Saleem confesses that his story about Shiva’s death was a blatant lie. Shiva is still alive, and Saleem says that unfinished business remains between them. Padma proposes to Saleem, and he accepts. The honeymoon will be in Kashmir. Saleem speculates that perhaps Padma, with her muscles, might be able to reverse the cracks and looming death he faces. She proposes getting married on his thirty-first birthday, but Saleem says that death is waiting for him that day.
Saleem returns to the story, and his discovery of Aadam and Picture Singh. Aadam’s tuberculosis has disappeared. According to Picture Singh, he was cured by the breast milk of a woman named Durga, whom Picture Singh has fallen in love with. While walking past a mirror, Saleem sees himself for the first time in months. He notices how rapidly he has aged, as well as the expression of profound relief on his own face. Meanwhile, his son, who still won’t speak, demands constant attention. After Aadam voluntarily weans himself from Durga’s breasts, Picture Singh hears of a man in Bombay who claims to be the greatest snake charmer in the world. Determined to challenge the man, Picture Singh sets off for Bombay with Saleem and Aadam.
When they arrive in Bombay, Saleem discovers that Bombay has changed completely. The three go to the Midnite-Confidential Club, a secret, underground club that caters to the cream of Bombay’s society. A blind woman leads them to a room where they wait for the other charmer. A light comes on, and Picture Singh’s opponent, the Maharaja of Cooch Naheen, comes out. The two duel for a long time, their snakes coiling and dancing, until the younger man begins to falter, and one of Picture Singh’s snakes wraps itself around his neck. Picture Singh collapses after his victory and is carried out. In a back room, they are given food to eat. Saleem takes a bite of chutney and instantly recognizes the flavor. He finds out that the Braganze Pickle factory, located in the north of town, makes this particular chutney. Locating the factory, Saleem walks up to the gate and meets Padma for the first time. He asks to see the manager and hears his name called out. He looks up and sees Mary Pereira, the only family he has left.
Saleem recounts what had happened to Mary. She now lives at the top of the old hill, in the mansion built by the Narlikar women. Her room occupies the same space Saleem’s room used to occupy. Mary owes the entire business to her sister, who convinced the Narlikar women to invest in Mary’s chutney. Finally, Saleem’s son, Aadam, begins to say his first word: abracadabra.
Saleem describes the pickle jars. He screws the lid on the last one, and titles it “Abracadabra.” Saleem decides that he will now write the future, and he describes his death. On the day of his wedding, his body breaks and falls apart, reducing him to 600 million specks of dust.
In order for Saleem to reach Bombay and discover Mary, one final battle for supremacy must take place. Picture Singh, who claims to be world’s greatest snake charmer, takes his meager savings and travels to Bombay to assert his title. There can only be one greatest, according to Picture Singh, and he is willing to sacrifice everything to prove it. He succeeds in proving his skills, but only after he literally descends into a world of darkness, and nearly destroys himself in the process. Picture Singh’s victory is ultimately a defeat, or a ladder that becomes a snake. Even in its final moments, life proves to be ambiguous and full of ironies.
“Abracadabra” proves a fitting title for the novel’s final chapter, since the chapter is as much about the continued presence of magic as anything else. As Aadam Sinai’s first word, it suggests that, despite everything that has happened—the wars, the tragic deaths, and the chaotic political turmoil—the next generation of midnight’s children retain the magic of potential, and the ability to change the world. In Aadam’s mouth, it becomes a word of defiance, accumulated over the months of silent listening that marked the first three years of his life. A sense of cautious hope pervades the last chapter. Saleem is set to marry Padma, and in her strong body, he sees a flicker of hope that his own, cracked body might somehow be preserved. Perhaps, armed with Padma and with love, he won’t disintegrate and be consumed after all.
Despite all the changes and exiles he has undergone, Saleem ends up almost exactly where he began: at a house on Methwold’s Estate, his son in the care of Mary Pereira, just as he was once in her care himself. Saleem has succeeded in telling his story, thereby preserving it for his son, just as fruit gets preserved for chutney. That initial optimism is tempered, however, by Saleem’s final prophecy, which spills out in a stream of consciousness. Imagining his future, Saleem sees himself falling apart on his birthday and crumbling into millions of specks of dust, just as his grandfather Aadam crumbled into dust in his time. Saleem’s birthday is, of course, the anniversary of his nation’s independence. Crumbling into dust becomes a symbolic act of both exhaustion and unity. Having given everything he has within him—not only through his life, but through the telling of his story as well—Saleem can surrender himself, dissolving into a metaphor for his nation, as he crumbles into as many pieces of dust as there are people in India.
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