[Essay] ‘…And now I am cast as a ghost’: Spectre(s) of India in Midnight’s Children — Seamus McGinley-Hughes

‘Whither Marxism?’

This was the question posed to Jacques Derrida, resulting in his lecture and subsequent ‘extended and clarified’ book, both entitled ‘Specters of Marx’.[1] In Specters of Marx, Derrida performs an extended close reading of the (re)appearance of the ghost in Hamlet and unpacks the complexities of line, ‘The time is out of joint’. This leads to an exploration of the spirit/spectres of Marx and the relationship between Marxism and deconstruction. The figure of the ghost, which features so prominently in the text, prompts Derrida to ask: ‘What is a ghost?’ In attempting to resolve this question, Derrida proposes a new theoretical framework, that of hauntology:

Repetition and first time, but also repetition and last time, since the singularity of any first time, makes of it also a last time. Each time it is the event itself, a first time is a last time. Altogether other. Staging for the end of history. Let us call it a hauntology. This logic of haunting would not be merely larger and more powerful than an ontology or a thinking of Being (of the ‘to be,’ assuming that it is a matter of Being in the ‘to be or not to be,’ but nothing is less certain). It would harbour within itself, but like circumscribed places or particular events, eschatology and teleology themselves. It would comprehend them, but incomprehensibly.[2]

Hauntology thus allows for the ‘disjointedness’ of time, origin and being to be understood through the figure of the ghost (or spectre). The ghost has presence but not a body; it is neither alive nor dead; and it does not belong to only past, present, or future, but all of them. To respond to the question ‘whither Marx?’ Derrida turned to spectres. Salman Rushdie, in his novel Midnight’s Children (1981), also turns to spectres when writing a novel about memory, origin, and nation. The question ‘whither India?’ offers a lens through which to read the text, for its capaciousness creates a constellation of further questions: not only ‘whither India’ but also ‘whence/what/who India’and the mordant evocations of ‘wither India. Midnight’s Children contains a spectral panoply, littered with spectres, djinns, spirits, and the leprous ghost of Joseph D’Costa, a communist during his life and a literalised ‘spectre of Communism’ after his death. The figure of the ghost is so prominent in the text because the questions of India’s past, present and future, even of India’s being, conjure spectres. Hauntology has the potential to resolve, or at least better understand, these questions.

Midnight’s Children is a novel about memory, history, and nation, but not an extrication of these terms from one another, nor a clarification of what each of these terms mean singularly within the post-independence Indian context. The text delves into the recesses of primordial memory, cuts up and rearranges history and figures nation as dream. Memory, history, and nation inform, antagonise, haunt each other. The twenty-six chutney jars at the end of the text provide Rushdie with his grand metaphor of the ‘chutnification of history’, in which the truth claims of history are subverted by the distortions, intensifications, and amalgamations of memory. And the text ends with the disintegration of Saleem as the singular body of India into the whirling mass which symbolises India in all its pluralities.

When considering the spectrality of Midnight’s Children, a multitude of questions are conjured. Who are the spectres? What form do they take? Which spaces are haunted? What is the relationship between haunting and origin/repetition? Over the course of this essay, I will interrogate the nuances and complexities of these questions and, by attempting to resolve these questions, I hope to shed new light on the text. In the first section, I will focus on origin, in particular the roles of Aadam Aziz, Tai, and Kashmir. Many critics have argued that Tai and Kashmir symbolise timelessness: Sean O’Brian, for example, bases his argument against any single coherent structure of time dominating the text on the assumption that ‘Kashmir and the Kashmiri boatman Tai symbolize the timeless, or at least the undated pre-colonial.’[3] I will build on Adam Barrows’ critique of how time in Midnight’s Children has been ‘interpreted in very Orientalist terms’ that read Rushdie as:

resisting the importation of the time of the West, [offering] instead a mythical, static, and timeless version of temporality, uniquely personal and culturally distinct from the telos-driven linearity of a Western time regulated by clock and calendar.[4]

I will argue that Tai and Kashmir do not represent timelessness but rather the disjointedness of time and, through the use of Derrida’s theory of hauntology, I will show that Saleem’s origin is haunted, thus becoming a deferred origin or non-origin. I will demonstrate that any notion of timelessness in the valley is destabilised by the ‘coming home’ of Aadam Aziz (the revenant) and the disjointing presence of Tai (the spectre).

