Archive for November, 2009

The Amritsar Massacre in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

November 14, 2009

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is an amazing novel that uses magical realism to portray life in India at the time of Indian independence.  The novel is very complex with its many characters, its supernatural qualities, and jumping from one thing to another.  Although there is “magic” in the novel, it is based around real historical events.  The main character, Saleem, is a metaphor for the country of India.  His fate seems to be the fate of the nation.  One event that Saleem describes in the text is the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. This can be found at the end of the chapter called “Mercurochrome” on pages 32-35.

The Jallian Wala Bagh Massacre is also known as Amritsar Massacre.  It occurred on April 13, 1919 in Jallian Wala Bagh, a garden in the city of Amritsar, India.  People were gathered there to have a peaceful protest after two Indian leaders had been arrested.  There were many women and children because it was during the Baisahki Fair.  Jallian Wala Bagh was a public square often used for meetings and protests.

The British General, Edward Dyer had recently ordered that all Indians using the streets must crawl on their hands and knees because a missionary woman had reported that she had been molested.  General Dyer had also used brutal force on the Indians by having public whippings.  These occurrences were included in the protest at Jallian Wala Bagh.

British General Edward Dyer showed up at the protest and ordered his men to open fire on the peaceful crowd.  There was no warning to the unarmed crowd and there was no way for them to escape because there was only one small gate that could be used as an exit.  Fifty British soldiers fired into the crowd for about ten to fifteen minutes using 1,650 rounds of ammunition.  379 people were killed and 1,500 were left wounded.  It was reported that the General said he was just giving a moral lesson to the people and it was not his responsibility to care for the wounded.

The Amritsar Massacre was an extremely ruthless attack on Indians. The brutal attacks left Indians horrified.  This led to an Indian uprising, which eventually made way for Indian freedom.

Rushdie’s retelling of the massacre in Midnight’s Children is almost completely accurate.  The facts given by Rushdie are,

“It is April 13th, and they are still in Amritsar… The largest compound in Amritsar is called Jallianwala Bagh… On April 13th , many thousands of Indians are crowding through this alleyway.  ‘It is a peaceful protest,’ someone tells Doctor Aziz… Brigadier R.E., Dyer arrives at the entrance to the alleyway, followed by fifty crack troops… There is noise like chattering teeth in winter… There are screams now and sobs… Brigadier Dyer’s fifty men put down their machine-guns… They have fired a total of one thousand six hundred and fifty rounds into the unarmed crowd.  Of these, one thousand five hundred and sixteen have found their mark, killing or wounding some person.  ‘Good shooting,’ Dyer tells his men, ‘We have done a jolly god thing’” (Rushdie 33-35).

Rushdie does not seems to change or modify much.  He describes the gunfire as chattering teeth to give the reader a better idea of the unexpected noise.  He uses Dr. Aziz to make the event more personal.  We get the feeling of horror especially after Dr. Aziz goes home to his wife.  She asks him where he has been.  Rushdie writes, “’Nowhere on earth,’ he said, and began to shake in her arms” (Rushdie 35).  Rushdie did a good job of making the attack seem very sudden and unexpected to the crowd but the reader does get some foreshadowing because of Dr. Aziz’s itch in his nose, which tells the reader that something is wrong.


Rushdie, Salman.  Midnight’s Children.  London: Random House Trade Paperback, 2006.