Study Guide

Midnight's Children Knees And Nose

By Salman Rushdie

Knees And Nose


With the number of times that Saleem mentions noses, you'd think he was talking about Pinocchio or Dumbo.

We first hear about noses with Aadam Aziz and Tai's. Tai tells Aadam: "That's a nose to start a family on, my princeling. There'd be no mistaking whose brood they were" (1.1.26). Even though he's not right about the second part, the first part is true: Aziz becomes the patriarch of Saleem's family.

Tai also says, "You know what this is nakkoo? It's the place where the outside world meets the world inside you. If they don't get on, you feel it here" (1.1.26). Okay, so an itchy nose is a warning sign, like flashing red lights. Tai's warning comes up again and again whenever there is a bad situation.

But what about the other part? Let's talk about that.

If Tai is right, and the inside and the outside meet at the nose, that really helps us understand this nose business. When Aadam Aziz comes back from Germany, Tai accuses him of using his stethoscope to smell instead of his nose. What is he really accusing him of? Having no instincts. He's saying that the connection between Aadam's inside and outside worlds is broken. That's astute for a fisherman who doesn't even know Dr. Aziz has just renounced religion, dontcha think?

And what about this description of Ahmed Sinai? "The children of the muhalla did not call my father by his right name. They knew him as 'the man who can't follow his nose'" (1.5.26). Could you think of a more appropriate name for a man who constantly makes the wrong decisions, has no sense of direction, and struggles with losing all contact with the outside world? It's perfect.

You can probably guess where we're going with this. Who's got the biggest nose of them all? Saleem. Of course there could be no more natural superpower for a kid with a huge nose than telepathy. The nose is where the inside and the outside meet, remember? Saleem's superpower is making people all over the world talk together inside his head. Handy trick.


Okay this part is a little short. Saleem is self-centered, so we don't get to know very much about knees. We know that Shiva uses his knees as his main weapon. Beyond that we only get this one sentence about their symbolism. Saleem writes:

Because although a nose is uniquely equipped for the purpose of sniffing-things-out, when it comes to action there's no denying the advantages of a pair of grasping, choking knees. (3.29.12)

Noses are passive. They learn things. Knees, on the other hand, are active. They crush, grasp, choke, and do all kinds of things.

We have a question for you guys. If knees are so active and violent, why isn't Ahmed Sinai like Shiva? He is Shiva's biological dad after all. That's where he got those knees.

Do you know?

Knees And Nose

It's not just knees or nose that's important, though—it's both. When Aadam Aziz tries to pray and winds up instead with that hole in his chest that haunts his entire family, his knees and his nose hit the ground at the same time. When Farooq is shot he does the same motion, knees and nose hitting the ground as if he were praying.

The biggest examples of knees and nose are fundamentally connected. Shiva and Saleem are connected by their birth. Vishnu (i.e. Saleem) and Shiva (the Hindu God) are connected by godliness. They are two parts of the trinity that creates, destroys, and maintains the world. One isn't better than the other—they need each other.

Just like how you need your nose and you need your knees.