In the second part of my essay, I will turn to the narrator, Saleem, and the idea of India-as-nation, to explore the text’s hauntedness further. First, I will use Derrida’s theory of hauntology to destabilise Saleem’s ontology by demonstrating how his unstable body blurs past and present, being and not-being, and how he emerges as a spectral character. In shedding light on the ways Saleem is positioned as a spectre, I hope to disrupt the link between Saleem and India by showing that Saleem’s position as India incarnate is highly fraught and unstable. I will argue that this instability of being India can best be understood through hauntology and posit that India is shown to be spectral by drawing on the dreamlike quality of India, its multiplicities, and its inner-hauntedness, through the space of the Sundarbans.

Origin as Return

Midnight’s Children begins with a self-reflexivity that not only draws attention to its constructedness but also signals the deferment of origin that will be repeated throughout the text: ‘I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time.’[5] The phrase ‘once upon a time’, often used to signify a fairy tale which takes places in a mytho-reconstructive timeless past, is situated after the birth of the protagonist, an inversion signalling the disjointedness of time that will reoccur throughout the narrative. This inversion is coupled with an ellipsis, creating a caesura in the first line and signalling the deferment of origin that will take place. Saleem Sinai must also address the obstacle that history presents to his narrative (‘Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world’).[6] Yet the coincidence of his birth and Indian independence cannot account for either’s origin. Todd Giles writes that ‘Saleem Sinai, unlike most first-person narrators, is keenly aware of the impossibility of finding an originary moment, both for himself and for his country,’ but, even if Saleem is aware of this impossibility, that does not mean he does not attempt to find his originary moment in the recesses of his memory.[7] Instead, to try account for the ‘consumed multitudes [that] are jostling and shoving inside’, Saleem must construct his own genesis story, beginning with his very own A(a)dam.[8] The Adamic character of Saleem’s ur-origin is his matrilineal grandfather, Aadam Aziz, who has returned from Europe to the Kashmiri valley of his own birth. But, as Saleem excavates his memory, he uncovers the contradictions of his origin and, in doing so, conjures ghosts.

Saleem’s originary story begins with an early springtime morning, connoting rebirth and the renewal of nature. The first appearance of the Adamic character occurs in sync with the renewal phase of the cycle of seasons and this positions origin as natural and untroubled. Any sense of a true originary moment, however, soon dissipates: the spring morning is also imbued with a sense of mourning. Aziz’s eyes ‘saw things differently’ upon his return from Europe; the thin egg-shell of ice that encapsulated the valley, making it a microcosmic world, is now revealed to be just so, altering his vision to highlight the ‘narrowness’ and close ‘proximity’ of the valley. Aziz feels nostalgia, not as warm reminiscence, but as ‘sad, to be at home and feel so utterly enclosed.’[9] The bittersweetness of nostalgia is literalised when he hits his nose of the earth, drawing blood, as he performs his Fajr prayer.[10] This sense of mourning arises from the impossible return of Adam (Aadam) to the Garden of Eden (Kashmir). Aziz’s return to origin is an impossibility. He finds not only that he has been altered but also, and as a result, Kashmir too has undergone a sea-change: he is situated between the pre- and post-lapsarian, a geographical in-between which results in a hauntedness.[11] Derrida, on the (re)appearance of the ghost in Hamlet, states: ‘A question of repetition: a spectre is always a revenant. One cannot control its coming and goings because it begins by coming back.’[12] In the same way, Saleem’s origin begins with a coming back and with the same sense of hauntedness that acts to defer his own origin through repetition. This then positions Aadam not as the true original man but as a revenant, one who ‘comes back’, signalling that this originary moment is not a first time but an act of deferment or repetition.

