Near-death experiences are a common occurrence in literature. Less common, however are death-like experiences. This is because, in reality, it is impossible to imagine what death, or being dead, is like. Midnight’s Children, however, is full of events and actions that blur the line between reality and fiction (as we have observed). One of these events is Saleem’s death-like experience.
“Memories of invisibility: in the basket, I learned what it was like, will be like, to be dead. I had acquired the characteristics of ghosts! Present, but insubstantial; actual, but without being or weight . . . I discovered, in the basket, how ghosts see the world. Dimly hazily faintly . . . it was around me, but only just; I hung in a sphere of absence at whose fringes, like faint reflections, could be seen the specters of wickerwork. The dead die, and are gradually forgotten; time does its healing, and they fade — but in Parvati’s basket I learned that the reverse is also true; that ghosts, too, begin to forget; that the dead lose their memories of the living, and at last, when they are detached from their lives, fade away — that dying, in short, continues for a long time after death.” (Rushdie 439).
In this excerpt, Saleem describes the death-like feelings that he experienced when he was magically made to disappear by the illusionist witch, Parvati. I am particularly fascinated by this excerpt, not because of the specific details that Saleem includes, but rather, because of the nature of death-like experiences. Since it is impossible (I think) for humans to have truly death-like experiences, and therefore, to have fact-based beliefs about death, the conclusions that Saleem draws from this experience are absolutely unique and magical. All people yearn to know what it is like to experience death; is there an afterlife? Is it just nothingness? Saleem is lucky enough that he is now able to answer those questions.
Consider The Death of Ivan Ilych. Ivan, the protagonist, finally experiences death, and as it happens, he describes the sense of enlightenment he experiences. He sees an overwhelming, yet comforting white light, which gradually blurs the mortal world until it is out of sight. This description is very similar to Saleem’s death-like experience. Saleem even acknowledges the carefree joy that he experiences: “I felt my hold on the world slip away — and how easy, how peaceful not to never to return.” (439).
Saleem carries his knowledge of death throughout the rest of his life, which is knowledge that nobody in the real world can definitely have. This contributes further to the magical nature of his character, placing him on a spiritual level that is unmatchable by any person in the real world.