I am coming back to the 10 favorite book review today. I return with one of my very early favorites, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I believe this is the book that got me hooked onto Indian writings in English. I also believe that the first time I read it, I was not at the appropriate age to appreciate the true genius of the writing. It took me several more readings to come close to the core of the book. But today I will do a short post on the words that pulled me to this book and made it one of my favorite.
But if I plunged into that bit head first many would be at a loss, so I shall, how do i say, begin at the beginning, from the Book one of Midnight’s Children entitled “The Perforated Sheet”. What is this perforated sheet? Well, the history of Saleem begins from the first time his father Dr. Aziz met his future wife. Their first meeting went something like this.
Into a spacious bedchamber that was as ill-lit as the rest of the house; although here there were shafts of dusty sunlight seeping in through a fanlight high on one wall. These fusty rays illuminated a scene as remarkable as anything the Doctor had ever witnessed: a tableau of such surpassing strangeness that his feet began to twitch towards the door once again. Two more women, also built like professional wrestlers, stood stiffly in the light, each holding one corner of an enormous white bedsheet, their arms raised high above their heads so that the sheet hung between them like a curtain. Mr Ghani welled up out of the murk surrounding the sunlit sheet and permitted the nonplussed Aadam to stare stupidly at the peculiar tableau for perhaps half a minute, at the end of which, and before a word had been spoken, the Doctor made a discovery: In the very centre of the sheet, a hole had been cut, a crude circle about seven inches in diameter. ‘Close the door, ayah,’ Ghani instructed the first of the lady wrestlers, and then, turning to Aziz, became confidential. This town contains many good-for-nothings who have on occasion tried to climb into my daughter’s room. She needs,’ he nodded at the three musclebound women, ‘protectors.’ Aziz was still looking at the perforated sheet. Ghani said, ‘All right, come on, you will examine my Naseem right now. Pronto.’ My grandfather peered around the room. ‘But where is she, Ghani Sahib?’ he blurted out finally. The lady wrestlers adopted supercilious expressions and, it seemed to him, tightened their musculatures, just in case he intended to try something fancy. ‘Ah, I see your confusion,’ Ghani said, his poisonous smile broadening, ‘You Europe-returned chappies forget certain things. Doctor Sahib, my daughter is a decent girl, it goes without saying. She does not flaunt her body under the noses of strange men. You will understand that you cannot be permitted to see her, no, not in any circumstances; accordingly I have required her to be positioned behind that sheet. She stands there, like a good girl.’ A frantic note had crept into Doctor Aziz’s voice. ‘Ghani Sahib, tell me how I am to examine her without looking at her?’ Ghani smiled on. ‘You will kindly specify which portion of my daughter it is necessary to inspect. I will then issue her with my instructions to place the required segment against that hole which you see there. And so, in this fashion the thing may be achieved.’ ‘But what, in any event, does the lady complain of?’-my grandfather, despairingly. To which Mr Ghani, his eyes rising upwards in their sockets, his smile twisting into a grimace of grief, replied: ‘The poor child! She has a terrible, a too dreadful stomachache.’ ‘In that case,’ Doctor Aziz said with some restraint, ‘will she show me her stomach, please.’
So gradually Doctor Aziz came to have a picture of Naseem in his mind, a badly-fitting collage of her severally-inspected parts. This phantasm of a partitioned woman began to haunt him, and not only in his dreams. Glued together by his imagination, she accompanied him on all his rounds, she moved into the front room of his mind, so that waking and sleeping he could feel in his fingertips the softness of her ticklish skin or the perfect tiny wrists or the beauty of the ankles; he could smell her scent of lavender and chambeli; he could hear her voice and her helpless laughter of a little girl; but she was headless, because he had never seen her face.
These words haunted me for the longest time, the idea of a bygone era where a man and a woman fell in love with each other, one part of body at a time. It seemed romantic and old worldly and to the teenage mind already bubbling with anticipation of love, longing and romantic thoughts this seemed to be the epitome of Romance, the kind one can only read and never experience. For many years my idea about love had been based on loving someone in such a manner as to be able to love every part of them.
The importance of that perforated sheet with which I began this post is yet to be discussed.
The perforated sheet through which Aadam Aziz falls in love with his future wife performs several different symbolic functions throughout the novel. Unable to see his future wife as a whole, Aadam falls in love with her in pieces. As a result, their love never has a cohesive unity that holds them together. Their love is fragmented, just as their daughter Amina’s attempts to fall in love with her husband are also fragmented. Haunted by the memory of her previous husband, Amina embarks on a campaign to fall in love with her new husband in sections, just as her father once fell in love with her mother. Despite her best attempts, Amina and Ahmed’s love also lacks the completion and unity necessary for genuine love to thrive. The hole of the perforated sheet represents a portal for vision but also a void that goes unfilled. The perforated sheet makes one final appearance with Jamila Singer: in an attempt to preserve her purity, she shrouds herself completely, except for a single hole for her lips. The perforated sheet, in addition to preserving her purity, also reduces to her to nothing more than a voice. The sheet becomes a veil that separates her from the rest of the world and reflects her inability to accept affection.
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has many other motiffs, symbols and themes but one blog post will not do justice to them. I hope to write about them some time in the future but for now I leave you to ponder about the moment or moments that made you fall in love with you Lover. Was there a ‘perforated sheet’ that played an important part? Did you try to love someone in parts?