Study Guide

Shiva in Midnight's Children

By Salman Rushdie


You shouldn't like Shiva, but is he really all that bad? Let's think about it. Okay, he did slice Eyeslice's eye, but Eyeslice was making fun of him for being poor. He did break his dad's wrist, but his dad wanted to break his legs. Shiva does some pretty bad things, but maybe he's justified. We might be angry too, if someone switched us with another kid and made us poor instead of rich.

Let's say that Shiva's just misunderstood.

What's In A Name?

Okay, we have to start with Shiva's name: Shiva is the destroyer god in the Hindu Trimurti (trinity). Rushdie's character also destroys, but you have to know what it means when the god Shiva destroys: he gets rid of worn out universes so that Brahma can create new ones. Yep, his destruction brings creation.

One of the aspects of Shiva is the lingam. Remember the tetrapods? The women mistook them for lingam, which look like this. Lingam are symbols of energy and sexuality, so some people interpret the lingam as a representation of Shiva's phallus.

By the way, Shiva's wife is Parvati, and Parvati's brother and Shiva's best bud is Vishnu. Vishnu is our favorite large nosed mind reader.

Now keep these things in mind while we talk about the Shiva that we see in the novel.

Things, Not Thoughts

Saleem is always lost in thought, but not Shiva. No, he doesn't have time for thinking—he has things to do. While Saleem is worrying about purpose and meaning, Shiva is gaining influence and winning power.

It makes sense. Who has time to spend philosophizing when they're starving? Saleem goes to school and is the grandson of a doctor, but Shiva's dad is a street entertainer. He tries to break his son's legs so that he can beg better… not exactly a supportive household.

Shiva says it best when he meets Saleem:

"Rich kid, Shiva yelled, "you don't know one damn thing! What purpose, man? What thing in the whole sister-sleeping world got reason, yara? For what reason you're rich and I'm poor? Where's the reason in starving, man? God knows how many millions of damn fools living in this country, man, and you think there's a purpose! Man, I'll tell you-you got to get what you can, do what you can with it, and then you got to die. That's reason, rich boy. Everything else is only mother-sleeping wind!" (2.15.47)

Well said. Whether you agree or not, Shiva has a point.

Shiva, like Padma, is Saleem's opposite. He's not a thinker, he's a doer. And he scares the poop out of Saleem.

Geesh, Violent Much?

This is how we meet Shiva:

When I first introduced myself to Shiva, I saw in his mind the certifying image of a short, rat-faced youth with filed-down teeth and two of the biggest knees the world has ever seen. [...] Shiva, feeling my presence, reacted at first with utter rage; great boiling waves of anger scalded the inside of my head [...] (2.15.45)

He's not so good with first impressions.

From this first meeting, our image of Shiva never really changes, although it does get a bit sadder towards the end of the novel. He's always violent though: first blinding Eyeslice, then breaking his dad's wrist, then trying to take over the Midnight's Children, and finally being a major in the war.

Remember what we said about Shiva earlier? Shiva destroys so Brahma can create. Think about this: Shiva is the one who rounds up the Midnight's Children to be sterilized. That's destroying a whole generation.

Also, he did so during The Emergency, which was considered by many people to be the death of the new independent India. By sterilizing the Midnight's Children maybe Shiva was making space for the next generation—kids like his/Saleem's son Aadam. Maybe he was also helping to start a new era for India. What do you guys think?

The Man With A Thousand Baby Mommas

Did you guys notice that this novel talks about sex and children a lot? Like a lot a lot.

Nadir Khan is impotent, and so are Ahmed Sinai and Saleem Sinai. Not to mention Doctor Narlikar, who just hates children. Shiva, on the other hand, has so many kids that he doesn't know what to do with them. Saleem tells us, "And certainly there were children. The spawn of illicit midnights. Beautiful bouncing infants secure in the cradles of the rich. Strewing bastards across the map of India, the war hero went his way [...]"(3.28.29)

The most important kid that he has is Aadam with Parvati. That totally makes sense, since Parvati is Shiva's wife. It also makes sense that he's the one with the kids, since Shiva's lingam represents sexuality. Not just any old sexuality, but a sexuality that could single-handedly repopulate the Midnight's Children.

Why does this matter? Because it makes him an excellent foil for Saleem (everything is about Saleem). Plus, it shows him as a destroyer of lives, but also as a creator. Not so bad, huh?

Roshanara Shetty

We just wanted to mention this lady because she's the one that makes us sorry for Shiva. Saleem is the constant victim, but Shiva is nobody's victim. Well, except for Roshanara Shetty's.

Playboy Shiva is just going around having sex and leaving behind children when he runs across Roshanara Shetty. He probably doesn't even notice her. When she gets pregnant and he breaks up with her, though, she gets pissed—she's getting back at him. Mean Girls style. This is what she tells him:

Callously she whispered that it was so funny, my God, the way he strutted around in high society like some kind of rooster, while all the time the ladies were laughing at him behind his back, O yes, Major Sahib, don't fool yourself, high-class women have always enjoyed sleeping with animals peasants brutes, but that's how we think of you, my God it's disgusting just to watch you eat, gravy down your chin, don't you think we see how you never hold teacups by their handles, do you imagine we can't hear your belches and breakings of wind, you're just our pet ape, Major Sahib, very useful, but basically a clown. (3.28.33)

This makes us feel bad. Sure Shiva is a terrible person, but that's just mean.

After this, Shiva's insecurities start showing. He gets more and more self-conscious until he runs away to the second Indo Pakistani war. Saleem wouldn't want us to feel bad for his archrival, but you've got to think that growing up poor probably traumatized Shiva. Violence was his way to feel powerful even though, deep down, he's still just that poor little boy begging for money in the streets.