by Salman Rushdie
Uncle Hanif Aziz
Hanif is the cool uncle. He's a movie director. His wife is a beautiful actress. He has no kids, so he's extra excited to see you every time you visit. He lets you stay up late at his grown-up parties with his friends that are a million times cooler than your parents' friends. If you don't have this uncle, you probably know someone who does, or at least you've seen him on TV.
He's basically the best guy ever. We'll prove it:
- He inherits Tai's laugh (awesome)
- He inherit's Tai's anger (less awesome)
- He tries to smoke with his feet just to make Saleem laugh
- He basically is Capt. Jack Sparrow: "Hanif Aziz boomed like the horns of ships in the harbour and smelted like an old tobacco factory. I loved him dearly, for his laughter, his unshaven chin, his air of having been put together rather loosely, his lack of co-ordination which made his every movement fraught with risk. (When he visited Buckingham Villa my mother hid the cut-glass vases)" (2.17.6).
But there is a dark side to the cool uncle.
It all starts out great. Hanif moves to Bombay and becomes the youngest director in Indian history. He marries a beautiful actress, and even puts out his own feature film. Then everything is ruined. Gandhi's death is announced right in the middle of his premier, and that's the end for Hanif's success.
When Saleem is still invading other people's thoughts, he hears his uncle thinking:
[Hanif's] sadness is pouring into me, it lives like a lizard just beneath the hedge of his jollity, concealed by his booming laugh which was once the laugh of the boatman Tai, […] I am caught in the unbreakable grip of my uncle's grief, the grief of his failing film career, flop after flop, he'll probably never get a film again [...] (2.12.23)
That is some serious sadness. Who would have guessed that the cool uncle was so depressed?
His failure gets to him after a while and he commits suicide by jumping from his roof.
Hanif's failure might not be such a big deal on its own (though it's definitely a bummer) but it's part of a pattern. Didn't you notice that all the men in Saleem's family are failures? Aadam Aziz has that hole in the middle of him, uncle Mustapha is never more than second-best, and Ahmed Sinai is always failing at whatever job he pursues. The rest of them don't commit suicide, but they are failures just as much as Hanif. Maybe it's just less obvious.
Our Only Realist
When a novel is full of the supernatural, you should pay close attention to the people who don't believe in magic. There are only a few people in this novel who fit that description: Aadam Aziz, the magicians, and Hanif Aziz. More than any other of Aadam Aziz's children, Hanif seems to have inherited his dad and Tai's mindset, so it makes sense that he's no different in this respect.
He spends the final years of his life trying to create a down to earth, realistic documentary about regular Indian people. He tells Saleem:
"[...] this damn country has been dreaming for five thousand years. It's about time it started waking up." Hanif was fond of railing against princes and demons, gods and heroes, against, in fact, the entire iconography of the Bombay film; in the temple of illusions, he had become the high priest of reality [...] (2.17.22)
That's a pretty shocking thing to say in a novel where gods and myths are practically jumping out of every word in every scene.
But being a realist in a land of superstitious people has a price. Hanif is a failed director. No one wants his movies because they want big fancy Bollywood style dance numbers. So Uncle Hanif is killed by his dedication to realism: "Deprived of a livelihood by spurning the cheap-thrill style of the Bombay cinema, my uncle strolled off the edge of a roof; melodrama inspired (and perhaps tainted) his final dive to earth." (2.19.27). He couldn't sell his realistic movies, so he makes no money. The stress makes him commit suicide.
And even then, Hanif's life is tainted by the fantastic. He can't die normally, like an old man in his sleep. Hanif has to go out big with a dramatic suicide.
Did you guys notice that all the people who want to deny magic and the supernatural are dominated by it in the end? Aadam Aziz becomes obsessed with revenge against God. The magicians are caught up in a plot to kill the Midnight's Children and turned into a mystical roaming city, and Hanif commits a cinematic suicide. Try as they might, there's no escaping the extraordinary.
Maybe they should move somewhere more rational.