Saleem, then, imbues his self-narrated origin with a sense of hauntedness, which arises from the impossibility of constructing his own origin without finding that it is already deferred. Aadam not only feels a sense of mourning—his sense of loss manifest in the hole inside of him—but also the resentment of the ‘old place’ because of his return. Aadam, in a sense, is made an alien, a trespasser. Rushdie’s reflections on the position of the writer-in-exile are useful when reading Saleem’s narrative of his origin:

It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into a pillar of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do in the knowledge—which gives rise to profound uncertainties—that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind (emphasis added).[13]

It is important to note that Saleem, whilst writing his story from within India, is himself a revenant, having returned across the post-partition borders. Saleem not only echoes Aadam’s sense of loss (hauntedness) but Aadam also becomes an object onto which Saleem’s hauntedness is projected. In fact, this ‘sense of loss’ is what urges Saleem to delve into his past, haunted by the work of mourning which generated it.

Derrida wrote on the relationship between repetition (Saleem) and first time (Aadam): that the first time is not, but rather altogether other. Another explanation for the related in-betweenness of Aadam and Saleem is that Aadam’s hauntedness is an echo of Saleem’s own sense of in-betweenness arising from his Anglo-Indian status. As Padma’s exclamation demonstrates (‘You are an Anglo-Indian? Your name is not your own?’), Saleem’s mixed heritage threatens his authenticity and, despite his protestations that Mary Perreira’s baby-swapping crime ‘made no difference’, this unsettling of authenticity is signified in his haunted origin.[14] For Loretta Mijares, the figure of the Eurasian (originally meaning those with a British/European father and an Indian mother) has drawn literary attention because of ‘the questions of originality and authenticity suggested by “in-betweenness”’.[15] Mijares also cites Timothy Brennan’s characterization of ‘third world cosmopolitanism’ as championing of ‘cultural hybridity’, a celebration that Rushdie does not shy away from. Yet, this ‘cosmopolitan embrace’ may also lead to ‘a flattening of influences, which assemble themselves, as it were, on the same plane of value.’[16] Mijares argues thatRushdie’s ‘apparently indiscriminate use of those specificities produces a sense of the loss of the experiences of those who do not share his particular cultural hybridity.’ Yet, this ‘sense of loss’ propels the text’s narrative. The retreat into memory and the search for origin, and thus authenticity, reveal the loss which generated it. Aziz’s in-betweenness mirrors the cultural in-betweenness of Saleem; the originary moment that Saleem desires will always be haunted, deferred, a non-origin. The figure of the ghost will be conjured again and again.

Aadam Aziz becomes a revenant on his return to Kashmir; not just in the sense that he has ‘come back’ but in the sense that this return has altered him, diminished his presence, made a ghost out of him. Aziz’s ghostliness is signified through the recurring references to his sky-blue eyes. The blue of the sky, resulting from the Rayleigh scattering of the spectrum of visible light, becomes a spectral blue that leaks into Aziz. The blue of his eyes is said to be a distillation of the Kashmiri skies, linking the ghostliness of Aziz and Kashmir, and described by Saleem as ‘like the skeleton of a ghost, just beneath the surface of Lake Dal! – the delicate tracery, the intricate crisscross of colourless lines, the cold waiting veins of the future’.[17] The clear blue eyes of Aziz not only signify his own ghostliness but the ‘waiting veins of future’ foreshadow his own hauntedness and Saleem’s future ghostliness. Furthermore, the reference to death sitting beneath the surface of the lake also prematurely echoes the death of Ilse Lubin, which will haunt Aziz throughout his life.

If the Kashmiri sky is manifest in Aziz’s eyes, it is unsurprising that Kashmir itself emerges not as a timeless but a haunted space. To read Kashmir as timeless because it ‘had hardly changed since the Mughal Empire’ ignores the valley’s always-already hauntedness. To say the Mughal Empire signifies a precolonial India or a sense of prehistory would ignore the ghostly motif that it provides throughout the text. Rushdie’s interlingual punning on Ahmed Sinai’s ‘possession by djinns’ is linked to his creation of fictional ancestors and his ‘Mughal blood’. After the Emergency, Saleem’s hypersensitive nose smells ‘the ghosts of ancient empires in the air… in that city which was littered with the phantoms of Slave Kings and Mughals’.[18] The Mughal Empire does not represent timelessness but provides a ghostly motif throughout the text. The ‘giant teeth’ of ice that surround the valley create a sense of danger and hostility from the land that is at odds with the image of pastoral village life usually employed in creating an Edenic vision of a precolonial India. The English houseboats also sit uneasily upon the surface of the lake. Even though in 1915 India was still under British rule, the houseboats signify British colonialism, disrupting any notion of a stillness of Kashmiri temporality; the trauma or trace of colonisation not only lingers into the future but it also echoes retrospectively into the past.

