by Salman Rushdie
Grandpa Doctor Aadam Aziz
It all begins here. Aadam's the patriarch. Head honcho. Big Mack daddy. Whatever word you want to use for that guy that did that thing for the first time. Yeah, that one. He's that. In other words, it's all his fault.
Aadam Aziz is a born patriarch. Just ask Tai. He knew it from the moment that he saw Aadam's nose. Saleem tells us:
It was Tai who taught him that, too. When young Aadam was barely past puberty the dilapidated boatman said, "That's a nose to start a family on, my princeling. There'd be no mistaking whose brood they were. Mughal Emperors would have given their right hands for noses like that one. There are dynasties waiting inside it,"—and here Tai lapsed into coarseness—"like snot." (1.1.14)
Tai wasn't exactly correct about the certainty of Aadam's offspring. But Aadam Aziz does start a family with his nose.
He passes his nose onto all his children, but it's not the only thing they inherit. Let's list their inheritances:
- Tai's premonition
- Tai's laugh: "[…] emerging to infect Aadam—a huge, booming laugh that seemed macabre when it crashed out of that old, withered body, but which was so natural in my giant grandfather that nobody knew, in later times, that it wasn't really his (my uncle Hanif inherited this laugh; so until he died, a piece of Tai lived in Bombay)" (1.1.24).
- Tai's anger: "Doctor Aziz begins to fight, against sadness, and against Tai's anger, which is beginning to infect him, to become his own, which erupts only rarely, but comes, when it does come, unheralded in a roar from his deepest places, laying waste everything in sight; and then vanishes, leaving him wondering why everyone is so upset" (1.1.42).
Wait a second… it kind of sounds like Tai is the real patriarch here.
It might not seem like a big deal that Aadam Aziz has Tai's laugh and anger, but Aadam's outbursts start some of the novel's most important events, like Nadir Khan's disappearance and the great silence. His children also inherit Tai's legacy. Hanif tries to resist his father's anger. Saleem's mom (Amina) uses Tai's anger to take care of her family.
Two things make Aadam Aziz an outsider. The first is that he's from Kashmir. From 1846 to 1947, Kashmir was a British princely state. That means it wasn't a part of India; it was its own state, doing its own thing.
Kashmir became part of India only after the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Even though this is an "Indian" novel, the characters have a slightly different background and tradition than most Indians.
This wouldn't be such a big deal, except we are constantly reminded about Kashmir. For example:
Tai once said: "Kashmiris are different. Cowards, for instance. Put a gun in a Kashmiri's hand and it will have to go off by itself—he'll never dare to pull the trigger. We are not like Indians, always making battles." Aziz, with Tai in his head, does not feel Indian. Kashmir, after all, is not strictly speaking a part of the Empire, but an independent princely state. (1.2.45)
Even though all these struggles happen around them, the family is not invested because they still don't consider themselves Indian.
Aadam looks different, too, for being from Kashmir: "Aadam's eyes are a clear blue, the astonishing blue of mountain sky, which has a habit of dripping into the pupils of Kashmiri men; they have not forgotten how to look" (1.1.12). Blue eyes equal Kashmir, got it? Good. We're going to get into some complicated math with that equation in a moment.
The second thing that makes Aadam an outsider is that he studied abroad. He spent five years in Germany becoming a doctor. Even though Tai and Aadam Aziz were best friends, everything's changed when he returns.
Tai hates him and Aadam doesn't even know why. It's kind of obvious. Saleem writes:
To the ferryman, the bag represents Abroad; it is the alien thing, the invader, progress. And yes, it has indeed taken possession of the young Doctor's mind; and yes, it contains knives, and cures for cholera and malaria and smallpox; and yes, it sits between doctor and boatman, and has made them antagonists. (1.1.42)
He went away and learned foreign ways, plus he's brought back a bag. A pig skin bag (Kashmiris are mainly Muslim). Full of strange new technology and foreign techniques. Tai isn't too excited about this, so he basically has Aadam Aziz shunned out of his hometown. Messed up, right?
Oh yeah, about that math we promised you. When Aadam returned to Kashmir, he came back with "travelled eyes" (1.1.8). So eyes equal foreign. Put it all together, and those blue eyes of Aadam Aziz, Saleem Sinai, and Aadam Sinai remind us that they are foreign in a lot of ways. Indians who are not Indian. Foreigners who are not foreign. And it all starts here, with Aadam Aziz and Tai the boat man.
We all know the story of The Perforated Sheet, right? If not, go check it out in the "Symbols" section. Well, this family has an obsession with holes, and it's because of this guy right here. Aadam Aziz decides he will never pray again, and it leaves a hole in him. "This decision, however, made a hole in him, a vacancy in a vital inner chamber, leaving him vulnerable to women and history" (1.1.5). That's how the perforated sheet trick works on him. After getting this hole, he looks for something to fill it up. At first it's Naseem, but then it's politics.
When Aadam Aziz gets old and he doesn't have anything to fill the hole, he starts falling apart. Saleem writes:
As the convictions which had given strength to his youth withered away under the combined influence of old age, Reverend Mother and the absence of like-minded friends, an old hole was reappearing in the middle of his body, turning him into just another shrivelled, empty old man, over whom the God (and other superstitions) against which he'd fought for so long was beginning to reassert His dominion. (2.13.53)
We can't help but think that the hole is related to Saleem's cracks somehow. After all, Saleem does consistently say that he's overly influenced by women and cannot escape history. He probably got that from his grandpa. Aadam Aziz is also the first person to die from the cracking disease:
But a crack-death can be slow; and it was a long time before we knew about the other cracks, about the disease which was nibbling at his bones, so that finally his skeleton disintegrated into powder inside the weatherbeaten sack of his skin. (2.19.35)
Sounds just like Saleem's disease, doesn't it?
We're left with all sorts of questions. What is the relationship between the hole and the cracks? Why does Aadam Aziz die from the cracks? Does Saleem have a hole too? Doesn't anyone else in the family have this disease?
Those are a lot of questions. What do you guys think?