Padma has not returned, and Saleem is still feeling her absence. Alone at the pickle factory with only his employees (“an army of strong, hairy-armed, formidably competent women”) to keep him company, Saleem’s condition is worsening. He can no longer distinguish between the odors of lemon and lime, and his cracks are spreading all over his body. What’s worse, he’s discovered an error in his storytelling. Saleem realizes that Gandhi was not assassinated shortly after he was born; however, he can’t reconcile the actual date within the story of his life. In Saleem’s India, “Gandhi will continue to die at the wrong time.”
Saleem’s mistake in storytelling affects his reliability as a narrator; however, this mistake also makes a valuable point. Gandhi’s impact on Indian society is not lessened in Saleem’s story because of an arbitrary date. This implies that concrete dates are not important within the broader context of Gandhi’s contribution to society, and to some extent, within the broader context of storytelling as a whole.
Back in his childhood, Saleem abandons his Archangel explanation and finally realizes that the voices he hears are some form of telepathy. He hears multiple languages in his head, most of which he doesn’t understand, and as “language marchers” fill the Bombay streets demanding partition based on language, Saleem finds new ways to understand the voices in his head. Soon, language fades always, and he is able to understand through what he calls “universally intelligible thought-forms which far transcend words.” Saleem is even able to pick out the voices of his own family and Mary Pereira.
Rushdie’s depiction of Saleem’s telepathy and his trouble with language mirrors the language troubles that plague India as a whole. While the country divides itself based on the different languages spoken, Saleem is able to unite the voices in his head by moving beyond language and transcending words. This implies that there is hope for India to come together despite the multiple languages spoken.
Saleem atones for his blasphemy by washing his own mouth out with soap, and he quickly becomes the favorite child again. The Brass Monkey soon sets fire to Amina’s slippers, and all is right again in the Sinais’ home. No one mentions the voices again. Saleem notes that mental illness “is a source of deep family shame,” and worrying that he will again be received as crazy, he decides to keep his new powers a secret.
Saleem’s willingness to punish himself for his blasphemy underscores the importance of religion in the Sinai home, despite the secular nature of their lives. Saleem has sinned and must atone—even if his beliefs are shaky. This underscores the role religion plays in the greater context of culture. Religion affects even those who don’t necessarily believe.
Saleem begins to use his gift to his advantage, cheating on tests and improving his grades by entering the thoughts of the class genius, Cyrus-the-great. He is suddenly privy to surprises and knows what’s inside wrapped presents, and through entering Ahmed’s thoughts, he sees the latest Coca-Cola girl naked. He enters Amina’s thoughts, filled with household tasks and pieces of her husband, and she keeps repeating the same name, “Nadir, Nadir.” Mary, who Saleem has taken to dreaming with, dreams each night about a man named Joseph D’Costa. Her thoughts are consumed by a guilt that Saleem can’t quite understand (she keeps it at the very back of her mind), but it is the same guilt that he feels each time he eats her chutneys.
Like Reverend Mother, Mary Pereira cooks her emotions into the food that she serves Saleem and his family, and they are all subconsciously aware of the guilt they feel when they eat her cooking. Rushdie’s depiction of the women in the story cooking emotions into food highlights the nostalgic qualities of food and its ability to elicit certain emotions or activate memory. In this way, cooking is a form of storytelling in itself, and this is in the same vein as Saleem’s attempts to pickle his story at Braganza’s Pickle-factory.
Unable to return to the solitude of Amina’s washing-chest and looking to escape the thoughts of his family, Saleem begins hiding in the broken clock tower that Joseph D’Costa had attempted to blow up. In the clock tower, Saleem enters the thoughts of all of India, travelling in his mind to New Delhi, Calcutta, and Cape Comorin. He enters the thoughts of movie stars, famous athletes, politicians, and finally, the Prime Minister himself. Saleem believes that there is nothing he can’t know.
Ironically, as Saleem believes that there is nothing that he can’t know, he remains unable to access Mary’s thoughts that reveal his true identity. The fact that the clock tower is broken and fails to keep time implies, much like Saleem’s chronological mistakes in his storytelling, the overall insignificance of keeping formal time, especially in storytelling.
Despite having his assets unfrozen, Ahmed never regains life below the belt, and “his sex lays dormant, a woolly elephant in an iceberg, like the one they found in Russia in ’56.” Having married him for children, Amina feels her womb begin to rot, and she takes to cooking her own disappointment into the hot lime chutney. Ahmed has replaced sex with the tetrapod business, which is about to take off. He has kept his name off of the books this time, in order to protect his assets; however, when Narlikar dies unexpectedly, there is no record of Ahmed’s contribution.
When Ahmed replaces sex with the tetrapod business and Amina’s womb rots in response, this parallels Narlikar’s own dislike for children and his desire to impose birth control on the public. Ahmed’s obsession with the tetrapods leads to his continued abstinence and Amina is denied a child—yet another major decision that Ahmed makes without her input.
According to the rumor, while out visiting friends, Narlikar decided to walk down by the sea where the city had arranged for one tetrapod to stand in the water. Once there, he finds several beggar-women surrounding the tetrapod “performing the rite of puja.” He tries to run the women off, shouting at them and pushing them. Suddenly, nearby language marchers hear his shouts and turn to riot. He runs to the sea, clinging to the tetrapod. The language marchers knock the tetrapod into the sea, killing Narlikar instantly.
In addition to hating children, Narlikar is also a misogynist, and his hate for women directly leads to his death. The rite of puja is a simple ritual in which offerings are given to an image of a god. In this case, the women present their offerings around the tetrapod, and this symbolizes the secular state of India. Instead of making offerings to a god, they worship the tetrapod, which represents their devotion to business and money rather than religion.
Not long after his death, a steady stream of female heirs arrives on Methwold’s Estate to manage Narlikar’s affairs. Narlikar, who hated women and children, is surrounded in death by strong women who assume his business dealings and move into his apartment. They take over the running of his hospital and cut Ahmed out of the tetrapod business. Once again, on account of Narlikar’s tetrapods, Ahmed is left broke.
Again, the fact that Narlikar’s heirs are a hoard of strong and independent women is ironic considering his misogyny. Furthermore, Narlikar’s women are incredibly proficient, and they successfully take over his business interests, again upending the idea that men are more capable than women.