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RUSHDIE

Midnight’s Children

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Now, returning, he saw through travelled eyes. Instead of the beauty of the tiny valley circled by giant teeth, he noticed the narrowness, the proximity of the horizon; and felt sad, to be at home and feel so utterly enclosed. He also felt – inexplicably – as though the old place resented his educated, stethoscoped return.

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She has been weeping ever since he asked her, on their second night, to move a little. “Move where?” she asked. “Move how?” He became awkward and said, “Only move, I mean, like a woman…” She shrieked in horror. “My God, what have I married? I know you Europe-returned men. You find terrible women and then you try to make us girls be like them! Listen, Doctor Sahib, husband or no husband, I am not any…bad word woman.”

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A son, Sahiba, who will never be older than his motherland – neither older nor younger,

There will be too heads—but you will see only one—there will be knees and a nose, a nose and knees,

Newspapers praise him, two mothers raise him! Bicyclists love him—but, crowds will shove him! Sisters will seep, cobras will creep.

Washing will hide him—voices will guide him! Friends mutilate him—blood will betray him!

Spittoons will brain him—doctors will drain him—jungle will claim him—wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him—tyrants will fry him.

He will have sons without having sons! HE will be old before he is old! And he will die…before he is dead!

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But now there are twenty days to go, things are settling down, the sharp edges of things are getting blurred, so they have all failed to notice what is happening: the Estate, Methwold’s Estate, is changing them. Every evening at six they are out in their gardens, celebrating the cocktail hour, and when William Methwold comes to call they slip effortlessly into their imitation Oxford drawls; and they are learning, about ceiling-fans and gas cookers and the correct diet for budgeringars, and Methwold, supervising their transformation, is mumbling under his breath. Listen carefully: what’s he saying? Yes, that’s it. “Sabkuch ticktock hai,” mumbles William Methwold. All is well.

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The moment I was old enough to play board games, I fell in love with Snakes and Ladders. Oh perfect balance of rewards and penalties! O seemingly random choices made by tumbling dice! Clambering up ladders, slithering down snakes, I spent some of the happiest days of my life.

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Does one error invalidate the entire fabric? Am I so far gone, in my desperate need for meaning, that I’m prepared to distort everything—to re-write the whole history of my times purely in order to place myself in a central role? Today, in my confusion. I can’t judge. I’ll hate to leave it to others.

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And at last the Buddha spoke, knowing Shaheed could not hear: “O, Shaheeda,” he said, revealing the depths of his fastidiousness, “a person must sometimes choose what he will see and what he will not; look away, look away from there now.” But Shaheed was staring at a maidan in which lady doctors were being bayoneted before they were raped, and raped again before they were shot. Above them and behind them, the cool white minaret of a mosque stared blindly down upon the scene.

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…something was ending, something was being born, and at the precise instant of the birth of the new India and the beginning of a continuous midnight which would not end for two long years, my son, the child of the renewed ticktock, came out into the world.

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