On the last night before “what-has-to-be-described,” Nadir Khan visits Saleem and tells him to hide. However, it’s already too late, and the next morning bulldozers announcing a “civic beautification program” invade the ghetto. Soldiers drag people into vans and a rumor spreads that the people are being sterilized. The magicians fight back and are successful until military troops arrive. Saleem loses Parvati and Picture Singh. Major Shiva comes and captures Saleem. Parvati dies violently, and by the end of the afternoon, nothing remains of the ghetto, including Saleem’s spittoon.

Saleem is taken to Benares and locked in the palace of the widows, on the shores of the Ganges. Though Saleem cannot remember how he was induced to do so, he tells his interlocutors where all of the midnight’s children can be found. The walls of Saleem’s cell begin to whisper with the voices of the children. He gives them a long apology, but they are so excited and happy to hear each other again that they remain unconcerned. He becomes briefly optimistic, until on New Year’s Day a beautiful woman explains to him that the people worship the prime minister as a god, and that nothing can compete with her supremacy.

Saleem and the other midnight’s children undergo sterilization operations, although—not wanting to leave anything to chance—the doctors perform more aggressive operations on them than on the rest of the population. The doctors remove testicles and whole wombs from the midnight’s children, who, as a result, lose all their magical powers. Saleem learns that Shiva had a voluntary vasectomy, and begins to laugh, since Shiva’s namesake was the god associated with procreation, and Shiva himself has already fathered a whole new generation of midnight’s children. In late March of 1977, Saleem is released, along with the other midnight’s children. The prime minister calls for elections and loses. Shiva is arrested, and then later killed by the same woman who had mocked him for impregnating her. Back in Delhi, Saleem walks around until he eventually finds Picture Singh, holding a small boy of twenty-one months.

Analysis

The novel begins to come full circle when Saleem marries Parvati. As Saleem prepares to raise Shiva’s child, he finds himself in a similar position to his father, who also raised another man’s child. And just as Saleem’s midnight birth corresponded to the birth of a new nation, so too does his son’s birth correspond to the beginning of a new era in Indian history. However, there are crucial differences between this iteration and the original instance. Whereas Saleem was born at a moment suffused with optimism, his son Aadam is born during the State of Emergency, a time of anxiety and discord. With the birth of Aadam, the story of the original band of midnight’s children draws to a close, only to begin a new story. Instead of Shiva’s knees and Saleem’s nose, Parvati gives birth to a baby with a pair of enormous ears. Shiva had the power of war, and Saleem the ability to smell. Aadam, with his enormous ears, will have the power to listen to his father’s story.

Shiva is unmade by women and saved by a war, just as Saleem had promised at the start of the novel. For all of his military might and rumored prowess as a lover, Shiva remains unable to accept or give love. He turns on the midnight’s children, and on Saleem in particular. In his wanton desire to destroy Saleem, he voluntarily permits himself to be destroyed as well. Throughout the novel, Shiva’s greatest insecurities stem from his class standing, and thus generate his resentment and hatred of Saleem. By the end of the novel, however, the reversed fortunes of the two have righted themselves. Shiva, the poor child who should have been rich, becomes wealthy and respected, and Saleem, the rich child who should have been poor, loses his inheritance and dwells in a slum. However, Shiva remains unable to shake the legacy of poverty that shaped him, emphasizing once again that our personal histories mold us in inexorable ways.

In these chapters, Saleem finally reveals the mystery of the Widow’s identity: she is Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister. With this revelation, Saleem’s life and the nation’s history become unified a final time. When Saleem was born, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, wrote him a letter and welcomed him into the world. Now Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, bears the responsibility for destroying Saleem. After declaring the State of Emergency in 1975, Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties, engaged in massive arrests, initiated a campaign of forced sterilization, and destroyed ghettoes throughout the country. The political and human rights abuses of those years are among the novel’s central tragedies. Rushdie has his Indira Gandhi specifically target the midnight’s children, sterilizing them and thereby draining them of their powers. Rushdie implies that Gandhi was responsible for destroying not only the hope and future of an entire generation, but that of a still fledgling democracy as well. The chant “India is Indira and Indira is India” represents a call for singularity. Just as Pakistan defines itself according to a single god, the slogan for Gandhi reduces the entire multitudinous nation to a single woman. In their multiplicity and the diversity of their powers, the midnight’s children post a threat to Gandhi and the single-ruler state. At the Widow’s hostel, the prophesy of Saleem’s birth is fulfilled, the nightmare of green and black is illuminated, and the Midnight’s Children’s Conference is brought to its resounding end.