“I was born in the city of Bombay … once upon a time,” begins Saleem Sinai, the narrator of Sir Salman Rushdie's postcolonial classic Midnight's Children. But in keeping with what soon becomes recognizable as his Tristram Shandyish habit, Saleem immediately corrects his opening sentence: “once upon a time,” won't do, not when Saleem was born at midnight on the very day India gained independence from Great Britain, August 15, 1947, and is thus “mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country.” Saleem Sinai, also known as “Snotface, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha, and even Piece-of-the-Moon,” will go on to tell his life story, a narrative of identity formation where the identity being formed is not only his but his nation's (4).
The trouble with personal and national identities is that they must be both unitary and multiple. “I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me,” Saleem announces: “I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Not am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I,’ every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude” (441). But that a self or a nation that is too divided threatens to crumble out of existence gives its urgency to Saleem's narration: he feels that he is breaking apart, disintegrating into “(approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious dust” – or the population of India (36).