The not-quite timelessness of Kashmir is further destabilised by Tai the boatman’s claims of antecedence to the valley. Tai is described as a sort of living fossil, a prehistoric relic, whose presence in the valley is a source of bafflement: no one knows how old he is; no one knows his origin. He is not only described as a man from antiquity but also as a ‘quirky, familiar spirit of the valley’—a ghost.[19] Tai not only haunts Saleem’s origin but his haunting unsettles the timelessness of the valley. When Aziz asks how truly old he is, Tai answers that he ‘watched the mountains being born’, claiming a presence before even the most ancient of origins.[20] Therefore, the valley is presented as always-already haunted by the figure of the ghost. Tai draws parallels to Charon, the figure of Greek mythology who ferried souls across the rivers that demarcated the world of living from that of the dead, and he duly fulfils his role as psychopomp. He tells Aziz of the spot beneath the lake where a tribe of Feringhee come to drown, ‘Sometimes they know it, sometimes they don’t, but I know the minute I smell them. They hide under the water from God knows what or who – but they can’t hide from me, baba!’[21] This foreshadows Ilse Lubin’s suicide, another trace of Europe that finds itself in the Kashmiri valley, and who is ferried by Tai to her death. Tai is thus situated in-between life and death; a putrefying spirit guide who makes any notion of timelessness absurd and highlights the ghostly in-betweennessof Aziz, whom he ferries across the lake. Therefore, his Charonic position troubles any stable idea of a ‘first time’ (origin) and he repeatedly disjoints time and origin through his repetition (haunting).

Even after Aziz leaves the valley for the final time, Tai’s ghostly presence follows him in the form of his pointing finger. The first chapter of Book Two bears the title ‘The Fisherman’s Pointing Finger’, referring to the painting of Walter Raleigh (finger pointing towards or beyond the horizon) that hung in Saleem’s room as a child. The sky-blue wall and crib are reminiscent of the sky-blue waters of Kashmir that filtered down into the eyes of Aadam Aziz, drawing attention to the non-origin of the originary moment of the narrative, for it is haunted by the image of Tai. Saleem describes his memory of sitting next to the painting:

In a picture hanging on a bedroom wall, I sat beside Walter Raleigh and followed a fisherman’s pointing finger with my eyes; eyes straining at the horizon, beyond which lay-what?-my future, perhaps; my special doom, of which I was aware from the beginning, as a shimmering grey presence in that sky-blue room, indistinct at first, but impossible to ignore .[22]

The future, for Saleem, takes on the form of a spectre. Spectrality, for Fredrick Jameson, is ‘what makes the present waver: like the vibrations of a heat wave through which the massiveness of the object world—indeed of matter itself—now shimmers like a mirage.’[23] This wavering of the present can be seen in eddies and whirls in the wake of Tai’s ferry, muddying the waters of past, present and future. Spectres not only haunt the origin of Saleem, they wait in the future, between presence and absence, waiting to ‘come back’ again and again.

Saleem as spectre

Derrida writes on the difference between the spectre and the spirit:

The specter is a paradoxical incorporation, the becoming-body, a certain phenomenal and carnal form of the spirit. It becomes, rather, some ‘thing’ that remains difficult to name: neither soul nor body, and both one and the other. For it is flesh and phenomenality that give to the spirit its spectral apparition, but which disappear right away in the apparition, in the very coming of the revenant or the return of the specter.[24]

The spectre is thus defined by Derrida as what it is in-between, rather than what it is, because it is simultaneously two mutually exclusive things and, at the same time, neither. This sense of in-betweennessis useful for understanding the complexities of Saleem in terms of body and soul: Saleem’s body does not provide a stable presence and, at numerous points throughout the narrative, his consciousness is disarticulated from his body—in other words, he becomes a spectre. Saleem’s hyper-Proustian memory itself has a spectral quality. He is situated as an unobserved observer of his family history, describing in fine detail the mise en scène of his family’s historical drama.[25] Saleem says:

Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence: but I seem to have found from somewhere the trick of filling in the gaps in my knowledge, so that everything is in my head, down to the last detail, such as the way the mist seemed to slant across the early morning air.[26]

