Saleem tells of ancient fishermen, known as Kolis, the first inhabitants of a specific part of India who worshipped the goddess Mumbadevi. The Kolis referred to their land as Mumbai, a variation of the goddess’ name, until it was later invaded by the Portuguese and renamed Bom Bahia, in reference to the harbor. In 1633, Methwold, a British Officer of the East India Company, arrived in Bom Bahia and “envisioned a British Bombay,” and so it was born, passing from generation to generation of Methwolds. In August of 1947, the last Methwold prepares to leave Bombay.
Saleem’s story of the Kolis establishes their right to the land as native Indians. Not only are the Kolis invaded by the Portuguese, and later the British, but they are even denied the right to dictate the name by which their land is known. Unlike Mumbai, Bombay is not an Indian word and it is not rooted in any Indian significance; rather, it is a British mispronunciation of a Portuguese word, and it underscores the oppression of the Indian people under British rule.
William Methwold is selling the individual homes that make up his estate—four sprawling mansions named for European palaces, including Versailles Villa, Buckingham Villa, Escorial Villa, and Sans Souci—for ridiculously cheap, and Ahmed is interested in buying one with his insurance money. However, Methwold will only sell his homes if two conditions are met: that the houses are bought with their contents (which must be retained by the new owners), and that the sale will not be official until midnight on August 15.
Methwold’s Estate is a small-scale representation of British colonialism. Methwold quite literally brings Europe to India by naming his mansions after famous European palaces, and Ahmed is interested in buying Buckingham Villa, a reference to British royalty and the most important of the villas. What’s more, Methwold refuses to leave before he is forced to by India’s upcoming independence on August 15.
Despite Amina’s objections, Ahmed decides to purchase one of Methwold’s mansions (Versailles Villa and Sans Souci have already been sold), and he agrees to the Englishman’s terms “lock, stock, and barrel.” Methwold, who tells Ahmed about his ancestor who “had the idea of building this whole city,” is disappointed to be leaving India. With independence approaching, the colonists have been given seventy days to exit the country.
Methwold’s belief in his superiority is on full display as he tells Ahmed, a native Indian, how his own European ancestors are responsible for the creation of Bombay. Methwold believes, much like Aadam’s college friends did, that India ceased to exist until Europeans arrived and “discovered” it.
Methwold invites Ahmed to have a cocktail in the garden, an evening tradition that has occurred every night for twenty years. When Ahmed questions the delay in sale, Methwold claims to have “a very Indian lust for allegory.” Instead of selling now, he prefers to wait until independence, at which time he will hand over the mansion in “tiptop working order,” or in Hindustani, “Sabkuch ticktock hai. Everything’s just fine.” The Sinais are welcome to move in whenever they please, as long as they agree to keep his stuff.
Methwold’s insistence on a delayed sale and the retention of his personal belongings represent the trappings of Western civilization and culture. A true colonialist, Methwold imposes his own culture onto Ahmed and Amina in an effort to civilize them, thereby erasing their own rich culture and further marginalizing them.
Ahmed and Amina move into Buckingham Villa (Escorial Villa has been turned into flats). The future owners of all the other mansions and flats move onto Methwold’s Estate as well, living amongst his things, waiting for independence. Each evening, the tenants gather in the garden for cocktail hour, as is the custom, and speak in “imitation Oxford drawls.” They are slowly becoming used to the modern conveniences of the estate, including ceiling fans and gas stoves, and as Methwold looks on at the new (future) owners of the estate, he quietly mumbles to himself, “Sabkuch ticktock hai.”
Methwold is pleased with himself because his plan is coming to fruition. His Indian tenants are becoming more British and less Indian by the day. They begin to speak like Methwold and they come to rely on the comforts his modern conveniences afford. They are becoming Westernized, and in Methwold’s biased opinion, this is the “tiptop working order” he intended.
Amina reads an article in the Times of India which announces a prize to any Bombay mother who gives birth at the exact moment of independence. Nussie Ibrahim, Amina’s neighbor in Sans Souci, is also pregnant and looking to deliver an independence baby; however, thanks to Ramram, Amina knows that she will be the first to give birth in the new India. Amina figures that if that part of the soothsayer’s prophecy comes true, the rest will be accurate as well.
The Times of India article puts Saleem on the map. Because of the publicity of his historic birth, it is widely known that Saleem is an independence baby, and he becomes a bit of a local celebrity. Nussie Ibrahim doesn’t give birth until several days after independence, and Ramram’s prophecy is proven true.
One evening during cocktail hour, an entertainer by the name of Wee Willie Winkie arrives on Methwold’s Estate, with his pregnant wife in tow, to play his accordion and make a bit of money. Willie jokes that his wife will win the Times of India prize with their own baby, and Methwold and the others listen to his jokes and songs. What Willie is not aware of, however, is that nine months earlier, while running an errand for Methwold, the Englishman seduced Willie’s wife, Vanita, with his irresistible “center-parting” hair. It is Methwold, not Willie, who is the biological father of Vanita’s baby.
Since Vanita is seduced by William Methwold’s center-parting hair and it is the cause of their affair, this makes the realization that Methwold’s wears a hair-piece all the more powerful. Methwold deceives Vanita, and this is evidence of his dishonesty. Methwold is a con, and by extension, European colonialism is a con as well—a ploy used to gain control over large populations of people.
In the meantime, Mary Pereira goes to Catholic confession. Mary, a midwife at the local hospital, is in love with Joseph D’Costa, an orderly employed at the same facility. Joseph has recently run off with Mary’s sister, Alice, and she is heartbroken. Joseph, a communist, believes “independence is for the rich only; the poor are being made to kill each other like flies.” When Mary fails to support Joseph “in his patriotic cause of awakening the people,” he leaves her, and she is determined to get him back.
Mary Pereira is incredibly devout and serves as a personification of the Catholic faith. Rushdie’s representation of Joseph D’Costa as a communist further underscores the social divide within India and the unofficial partitioning of society, as communism seeks to place the rich and the poor on a level playing field. Together, Joseph and Mary represent the poor working class.