After he is discharged from the hospital, Saleem is picked up by his Uncle Hanif and Mary Pereira. He is told that he is not returning to Buckingham Villa; instead, Saleem and Mary are exiled to Hanif and Pia’s apartment. Saleem notes that his life is moving too fast, and he still doesn’t know who he truly is. Driving in his uncle’s car, he notices a billboard advertising Kolynos Toothpaste in which a young boy squeezes toothpaste from a never-ending tube. Saleem thinks of himself as an “involuntary Kolynos Kid, squeezing crises and transformations out of a bottomless tube.”
Ahmed and Amina’s treatment of Saleem after discovering that he is not their son is awful. They ship him off—out of sight, out of mind—and don’t even bother to make sure that he is okay. Saleem’s identity has been transformed, and he has no idea into what. Like snakes, the Kolynos Toothpaste kid represents transformation, and this parallels the transformation of Old India into New India.
Saleem’s exile to Hanif and Pia’s ends up being quite enjoyable. His aunt and uncle treat him like the son they never had, and Mary constantly feeds him baked goods and fresh green chutney. Unfortunately, Hanif’s film career has steadily declined over the years. He insists on writing only realistic scripts, which are often depressing, and he fails to sell a single one. Despite his failures, however, Homi Catrack continues to pay Hanif a studio salary, and he is feverishly writing a script about a pickle-factory run entirely by women.
Saleem has collects father figures throughout Midnight’s Children, and Hanif is among many, including (thus far) Ahmed, William Methwold, and Wee Willie Winkie. Hanif’s preference for depressing and realistic films mirror India’s current social climate, and, ironically, are rejected by the Indian people. Hanif’s addition of a pickle-factory run by women foreshadows Saleem’s own experience at Braganza Pickles.
Pia is growing unhappy in her life. Hanif insists that they continue living in the small apartment despite his earlier success, and her advancing age is affecting her acting career. Pia complains that Reverend Mother, who has long since disapproved of acting, has begun harassing her to “acquire the concession on a good petrol pump.” To Reverend Mother, “that is proper work.”
Reverend Mother disapproves because of Pia job because it makes her fully visible to strange men everywhere, and she still resents having to exit purdah. Pia’s willingness to be seen by men is, according to Reverend Mother, proof of her loose morals and impurity, and this reflects the oppression of women within Indian society.
Despite his “bare knees” and short pants (the markings of a child), Saleem enters premature puberty and his testicles “drop into their little sacs.” He begins to notice Pia’s beauty and her voluptuous breast, and she frequently hugs him and holds him close—which he rather enjoys. Meanwhile, Mary, having just returned from a trip to Methwold’s Estate, informs Saleem that “the country is in the grip of a sort of supernatural invasion.” Citizens report seeing gods and chariots, and even a bleeding tombstone. Most curious of all, Mary claims cows are disappearing into thin air, “poof!”
The “supernatural invasion” that Mary speaks of is the wrath of Hindu gods—punishment for India’s conversion into a secular state. In Amina’s absence, Saleem projects his mother obsession onto Pia. Saleem has a history of inappropriate feelings towards the women in his family; his relationship with his own mother is almost oedipal in nature, and he later falls in love with the Brass Monkey. Not being of blood relation to his own family wreaks havoc on Saleem’s identity, and his unsure who to love or how.
Regardless of his professional failures, Hanif and Pia’s apartment is a popular meeting place for others in the film industry and they frequently host parties. During one such party, Homi secretly slips Saleem a folded note and asks him to give it to his aunt. Homi says, “And keep mum; or I’ll send the police to cut your tongue out!”
As Homi and Pia have been having an affair, the letter represents Homi’s attempt to break it off. Homi’s letter also represents his disrespect for Pia; after years of intimacy, he doesn’t give her the courtesy of personally speaking to her or offering any explanation, and this is a reflection of the patriarchy.
That night, unable to get Pia alone, Saleem goes to sleep with the letter still in his hand. He wakes screaming after a nightmare—in which his classmate, Jimmy, is murdered—and Pia invites him to sleep with her and Hanif. Once in bed, Saleem slips the note silently into Pia’s hand.
The boy who dies in Saleem’s nightmare is the same boy Saleem saves from Mr. Zagallo on account of his heart condition the day they study “human geography” in school. Saleem’s dream serves as an omen and affords him the chance to give Pia the note.
The next day after school (where Saleem learns that his classmate, Jimmy, has died of a sudden heart seizure), he arrives home to find Pia gone. She returns later, obviously upset, and Saleem enters her thoughts to spy. He learns that Homi Catrack, after years of a secret affair, has suddenly lost interest in her. Saleem attempts to comfort Pia, and before he knows it, he is caressing her body. She reacts badly, pushing him away and calling him a pervert, just as Mary enters the room holding a pair of pants. “You are a big man now,” she says, “look, your mother has sent you two pairs of nice, white long trousers.”
Sadly, despite Saleem’s “heroic” efforts that day in class, Jimmy is still dead. Even though Saleem is now considered a man, he still has difficulty understanding his conflicted identity and his supernatural powers, and he has no one to turn to, other than Mary Pereira. The lack of attention paid to Saleem, in part, fuels his inappropriate interaction with Pia, and it has damaged their relationship as well.
Amina soon arrives to bring Saleem back to Buckingham Villa, and she offers no explanation as to why he was sent away in the first place. She warns Saleem that Ahmed has not been happy lately and that terrible things have been happening. When he mentions that Mary has already told him about the strange occurrences, she becomes upset with Mary in the backseat, crying, “What have you been saying?” She quickly calms herself, stating, “Everything will be all right. You just wait and see.” Saleem is not convinced.
While the reason Amina becomes upset with Mary for telling Saleem about the mysterious occurrences is never exactly explained, Amina and Ahmed seem to make a concerted effort to keep religion out of their children’s lives. They never visit a mosque and they never once pray, and this is a reflection of India’s secular state. Amina’s negative reaction suggests that she believes her actions are the cause of the occurrences, and she is frightened of what’s to come.