Indian culture, particularly the similarly orally recounted Arabian Nights.[7] The events in the book also parallel the magical nature of the narratives recounted in Arabian Nights (consider the attempt to electrocute Saleem at the latrine (p. 353), or his journey in the 'basket of invisibility' (p. 383))."

He also notes that, "the narrative comprises and compresses Indian cultural history."[7] "'Once upon a time,' Saleem muses, 'there were Radha and Krishna, and Rama and Sita, and Laila and Majnun; also (because we are not unaffected by the West) Romeo and Juliet, and Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn' (259)." Stewart (citing Hutcheon) suggests that Midnight's Children chronologically entwines characters from both India and the West, "with post-colonial Indian history to examine both the effect of these indigenous and non-indigenous cultures on the Indian mind and in the light of Indian independence."[7]


Midnight's Children has been called "a watershed in the post-independence development of the Indian English novel", to the extent that the decade after its 1981 publication has been called "post-Rushdie". During that decade, many novels inspired by Midnight's Children were written by both established and young Indian writers.[8]

Rushdie's innovative use of magic realism allowed him to employ the nation-as-family allegory and at the same time confound it with an impossible telepathy among a multitude of children from a multitude of languages, cultures, regions and religions. No one genre dominates the entire novel, however. It encompasses the comic and the tragic, the real, the surreal, and the mythic. The postcolonial experience could not be expressed by a Western or Eastern, public or private, polarity or unity, any more than any single political party could represent all the people of the nation.[9][10][11][12]

Rushdie also coined the word chutnification in the book to describe the adoption of Indian elements into the English language or culture.[13][14] A chutney is a sauce for a dry base, originating from the Indian subcontinent.


Upon release, the book was generally well-received.[15] According to Rushdie, "...I celebrated the book’s critical reception...The three I have never forgotten were written by Anita Desai in the Washington Post, by Clark Blaise in the New York Times and by Robert Towers in the New York Review of Books."[16]

Not all reviews though were positive though.[16] According to Rushdie, there was "one memorable bad review".[16] In his words from Los Angeles Times, "The BBC radio program “Kaleidoscope” had devoted a great deal of time to my novel, and given it the works: Indian music to introduce it, a reading, a sympathetic interview with me, and then it was over to their critic ... who unreservedly hated the book. The program’s presenter, Sheridan Morley, kept asking this critic (whose name I’ve forgotten) to find some little thing to praise. “But didn’t you think ... “ “Wouldn’t you at least agree that ... “ and so on. The critic was implacable. No, no, there was nothing he had liked at all. After the magnificent buildup, this negative intransigence was delightfully, bathetically funny."[16]

Midnight's Children was awarded the 1981 Booker Prize, the English Speaking Union Literary Award, and the James Tait Prize. It also was awarded The Best of the Booker prize twice, in 1993 and 2008 (this was an award given out by the Booker committee to celebrate the 25th and 40th anniversary of the award).[3]

The book went on to sell over one million copies in the UK alone.[17]

In 1984 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brought an action against the book in the British courts, claiming to have been defamed by a single sentence in the penultimate paragraph of chapter 28, in which her son Sanjay Gandhi was said to have had a hold over his mother by his accusing her of contributing to his father Feroze Gandhi's death through her neglect. The case was settled out of court when Salman Rushdie agreed to remove the offending sentence.[18]


In the late 1990s the BBC was planning to film a five-part mini-series of the novel with Rahul Bose in the lead, but due to pressure from the Muslim community in Sri Lanka (a later novel, The Satanic Verses, published in 1988 caused widespread uproar in the Muslim world), the filming permit was revoked and the project was cancelled.[19] Later in 2003, the novel was adapted for the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company.[20] BBC Radio Four broadcast a dramatic adaptation in 2017 at the 70th anniversary of Indian independence, repeated in five parts in 2021.[21]

Director Deepa Mehta collaborated with Salman Rushdie on a new version of the story, the film Midnight's Children.[22][23] British-Indian actor Satya Bhabha played the role of Saleem Sinai[24] while other roles were played by Indian actors Shriya Saran, Seema Biswas, Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, Siddharth Narayan, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan,[25] Shahana Goswami, Anita Majumdar[26] and Darsheel Safary.[27] The film was premiered in September 2012 at the Toronto International Film Festival (2012-09-09)[28] and the Vancouver International Film Festival (2012-09-27).[29][30] For an academic overview of the adaptations of Midnight's Children, see Mendes and Kuortti (2016).[31]

