Saleem Sinai opens the novel by explaining the exact date and time of his birth: August 15, 1947, at midnight. Saleem’s birth coincides precisely with the moment India officially gains its independence from Britain. Thus, as Saleem notes, his miraculously timed birth ties him to the fate of the country. He is thirty-one years old now and feels that time is running out for him. Saleem’s believes his life is ending and he must tell all of the stories trapped inside of him before he dies.
Saleem begins the story with his grandfather, Aadam Aziz, on an early spring morning in Kashmir. Saleem describes Kashmir as a place of incredible beauty and notes that, in 1915, Kashmir was still pristine, looking just as it had during the time of the Mughal Empire. At this point in the story, Kashmir is free of the soldiers, camouflaged trucks, and military jeeps that will come to characterize it in later years.
While praying, Aadam bumps his nose against the hard ground, and three drops of blood fall from his nose. As a result, he vows never again to bow before man or god, and consequently a “hole” opens up inside of him. Aadam has recently returned home from Germany, after five years of medical study. While Aadam was away, his father had a stroke, and his mother took over his duties in the family gem business. As Aadam stands on the edge of a lake, Tai, an old boatman, comes rowing toward him. Saleem describes Aadam’s features, particularly his prominent nose. Saleem also describes the enigmatic Tai and the local rumors that surround him.
Tai’s boat draws closer. He shouts out to Aadam that the daughter of Ghani the landowner has fallen ill. Here, Saleem interrupts his narrative to note that most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence, but he reassures us that he has the ability to see things he didn’t actually witness. In this way, he is able to describe Aadam taking care of his mother, attending to the landowner’s daughter, and being ferried across the lake by Tai, all at the same time.
At the landowner’s opulent house, Aadam realizes that the old man, Ghani, is blind. While waiting to see the patient, Aadam gets nervous and considers fleeing, but then he has a vision of his mother and decides to stay. Aadam is taken in to see the patient, who is flanked by two extremely muscular women holding a white bed sheet over her like a curtain. In the center of the sheet is a hole, approximately seven inches in diameter. Ghani tells Aadam that, for modesty’s sake, he can only examine his daughter through the seven-inch hole.
Saleem sits at his desk, writing. Padma, described as a great comfort despite her inability to read, cooks for Saleem and presses him to eat. Saleem returns to his story, saying that his grandfather’s premonition to run away was well founded, because, in the ensuing months and years, Aadam fell under the spell of the perforated cloth. The isolated parts of Naseem’s body that Aadam has seen begin to haunt him, and his mother notes that Ghani is using the illnesses as a ploy, to arrange a marriage between his daughter and Aadam. Saleem notes that his grandfather fell in love through a hole in a sheet and that this love filled in the hole left by Aadam’s renunciation of his faith.