Saleem continues his story and tells Padma about a framed painting hanging on his bedroom wall in Buckingham Villa, left over from the days of Methwold. In the picture, a fisherman extends his arm and points at the sea, towards the horizon. Following the fisherman’s pointing finger, he appears to also be pointing at a framed letter also hanging on the wall, addressed to Saleem from Prime Minister Nehru, in which he congratulates Saleem on the “happy accident” of his birth. The Prime Minister says, “We shall be watching over your life with the closest attention; it will be, in a sense, the mirror of our own.”
As the picture of the fisherman hanging on Saleem’s wall once belonged to William Methwold, it serves to further represent the trappings of Western culture. The Prime Minister’s reference to Saleem’s birth as a “happy accident” suggests that Saleem’s connection to his country is a random coincidence, not a predestined role to be fulfilled. Despite his use of the word “happy,” the Prime Minister’s words also imply a greater misfortune, as accidents are rarely considered happy.
The Prime Minister’s message unnerves an already paranoid Mary, who wonders if the government knows about her secret. Saleem also considers that the fisherman in the painting is pointing past the picture and his room, to the actual sea and horizon. Or perhaps, Saleem thinks, it may be a warning, an attempt to draw attention to itself.
Saleem has no idea what the picture, if anything, is trying to tell him. Like the man and culture that it represents, the painting is completely foreign. Mary’s paranoia is a direct reflection of her guilt, and she is growing convinced that her secret—and Saleem’s true identity—will be discovered.
Amina and Ahmed bring baby Saleem home from the hospital, including his umbilical cord in an old pickle-jar. Saleem is an incredibly large baby, who drains both his mother and wet-nurse of milk, and like Aadam Aziz, he has a large, bulbous nose (which constantly drips “goo”). His skin is fair and birthmarks cover his face. Strangely, Saleem makes very little noise and doesn’t blink. Amina and Mary, who have since turned into “a two-headed mother,” take turns opening and closing his eyes, which are an amazing “Kashmiri-blue.”
Ahmed and Amina preserve Saleem’s umbilical cord in the pickle jar, just like Saleem later preserves Mary’s chutney and his own stories in pickle jars. Ironically, despite not being Amina’s biological son and being half European, Saleem physically resembles Amina’s father and his face, in an outward refection of his national identity, resembles a map of the subcontinent of India.
Amina and Mary fuss over baby Saleem and love him fiercely. They are secretly competitive of each other, each somewhat resentful of the other. Secretly, Amina continues to love Nadir Khan, and she frequently dreams that is was really Nadir who fathered Saleem. Her dreams are so realistic that she begins to become confused as to Saleem’s true parentage. In this way, Saleem considers himself the son of four fathers; Nadir, Willie, Methwold, and Ahmed Sinai.
In this passage, Amina and Mary become the two mothers to Saleem that Ramram’s prophesy foretells. Additionally, Saleem’s complicated and diverse parentage is a reflection of India’s own diversity—Saleem comes from both wealth and poverty, and he is as much British as he is Indian.
Willie continues to frequent Methwold’s estate, entertaining the residents with his songs of nostalgia. Instead of his wife, Willie now brings with him a rather large baby with “menacingly knocking knees” named Shiva, after the god of procreation and destruction.
Shiva’ name is a reflection of his own Hindu faith, and his big knees are also part of Ramram’s prophesy. Willie’s nostalgia can also be viewed as an effect of colonialism. Willie longs for a time before the oppression of colonialism, and his nostalgic songs, yet another form of storytelling, represent this desire.
Most of the residents of Methwold’s Estate are enamored with Saleem as well (except for Dr. Narlikar, who hates children and advocates for public birth control), and they take turns “borrowing” him. As Saleem is passed around the estate, he learns about each of his neighbors. Old man Ibrahim worries about governments nationalizing his native Africa, and his son Ismail, Sonny’s father, is a highly crooked lawyer. Lila Sabarmati (who lives in a flat) is continually unfaithful to her husband, and Homi Catrack, film-magnate and race-track owner, lives with his daughter, Toxy, an inbred “half-wit,” in Versailles Villa.
Ironically, Dr. Narlikar, who is a gynecologist, hates children, and his desire for mass birth control foreshadows Indira Gandhi’s sterilization program implemented during the Emergency. In this passage, the other tenants of Methwold’s Manner are introduced, and Saleem’s understanding of his surroundings at such a young age is evidence of the magical powers his fateful birth has bestowed upon him.
Ahmed, a “self-important man,” never forgives Saleem for breaking his toe, and he resents the attention that Amina gives the baby (she no longer sweet talks him for money, and the napkin in his lap remains still). Methwold’s cocktail hour has led to Ahmed’s full-blown alcoholism, and since Bombay is a dry state, he must see a doctor every month to get his allotment. When that fails to be enough liquor, Ahmed orders Mary and old Musa, his long-time servant, to obtain alcohol from a doctor as well.
Ahmed’s self-importance is a result of his presumed significance and power as the patriarch of his family. He is so self-absorbed that he blames a baby for his trivial injury, and he forces his servants to lie and secure even more alcohol for his selfish consumption—another display of his power. Furthermore, as Ahmed’s alcoholism is the result of Methwold’s custom, colonialism is directly to blame for his downward spiral.
An intoxicated Ahmed fears getting lost in the city streets, so he works from his home office. Disillusioned with his family, he hires “Anglo” girls as secretaries and takes to flirting with them until they are forced to quit. Unable to pronounce their Western names, Amina refers to Ahmed’s secretaries as “Coca-Cola girls,” and considers them “cheap type females.”
Amina views Western women as impure compared to Indian women, and she is clearly resentful of their presence despite not loving Ahmed. Ahmed’s white secretaries represent one of the primary causes of Amina’s oppression as an Indian woman, and Ahmed is insensitive to her feelings.
One evening, Dr. Narlikar comes to visit Ahmed and together they drive out to the seaside. There, Narlikar pitches Ahmed a business idea in which they mass produce standing tetrapods to place over the water, thereby reclaiming the land beneath the sea. Ahmed agrees, and he begins writing and cashing many checks, and soon the State Secretariat gets the “whiff of a Muslim who is throwing his rupees around like water.”
Dr. Narlikar’s desire to build tetrapods over the ocean can be viewed as a form of compensation for lost Indian land and culture during British colonization, and Ahmed’s money draws the attention of the Indian government. The government secretly prefers all Muslims relocate to Pakistan, and they intend to use his money to force him to move.
Ahmed receives a letter from the State alerting him that all of his assets have been frozen. Ismail Ibrahim offers Ahmed his legal services free of charge, stating, “I have heard about these freezings—only well-off Muslims are selected, naturally. You must fight.” Ahmed laments that the government has “shoved his balls in an ice-bucket,” and soon after he conceives his second child with Amina, he is struck impotent, his “little cubes of ice too frigid to hold.”
Ahmed equates his financial success with his masculinity, and his money is a direct reflection of his status as a man. Now that he is bankrupt, Ahmed ceases to be a real man. Furthermore, the freezing of Ahmed’s assets represents the wide-spread oppression of Muslims by the secular Indian government and their attempts to rid the country of the Islamic faith.