Saleem thus finds presence in absence; his olfactory total recall blends past with present and, in some ways, makes the past more real, more vivid, a cinematic tableau vivant that, unlike his body in the present, is not under the threat of fragmentation. Yet, despite Saleem’s trick of filling in the gaps in his knowledge with a totality created from memory, there is an inevitable ghostliness conjured by his presence/absence, signified by the way ‘the mist seemed to slant across the early morning air.’ The mist is ephemeral, eerie, and nebulous; it is seen by what it cloaks; it makes the world ghostly, so to speak. Furthermore, the mist ‘seemed to slant,’ (emphasis added) signifying a skewedness and a disjointedness of time that announces the arrival of Tai.

Saleem is not only a spectral observer of his antecedents, he exerts a pull on them before his birth and thus questions when exactly a body comes into being. This prenatal pull is seen during Amina Sinai’s visit to a seer, who prophesies the fate of unborn, unnamed Saleem and, approaching the crescendo of his delirious premonitions, he states: ‘He will have sons without having sons! He will be old before he is old! And he will die . . . before he is dead.’[27] This is the first sign of Saleem’s paradoxical existence that will be untangled over the course of the text, and the soothsayer’s final fatidic remark illuminates Saleem’s future spectrality. Unlike the previous two sentences, it does not seem to present a paradox (the act of dying must naturally precede death) but in the chasm between dying and death there is something that conjures the spectre. The first half of the sentence is in the future tense (‘he will’) but the future is presented as before the present (‘is’) and the past (‘dead’), signifying the fleeting paradoxical space between life and death. The seer also states that Saleem will ‘never be older than his motherland—neither older nor younger.’[28] Saleem’s birth at the precise instant of India’s independence means that he will always be as old as the nation state but this auspicious moment of birth, far from resolving disjointedness of time evinced in Saleem’s origin story, creates it. The idea of a ‘motherland’ implies a prior condition of the country, which is then unsettled by the new beginning of independence. The mythic reconstruction of an ‘old’ originary India is an impossibility, always haunted by the figure of the ghost. Indian independence signals a new beginning that, like the text’s other beginnings, is always-already haunted by ghosts from the past, and, as the prophesy shows, ghosts that are yet to come.

Saleem’s spectrality is also shown through the magical powers he inherits from his midnight birth. After he tumbles out of the sanctuary of a washing-chest, he becomes aware of his magical ability ‘to look into the hearts and minds of men.’ Saleem states that ‘[he] became a sort of radio.’ Derrida, on the differantial deployment of tele-technology, writes:

It obliges us more than ever to think the virtualization of space and time, the possibility of virtual events whose movement and speed prohibit us more than ever (more and otherwise than ever, for this is not absolutely and thoroughly new) from opposing presence to its representation, ‘real time’ to ‘deferred time,’ effectivity to its simulacrum, the living to the non-living, in short, the living to the living-dead of its ghosts.[29]

Saleem’s telepathic telecommunication evokes a sense of spectrality: his ability to separate his consciousness from his body; to travel India without a body and into the interiors of others; and to appear as an apparition in the minds of the other children born within the hour of Indian independence. In literalising the spectral aspect of tele-communications through Saleem, Rushdie highlights the ‘virtualization of space and time’ that blurs the distinctions between reality and simulacrum. Saleem’s telepathic projection of his self-image confounds presence and representation and, following his metaphor of reality as a projection in a cinema, subverts the hierarchy of meaning; insofar as he posits that reality, at best, is nothing more than the perception of a projection.

Saleem’s in-betweenness is explored further in another space that is hermetically sealed from the outer-reality of India: Parvati’s basket of invisibility. Shortly after relearning his name, Saleem enters the wicker basket and, after some words from Parvati, ‘Disappeared. Dematerialized. Like a djinn: poof, like so.’[30] The reference to a djinn draws attention to Ahmed Sinai’s and Tai’s possession by djinns but Saleem is not possessed by djinns—he is the djinn. Parvati’s basket subverts the perception of the magician’s trick: the real trickery is that the trick is real, not an illusion. The illusion is that it is not; thus conflating presence and representation. Saleem’s becoming invisible precedes his coming back [revenant] to the land of his birth, a ghostly echo Aadam Aziz’s return to Kashmir. The return comes after Saleem becomes Saleem again (after the period as the unnamed Buddha), as Derrida writes of the revenant: ‘it begins by coming back.’[31] Therefore, this rebirth is another reoccurrence of the deferment of origin that is continually repeated throughout the text. Saleem describes his period in the basket as follows:

