Acts of partition, it could be argued, in fact
the movement of the novel.On August 14
, 1947, the day before India’s independence from the British Empire – also the moment of Saleem Sinai’s birth, on which the novel pivots – is the creation of the predominantly Muslim nation of Pakistan. This act of explicit separation (fromthe predominantly Hindu populous of India) results in the inevitable partitions of political boundaries, but also, in itself the nation of Pakistan, divided into its West andEast Wings, is partitioned by the enormous land mass of India.
This historicdevelopment of national barriers, and the clashes that follow, proves hugelysignificant in the life of Saleem. As an adolescent, he sees marked differences between each sides of the divide; there are obvious contrasts between the life led inthe ambitious, disciplined, and intensely Islamic state, and life led in the diverse,chaotic world of secular India. D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke notes that the voices of bothnations are echoed in the voices of Saleem and his sister – “Saleem’s is the voice of secularism and multi-culturalism, ideals at Indian independence; Jamila Singer is,literally and metaphorically, the voice of the highly religious, non-secular nationalismof Pakistan”.
In spite of these differences, it becomes clear that in the world of
, distinct partitions between nations and cultures are in fact atleast as porous as Naseem Ghani’s bedsheet. Saleem’s upbringing takes place both inMumbai and in Karachi; his family is almost entirely decimated by Indian air-raidsand he fights for the Pakistani army, yet he continues to see himself as a personification of India. In fact, it could be argued that these partitions arecompletely overridden by the fact that Saleem does not identify with “India” as a politically delineated region, but with the
subcontinent. Even his physicalappearance suggests that it is this that he embodies, as cruelly indicated by hisgeography teacher:3