narrator and protagonist of the novel. Born at the moment of India’s
independence and blessed with the powers of telepathy and an uncanny
sense of smell, Saleem tells his extraordinary life story as his
body begins to crumble, an account that significantly parallels
the history of postcolonial India. As a narrator, Saleem can be
both unreliable and self-centered at times.
in-depth analysis of Saleem Sinai.
grandfather. Aadam is the patriarch of the family, a doctor and
skeptic whose loss of faith leaves what he refers to as a “hole”
inside of him. Aadam falls in love with his wife, Naseem, after
only being allowed to see her through a hole in a perforated sheet.
father. A shrewd businessman who is nonetheless destined for failure,
Ahmed spends much of his marriage fighting his wife and his alcohol addiction.
Mumtaz (Amina Sinai)
- Saleem’s mother, and the daughter of Aadam Aziz.
Born Mumtaz, she changes her name to Amina after her marriage to
Ahmed. A loving, devoted mother, she inherits her father’s skepticism
and her mother’s determination. Despite being married to Ahmed,
she is never able to forget her first husband, Nadir Khan.
ayah and surrogate mother. Mary is responsible for switching Saleem
and Shiva at birth out of a misguided sense of social justice. In
order to compensate for her crime, she dedicates her life to raising
archrival. Shiva is born at exactly the same moment as Saleem. While
Saleem is raised in a loving, wealthy household, Shiva is raised
in abject poverty by a single father. He is blessed with a pair
of preternaturally strong knees and an amazing prowess in war. Shiva
is named after the Hindu god of destruction, who is also the god
associated with procreation.
in-depth analysis of Shiva.
- A real witch, and, like Saleem, one of the children born
at the moment of India’s independence. Parvati is Saleem’s closest
ally as a child and later becomes his wife. Despite her fantastic
powers, she is unable to make Saleem fall in love with her and,
as a result, embarks on an affair with Shiva that results in a child. In
the Hindu religion, Parvati is the consort of Shiva.
devoted caretaker and future wife. Padma is as strong and down-to-earth
as Saleem is weak and dreamy. She provides Saleem with a skeptical
yet patient audience.
in-depth analysis of Padma.
grandmother, and Aadam Aziz’s wife. After marriage, Naseem becomes
known as Reverend Mother, in part because of her religious devotion.
As her husband withers away with age, Reverend Mother grows increasingly
large and powerful.
- Saleem’s biological father. An Englishman, William
Methwold seduces women with his perfectly parted hair, which is
actually a wig. He owns Methwold’s Estate, a portion of which he
sells to Ahmed Sinai. He sees his departure from India as marking
the tragic end of an era.
aunt, and a sister of Amina. After Ahmed Sinai rejects her for her
sister, Alia harbors a lifelong bitterness and determination to
destroy her sister and her sister’s family.
uncle, and a brother of Amina. Hanif was once one of the most promising
film directors in India. However, his dream to create art free from
melodrama and superstition fails, and, as his career falls apart,
he commits suicide.
first husband. As a young man, Nadir Khan is the personal assistant
to Mian Abdullah, as well as a bad poet. He falls in love with Amina
but is forced to divorce her on account of his impotence. He later changes
his name to Qasim Khan and becomes a communist.
uncle, and a brother of Amina. Mustapha is the ideal, obedient civil
servant. He is so passive, he’s nearly inconsequential—a fate he
takes out on his children by constantly beating them until they
have no personality left.
aunt, and a sister of Amina. Emerald marries Major Zulfikar and
enjoys an opulently comfortable lifestyle. Selfish and self-absorbed,
she only reluctantly comes to her sister’s aid.
- Emerald’s husband, and an important figure in the
Pakistani army. General Zulfikar helps orchestrate a coup against
the Pakistani government and makes money by smuggling items into
the country. His constant abuse of his son, Zafar, eventually provokes Zafar
into killing him.
son of General Zulfikar and Emerald. Zafar wets himself throughout
his life and is ridiculed and abused by his father as a result.
biological son of Shiva and Parvati-the-witch. Saleem raises Aadam
as if he were his own child. Aadam is just three years old at the
snake charmer, and the leader of the magician’s ghetto. Charming
and diplomatic, Picture Singh is Saleem’s closest friend. He is
undone by his desire to prove himself the world’s greatest snake
Wee Willie Winkie
- Shiva’s father. Wee Willie Winkie is a poor man who
earns a living by singing for the wealthy families of Methwold’s
biological mother. Vanita dies during labor.
Evie Lilith Burns
- A violent, tough American girl. Evie is briefly the leader
of the children living on Methwold’s Estate, and she is Saleem’s
of the children living on Methwold’s Estate. Sonny is Saleem’s best
friend. He is also in love with Saleem’s sister, the Brass Monkey.
social radical who later becomes a ghost. Joseph D’Costa’s political
beliefs inspire Mary’s decision to switch Shiva and Saleem, and
his ghost later compels her to confess her crime.
- A high-ranking official in the Indian navy. After
learning that his wife, Lila, has had an affair, Commander Sabarmati
shoots her, kills her lover, and then surrenders. He temporarily
becomes a national hero.
film magnate, and resident of Methwold’s Estate. Homi Catrack has
an affair with Lila, the wife of Commander Sabarmati, and is subsequently
murdered by the commander.
wife of Commander Sabarmati. Lila’s husband shoots her in the stomach
for having an affair.
- A doctor, and Ahmed’s business partner. Dr. Narlikar
devises a scheme for reclaiming land from the ocean but dies before
he can implement it.
sister. Alice eventually works for Ahmed Sinai and is responsible
for Mary’s chutney factory.
Farooq, Shaheed, and Ayooba
- Three soldiers assigned to work with Saleem in the
Pakistani army. Each one is eventually killed during the war.
unnamed, unnumbered group of “grossly competent” women who take
over Dr. Narlikar’s affairs after his death.
political figure before independence. Mian Abdullah is the founder
of the Free Islam Convocation, an organization dedicated to resisting
the partition of India along religious lines.
father. Ghani is a blind, wealthy landowner.
- An old
boatman from Kashmir. Tai is a mysterious, ancient, and wise figure
who remains resentful of the world’s encroachment into his territory
until his death.
prophet who predicts Saleem’s future while Amina is pregnant.