Memories of invisibility: in the basket, I learned what it was like, will be like, to be dead. I had acquired the characteristic of ghosts! Present, but insubstantial; actual, but without being or weight . . . I discovered, in the basket, how ghosts see the world. Dimly hazily faintly . . . it was around me, but only just; I hung in a sphere of absence at whose fringes, like faint reflections, could be seen the spectres of wickerwork. The dead die, and are gradually forgotten; time does its healing, and they fade – but in Parvati’s basket I learned that the reverse is also true; that ghosts, too, begin to forget; that the dead lose their memories of the living, and at last, when they are detached of their lives, fade away – that dying, in short, continues for a long time after death.[32]

To be a ghost, according to Saleem, is to have presence but not being. Therefore, in this text, being is the presence of the body in flesh and blood. The body is ‘homogenous as anything’, ‘indivisible’ but a ‘human being, inside himself, is anything but a whole, anything but homogenous; all kinds of everywhichthing are jumbled up inside him, and he is one person one minute and another the next.’[33] Saleem’s philosophising on the nature of being and the body, however, is unravelled by the loss of his finger; the deconstruction of his unitary bodily theory is mirrored in his fragmented body. His becoming a ghost further complicates this theory, for the figure of the ghost assumes a paradoxical position in this in-between space of the basket. Saleem-as-spectre sees but is unseen; he displays what Derrida terms the ‘visor effect’, which is the ‘supreme insignia of power: the power to see without being seen.’[34] Yet, Saleem has already exhibited this characteristic of the spectre through his spectral telepathy, seeing into the hearts and minds of men without being seen. This has the effect of blurring the boundary between Saleem and Saleem-as-spectre. Furthermore, the notion of death as an absolute boundary is unsettled by this spectral fading of the already dead and, of course, Saleem’s return from this period of invisibility. The text disjoints the idea of the spectre as conjured by the living for it is not the living who reanimate the memories of the dead but the dead who conjure themselves through their own memories of the living.

This conflation of the living and the dead finds echoes in the space of the Sundarbans. The Buddha (Saleem), after an ‘overdose of reality gave birth to a miasmic longing for the flight into the safety of dreams’, journeys into the prehistoric mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans.[35] The Sundarbans not only demarcate a space removed from history, and thus reality, but also a haunted space. The Buddha does not know his own name and this meaning-loss is intensified and proliferated in the haunted space of the Sundarbans. The pale leeches that suck the blood out of their bodies signal their loss of meaning through a literal loss of blood, that which gives them presence through being. The Budhha, Ayooba, Shaheed, and Farooq are visited by a range of ghostly apparitions: ‘the translucent figure of a peasant’, ‘a white wraithlike monkey with the face of [Ayooba’s] mother’, another simian apparition with ‘the face of an ancestor’, and the nightly seductions of the four houris.[36] Thus, the Sundarbans are constructed not as a timeless place but as a haunted space, mirroring Kashmir. The Sundarbans are positioned in the heart of India but also outside it: India only exists as a state by ‘the efforts of a phenomenal collective will’ and, in this marginal area, India falls into a state of existential limbo signified by its hauntedness. Saleem’s inbetweeness thus reflects the paradoxes of India. The temporal rhythms that entwined Saleem and India as a new nation are disjointed by the same questions of non-origins and sense of loss. Thus, spaces in India that may hold the promise of providing a true originary moment will always be put out of joint by their hauntedness.

