For this week’s reading, I was really connected to the chapter “My Tenth Birthday” in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. This is where Saleem Sinai starts detailing the different gifts that the midnight children have and explains how they got the gifts.
His use of numbers in this chapter was very intriguing. We are told that “[D]uring the first hour of August 15th, 1947 – between midnight and one a.m. – no less than one thousand and one children were born within the frontiers of the infant sovereign state of India” (224). Last week in class, we discusses that Rushdie’s writing was often influenced by the stories of One Thousand and One Nights, so, I was drawn to the number 1,001 in this sentence and it led me to do a little bit of research. I discovered that, like Midnight’s Children, the stories in One Thousand and One Nights contained some science fiction and fastastical elements.
Saleem Sinai then goes onto explain that not all of the midnight children had made it, stating, “Malnutrition, disease and the misfortunes of everyday life had accounted for no less than four hundred and twenty” (225) of their deaths and tells us taht 420 has often been connected with things such as fraud. In America, 420 is often associated with marijuana culture, so, I wanted to know what exactly it was connected to in this text. This led me to do a little bit more research where I discovered that it was connected to section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. It’s defined as, “Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property.: Whoever cheats and thereby dishonestly induces the person deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to make, alter or destroy the whole or any part of a valuable security, or anything which is signed or sealed, and which is capable of being converted into a valuable security, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine” in the Indian Penal Code. The number 420 is also used unofficially to refer to a trickster. Although there is a lot of trickery throughout the novel, I wasn’t sure why exactly 420 of the children had died before their 10th birthday while 581 remained. I could not find the significance for the number 581.
It’s even more fascinating that these numbers appear in a chapter where there is a number in the title and that, with the exception of a few like the twins, children started to discover their gifts at around age 10.