Bent to the ground in the gesture of prayer, one morning in Kashmir in 1915, Aadam Aziz accidentally bumps his nose - and gives up prayer for ever. This event 'made a hole in him, a vacancy in a vital inner chamber, leaving him vulnerable to women and history'. Long afterwards, the same hole is discovered in Saleem Sinai, hero-narrator of Midnight's Children: 'What leaked into me from Aadam Aziz: a certain vulnerability to women, but also its cause, the hole at the centre of himself caused by his (which is also my) failure to believe or disbelieve in God.' But meanwhile, in the pregnant first chapter, the metaphor has begun to ramify. A hole literally floats before Aadam Aziz, a young doctor constrained by the proprieties of Indian medicine, when he examines a patient piecemeal through a seven-inch circle cut in a sheet. And through the hole, organ by organ, he falls in love with her. A generation later, his daughter, uninterested in her new husband but famous for assiduity, 'resolved to fall in love with him bit by bit ... Each day she selected one fragment of Ahmed Sinai, and concentrated her entire being upon it until it became wholly familiar ...' The theme recurs, with the comedy eliminated, in the many organs maimed or removed in the course of the story - ears, arms, wombs, testicles - and in a familiar Indian sight: 'cripples everywhere, mutilated by loving parents to ensure them of a lifelong income from begging'. Conjunctions of horror and comedy in this novel are as many and various as the metaphorical conjunctions precipitated with a domino-effect by the hole in the sheet and in Aadam Aziz.
LRB 7 May 1981 | PDF Download