But what does all this hauntedness portend for the future of India? The text ends with the crowd of India annihilating Saleem into six hundred millions particles, deconstructing the body of India with the epitaph that the children of midnight will carry on ‘unable to live or die in peace.’[37] If Saleem shows that the becoming of India was an impossibility, due to its status as a dream, then there is a flicker of hope in this last act of violence. The attempt to find an originary point is abandoned in favour of an image of present India: the multitudinous, heterogeneous crowd in all its pluralities and diversities. The spectres of India do not disappear in this moment of destruction. Death, as evidenced in the basket of invisibility, is a gradual process of forgetting. These spectres lay in wait in the future as revenants, continually haunting India. Just as Derrida concludes, ‘the thinking of the spectre, contrary to what good sense leads us to believe, signals towards the future’, Midnight’s Children, concluding with the image of the empty chutney jar, ends orientated towards an Indian future.[38] Rushdie writes that ‘although the possibility that Saleem represents is finished, a new and tougher generation is just beginning’—a generation that must live with, and learn from, the spectres of its past.


Seamus McGinley-Hughes holds a MA in English Literature from the University of Manchester. He currently resides in Madrid.


Barrows, Adam. ‘Time without Partition: Midnight’s Children and Temporal Orientalism’, Ariel, 42.3. 89-101.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004).

Derrida. Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf, (New York: Routledge, 2006).

Giles, Todd. ‘Writing and Chutnification in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children’, The Explicator, 65.3, (2010), 182-185.

Mijares, Loretta. ‘”You are an Anglo-Indian”: Eurasians and Hybridity and Cosmopolitanism in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children’, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 38.2, (2003), 125-145.

O’Brian, Sean P. ‘“Both masters and victims of their times”: Engaging aporetic time in Midnight’s Children’, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 50.2, (2015), 164-178.

Reder, Michael. Conversations with Salman Rushdie (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000).

Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands (London: Granta, 1992).

——Midnight’s Children (London: Vintage, 2006).

Sprinker, Michael. Ghostly Demarcations, (London: Verso, 2008).


[1] ‘Whither Marxism?’ was the title of a conference held at the University of California on April 22nd 1993, which addressed the implications of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union for critical Marxism.

[2] Jacques Derrida, trans. Peggy Kamuf, Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, (New York: Routledge, 2006), 10.

[3] Sean P. O’Brian, ‘“Both masters and victims of their times”: Engaging aporetic time in Midnight’s Children’, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 50.2, (2015), 164-178 (p. 167). 

[4] Adam Barrows, ‘Time without Partition: Midnight’s Children and Temporal Orientalism’, Ariel, 42.3, 89-101 (p. 90).

[5] Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, (London: Vintage, 2006), p. 3.

[6] Ibid., p. 3.

[7] Todd Giles, ‘Writing and Chutnification in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children‘, The Explicator, 65.3, (2010), 182 (p. 185). 

[8] Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p. 5.

[10] The OED states that ‘nostlagia’ has its root in ancient Greek through the combination of its etymons νόστος and αλγία, meaning ‘return home’ and ‘pain’. Aadam, thus, experiences a literalised from of nostalgia by hitting his nose (pain) off the frozen Kashmiri ground (return home).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Derrida, p. 11.

[13] Salman Rushdie, ‘Imaginary Homelands’, in Imaginary Homelands (London: Granta, 1992), p. 10.

[14] Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, p. 158.

[15] Loretta Mijares , ‘‘‘You are an Anglo-Indian?’’ Eurasians and Hybridity and Cosmopolitanism in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children’, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 38.2, (2003), 125-145 (p. 129).

[16] Ibid., p. 129

[17] Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, p. 8.

[18] Ibid., p. 592.

[19] Ibid., p. 11.

[20] Ibid., p. 13.

[21] Ibid., p. 15.

[22] Ibid., p. 167.

[23] Frederick Jameson, ‘Marx’s Purloined Letter’, in Ghostly Demarcations, ed. by Michael Sprinker (London: Verso, 2008), p. 38

[24] Derrida, p. 5.

[25] Saleem’s status as this ‘unobserved observer’ is an earlier example of the ‘visor effect’ that I will return to a later point in the essay.

[26] Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, p. 17.

[27] Ibid., p. 115.

[28] Ibid., p. 114.

[29] Derrida, p. 212.

[30] Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, p. 530.

[31] Derrida, p. 11.

[32] Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, pp. 531-532.

[33] Ibid., p. 328.

[34] Derrida, p. 9.

[35] Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, p. 502.

[36] Ibid., p. 506-511.

[37] Ibid., p. 647.

[38] Chandrabhanu Pattanayak, ‘Interview with Salman Rushdie’, in Conversations with Salman Rushdie, ed. by Michael Reder (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000), p. 19.

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