In June 2018 streaming service Netflix announced plans to adapt Midnight's Children as an original Netflix TV series.[32] By the end of 2019, the project had been abandoned. Although showrunner Vishal Bhardwaj had received support from Rushdie for his script and had done much of the work on casting and scouting locations, after the compromises he had made on his poorly-received 2017 film Rangoon he would not go ahead without agreement for a more ambitious project with a greater special effects budget than Netflix was prepared to agree.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mullan, John. "Salman Rushdie on the writing of Midnight's Children." The Guardian, 26 July 2008.
  2. ^ "Midnight's Children wins the Best of the Booker". The Man Booker Prizes. Archived from the original on 21 November 2008.
  3. ^ a b "Rushdie wins Best of Booker prize". BBC News. 10 July 2008.
  4. ^ "The Big Read". BBC. April 2003. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
  5. ^ "The Big Jubilee Read". The Reading Agency. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  6. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 17 August 2022
  7. ^ a b c d Stewart, N. (21 June 1999). "Magic realism as postcolonialist device in Midnight's Children". Archived from the original on 30 December 2006.
  8. ^ Rege, Josna E. (Fall 1997). "Victim into Protagonist? 'Midnight's Children' and the post-Rushie National Narratives of the Eighties". Studies in the Novel. 29 (3): 342–375. JSTOR 29533221.
  9. ^ Afzal-Khan, Fawzia (1993). Cultural Imperialism and the Indo-English Novel: Genre and Ideology in R. K Narayan, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya and Salman Rushdie. Pennsylvania State University Press.
  10. ^ Rubinson, Gregory J. (2005). Salman Rushdie. McFarland and Company. pp. 29–76. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  11. ^ Schultheis, Alexandria W. (2004). Postcolonial Lack and Aesthetic Promise in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sigh. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 105–151. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  12. ^ Eaglestone, Robert; McQuillan, Martin (2013). Salman Rushdie. Contemporary Critical Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  13. ^ Krishnamurthy, Sarala (3 September 2018). "The chutnification of English: An examination of the lexis of Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children"". Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  14. ^ Crane, Ralph J. (1992). "The Chutnification of History". Inventing India. pp. 170–189. doi:10.1057/9780230380080_8. ISBN 978-1-349-39062-5.
  15. ^ McCrum, Robert (15 June 2015). "The 100 best novels: No 91 – Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  16. ^ a b c d "Giving birth to 'Midnight's Children'". Los Angeles Times. 28 July 2008. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  17. ^ "Barneys, Books and Bust-Ups: 50 Years of the Booker Prize". BBC. 12 October 2018.
  18. ^ This is reported by Salman Rushdie himself in his introduction to the 2006 25th Anniversary special edition, Vintage books, dated 25 December 2005 ISBN 978-0-09-957851-2
  19. ^ Rushdie, Salman (2002). Step across this line: collected nonfiction 1992–2002. Random House. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-679-46334-4.
  20. ^ "Literary Encyclopedia – Midnight's Children". litencyc.com.
  21. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Midnight's Children".
  22. ^ "Rushdie visits Mumbai for 'Midnight's Children' film". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 14 January 2010.
  23. ^ "I'm a film buff: Rushdie". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 11 August 2011.
  24. ^ "Deepa finds Midnight's Children lead". The Times of India. 21 August 2010. Archived from the original on 3 May 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  25. ^ "Dreaming of Midnight's Children". The Indian Express. 5 January 2010.
  26. ^ Irrfan moves from Mira Nair to Deepa Mehta Archived 4 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Jha, Subhash K. (31 March 2011). "Darsheel Safary Darsheel Safary in Midnight's Children". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 9 June 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
  28. ^ "Midnight's Children | tiff.net". Archived from the original on 5 August 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  29. ^ "viff.org - Vancouver International Film Centre". Archived from the original on 16 April 2013.
  30. ^ Nolen, Stephanie (15 May 2011). "Mehta at midnight". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
  31. ^ Mendes, Ana Cristina; Kuortti, Joel (21 December 2016). "Padma or No Padma: Audience in the Adaptations of Midnight's Children". The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 52 (3): 501–518. doi:10.1177/0021989416671171. hdl:10451/29281. ISSN 0021-9894. S2CID 164759708.
  32. ^ Economic Times (29 June 2018). Netflix to adapt Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' as original TV series.
  33. ^ "How Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Midnight's Children' Adaptation For Netflix Fell Apart". HuffPost India. 28 November 2019. Retrieved 29 December 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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