1947 begins quietly; however, British viceroys move behind the scenes, making decisions and political maneuvers that will lead to India’s partition (which, Saleem says, will begin in just six short months—“tick, tock”). Saleem interrupts his own story to complain about a doctor Padma recently called on to examine the cracks in his skin. Padma shoos the doctor away after he declares Saleem whole, and he is convinced Padma’s doctor is “a quack.”
Instead of Indians making their own decisions regarding independence and possible partition, the British impose their own ideas onto the Indian people without their knowledge. Saleem’s interruption to talk about Padma’s “quack” doctor parallels Aadam’s own belief that traditional Indian medicine is quackery.
Saleem continues his story with Amina, who having moved to Delhi with Ahmed, wakes for the first time in a new city and thinks that the sun has come up in the wrong place (her new home faces east towards the sun). Amina has been suffering from insomnia and is uncomfortable in her new life and identity, and she can’t stop thinking about the bag full of money Ahmed snuck under their bed when he thought she wasn’t looking. Nevertheless, in their new marriage, Amina gives “Ahmed the gift of her inexhaustible assiduity.”
Amina is completely out of place in her new life. She is used to living in a dark basement in an entirely different city, and she is not in love with her new husband. Amina knows that Ahmed is keeping secrets from her—the bag of money is proof of that—yet she continues to dedicate herself to him despite her true feelings. She views her dedication to her husband as her sworn duty, and she is determined to uphold it.
Amina diligently tends to her new home, decorating and settling in, but she fails to love Ahmed. She had married him for children, and since they don’t have any yet, Amina is silently miserable and thinks mostly about Nadir. Amina resolves to try to love Ahmed and begins to “train herself to love him.” Each day, she focuses on one small part of him until he becomes familiar.
Amina’s attempts to love Ahmed by partitioning him and focusing on individual parts is reminiscent of Aadam and Reverend Mother’s introduction through the perforated sheet. However, just like her parents, Amina and Ahmed’s relationship based on fragments is doomed from the beginning.
As Amina silently picks him apart, Ahmed slowly begins to resemble Nadir—he gains weight and his hair turns thin and greasy. Amina turns their home into a replica of “Mumtaz Mahal,” covering the windows with thick draperies and shutting out all the light. Their life together is silent and dark, and both Amina and Ahmed are keeping secrets from each other.
Amina is trying to replicate her life with Nadir—a time of true happiness and love—in her marriage to Ahmed. Amina finds Ahmed easier to love when he physically resembles Nadir, and she is more comfortable in their home when it looks like “Mumtaz Mahal.” Amina’s former life with Nadir is in keeping with her true identity.
Later, Amina is irritated as she cooks for Ahmed. His distant cousin Zohar is visiting, and Amina, who has special news to share and needs household money, is annoyed with the lack of privacy. (Whenever Amina needs money to buy groceries or pay bills, Ahmed makes her “ask nicely” by sweet talking him and sexually caressing him until his “table napkin begins to rise in his lap.”) Ahmed allows Zohar to listen to All-Indian Radio—something that he denies Amina—and the two talk about the merits of “lovely pink babies” over “blackies,” since to be black is “proof of inferiority.”
Amina is not free to listen to radio programs of her own choosing, and it bothers her that Ahmed allows his cousin to partake in this forbidden activity. Ahmed further exerts his power by making Amina earn money through sexual favors—a particularly deeming practice that she would rather not perform in front of company. Furthermore, Amina is also marginalized on account of her dark complexion, and this echoes the color divide and prejudices imposed on the Indian people by British colonialism.
Suddenly, Ahmed’s business partners, Mustapha Kemal and Mr. S. P. Butt, arrive excitedly at the Sinais’ and inform them that the complex which houses their rather large warehouse is on fire. The fire, started by Ravana—a crew of Hindu “incendiary rogues” named for a many-headed demon—is burning an unknown warehouse, and the three men fear for their inventory. Ahmed provides leather for military jackets, Kemal deals in rice tea lentils, and Mr. S. P. Butt manufactures matches—and his stockpile is sure to go up quickly. Ahmed is convinced that their warehouse is safe, claiming that “they still have time to pay.”
The burning warehouse is the first clue as to the reason for Ahmed’s secret stash of money that he keeps hidden under the bed. As a Muslim, Ahmed and his business partners must pay-off the local Hindu gang to spare their business, a direct reflection of the religious conflicts brewing within Indian society. Ahmed has been given a specific amount of time to come up with the money, and since this time has not yet passed, he is sure that the burning warehouse does not belong to them.
The Ravana gang, a fanatical anti-Muslim movement, is active in Delhi, which is home to a large Muslim population—including Amina and Ahmed. They hang signs near mosques demanding, “NO PARTITION OR ELSE PERDITION! MUSLIMS ARE THE JEWS OF ASIA!” The gang extorts money from Muslim business owners through threats of arson, and most pay rather than involve the police, who cannot “be relied upon by Muslims.” Ahmed runs to check his warehouse with Kemal and Mr. Butt, and the three businessmen find their own warehouse intact, a Muslim-owned bicycle warehouse burns instead.
Many Muslim Indians support the partitioning of India and the formation of Pakistan (an official Islamic state), and this creates tension with the Hindu population, who overwhelmingly oppose Partition and instead advocate for a secular state with religious freedom. The signs hanging near the mosques and threats of violence by the Ravana are proof of the deep-seated religious bigotry within the country, and even the police cannot be trusted to be impartial.
Outside Amina’s home, Lafifa Das, a young Hindu boy, pushes his peepshow cart through the Muslim neighborhood, entertaining people with his picture postcards. Lafifa Das endeavored “to put everything in his box”—including pictures of holy temples, the Taj Mahal, and European actresses—a practice that Saleem considers “an Indian disease, this urge to encapsulate the whole of reality.” The Muslim neighborhood quickly turns on Lafifa Das when a young boy identifies him as Hindu, and they corner him against a door, calling him a “mother raper” and “violator of daughters.” The door suddenly opens and Lafifa Das falls back, looking up at Amina.
Lafifa Das’s peepshow and his “Indian disease” of trying to capture the whole world in his box echoes Saleem’s (and India’s) hybridity. India’s already varied population is further diversified by British colonialism and Western influences until, in itself, Indian culture seems to capture “the whole of reality.” As a Hindu, however, Lafifa is not welcome in the Muslim neighborhood, and this is reflected in the deplorable names wielded at the young boy.
Amina chases off the mob, yelling out that she is pregnant and if they wish to kill the Hindu boy, they will have to kill her, a pregnant Muslim as well. Carrying a baby Saleem, Amina’s announcement saves Lafifa Das’s life, and he repays her with the promise of having her unborn child’s fortune told by his soothsayer cousin. Amina accepts, and Zohar declares her “crazy as an owl.”
As Amina rescues Lafifa Das, this action parallels her father’s own rescue of Nadir Kahn. More importantly, Amina’s actions prompt the prophecy that foretells the significance of Saleem’s birth and his connection to India.