On December 15, 1971, Tiger Niazi, the Pakistani army officer in charge of the war against Bangladesh, surrenders to his Indian counterpart and old friend, Sam Manekshaw. Saleem says that he, in turn, surrendered to an old friend, a girl with saucer eyes.
As Saleem and Shaheed return to Dacca, they once again witness the Pakistani army’s atrocities. Saleem enters a deserted house that once belonged to a notary, while Shaheed stands outside watching the soldiers. Shaheed looks up just in time to see a grenade heading toward him. It explodes at his midsection, splitting him in half. Shaheed points to a nearby mosque and asks Saleem to bring him to the top of it. Once there, a trail of ants follows Shaheed’s blood and begins to devour him. The mosque’s loudspeaker picks up his screams, echoing them throughout the city.
As the Indian army advances into the defeated city, a troop of magicians precedes them. A snake charmer by the name of Picture Singh travels with the troops, along with Parvati-the-witch, one of the former midnight’s children. Parvati sees Saleem and shouts out his name, restoring his lost identity to him and reuniting him with an old, lost friend. At the same time, Sam and Tiger reminisce about their old days in the British Army, and Tiger denies rumors of war crimes. Parvati offers to help Saleem escape from Pakistan by magically transporting him in her basket. Saleem disappears into the basket, and while inside he discovers a rage within him, an anger at all he has seen and had done to him, everything that he has “blindly accepted.”
Saleem says that the Widow has now drained the anger out of him, but at that time, his anger was responsible for restoring his ability to feel.
Twenty-six pickle-jars sit on a shelf, corresponding to the twenty-six chapters of the novel thus far. Padma suggests, hopefully, taking a Kashmiri vacation with Saleem.
By the time Saleem arrives in India and stumbles out of the basket, Indira Gandhi’s New Congress Party holds a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. Saleem becomes determined to save the country. At the magician’s ghetto, which lies in the shadow of a mosque, an old woman named Resham Bibi tells Saleem to leave before he destroys everything. However, Picture Singh, as the head of the magician’s ghetto, declares Saleem his personal guest.
Saleem decides to leave soon after, though, because he remains convinced that he will play a crucial role in India’s salvation and feels that his destiny will be impossible to fulfill while living in the ghetto with Parvati and Picture. He decides to go to his uncle, Mustapha Aziz, a senior Civil Servant, for assistance. Saleem admits that he also had a personal, less noble reason for leaving. In Dacca, Parvati had seen Shiva, driving through the streets in a tank and decorated as a military hero. Parvati asked Shiva for a lock of his hair, and Shiva obliged. Parvati felt hopeful that the meeting was a good sign, and that the three of them would someday be reunited. Saleem admits that a fear of seeing Shiva again also prompted him to leave.
When Saleem arrives at his uncle’s house, his uncle’s wife greets him harshly. Saleem learns that all of his relatives have died and enters a 400-day mourning period for them. He also learns that once his sister discovered that he had disappeared during the war, she turned against the government and began to criticize it openly. Jamila is never seen or heard from again. Saleem, however, has a dream in which Jamila returns to the secret monastery where he used to get her leavened bread. On the 418th day of his stay, a man whom Saleem believes might be Indira Gandhi’s son comes over to dinner. Saleem sees a black leather folder in his uncle’s study, labeled Top Secret and titled “Project M.C.C.” Saleem says he doesn’t condemn his uncle, and notes that he, too, has been a traitor before. Saleem says that, although he didn’t know this at the time, the Gandhi family has acquired the ability to replicate themselves, and that is why they wanted to impose birth control on everyone else.
Parvati-the-witch visits Saleem the next day. That evening, Saleem’s aunt finds him in bed with Parvati and throws them out of the house. Back in the ghetto, Picture Singh and Saleem discuss the rampant corruption in the government and in the country. Parvati-the-witch shows Saleem the full extent of her fantastic magical powers, casting spells to grow his hair back, erase the birthmarks on his face, and straighten his bandy legs. However, she remains restless, because she wants more than friendship from Saleem. Yet every time Saleem tries to sleep with Parvati, he sees her face transform into a grotesque version of his sister’s. After repeated efforts, Parvati gives up, developing a permanent pout on her lips. When Picture Singh suggests that Saleem marry her, Saleem lies and says that he’s impotent, thereby wishing upon himself the curse that once afflicted Nadir Khan and, briefly, his father.
Shaheed’s cry of agony, broadcast over the mosque loudspeaker, comprises one of the novel’s most chilling and brutal moments. Shaheed’s scream expresses the narrative outrage at the senseless deaths of thousands of young men during the Indo-Pakistan war. Shaheed’s name means martyr, and in the end he does die like a martyr, the shining pomegranate of his dream transforming into a live grenade and destroying the lower half of his body. However, Shaheed is unlike a martyr in that his death proves incidental and capricious, and thus martyrdom itself, at least in this conflict, is revealed to be an empty notion. His death serves no purpose and makes no statement—it is merely gruesome, painful, and tragic. Searching for some dignity and meaning, and seeking to fulfill the weighty prophecy of his given name, Shaheed asks Saleem to bring him to the top of the mosque. However, instead of finding God there, Shaheed finds himself being consumed by greedy ants. Shaheed’s death gains no nobility in the mosque, and his split corpse proves no more sacred than the dead cockroach the ants had previously been feasting on. The mechanized call to prayer—a recorded voice, which always skips in the same place—reinforces this feeling of hollowness. Shaheed’s scream, however, is real. Though he cannot articulate words, the Shaheed’s voice cries out not only for his own death, but also for the thousands of other atrocities being committed throughout the country.
After Parvati transports Saleem to the magician’s ghetto, he ends up living in the shadow of yet another mosque, an echo of the mosque that loomed over his aunt Alia’s house in Karachi, the site of his family’s extermination. The combination of this ominous setting and Resham Bibi’s warnings seems to suggest doom for Saleem. After leaving the ghetto for his uncle’s house, Saleem makes two startling revelations. He learns about the death of his family members and discovers his uncle’s secret folder, labeled “Project M.C.C.” In addition, a mysterious man comes to visit his uncle—who, despite being a Muslim, remains a deeply devoted Indian civil servant. Saleem believes the man to be Sanjay Gandhi, elder son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, though he never manages to confirm his suspicions. Sanjay was the government official primarily responsible for the sterilization campaign, a central program enacted during the State of Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi between 1975-1977. When Saleem sees the man he believes to be Sanjay, he says that the prime minister’s family had discovered how to replicate themselves. This is a sly reference to the Gandhi political dynasty, which began with Indira’s father and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and continued through Indira and onto Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi. Even today, the Gandhi family remains hugely influential in Indian politics, with Rajiv’s widow, Sonia, serving as president of the Indian National Congress Party, and Rajiv’s children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadera, politically active as well.