page 1 of 2
Saleem claims that his body—worn down by time, history, and fatigue—will soon break into hundreds of millions of pieces. He describes how he makes his living making chutney and other condiments and how Padma prepares his food and bed in the factory. Being impotent, Saleem can’t respond to Padma’s sexual advances.
Saleem returns to his family history, jumping ahead to the summer of 1942. Aadam and Naseem now live on Cornwallis Road, in Agra, and have five children: Alia, Mumtaz, Hanif, Mustapha, and Emerald. Naseem has become a formidable figure with age and is now generally referred to as Reverend Mother. She has also developed a verbal habit of referring to things as whatsitsname. Saleem recounts a story of how, in the early 1930s, Naseem became furious with Aadam for dismissing the children’s religion tutor, whom he felt was teaching the children to hate people of other faiths. Incensed, Naseem refuses to feed Aadam, waiting until he’s almost dead of hunger before she relents.
Back in 1942, Aadam has aligned himself with a charismatic man named Mian Abdullah, also known as the Hummingbird. Abdullah heads the Free Islam Convocation, which opposes the creation of a separate Muslim state. One day, during a visit to a university campus with his personal secretary, Nadir Khan, Mian Abdullah is attacked by a band of assassins. When the assassins begin to cut him with their knives, Abdullah starts to hum, the pitch growing increasingly higher. One of the killers’ eyes shatters and falls out of its socket; the surrounding windows shatter as well. Dogs throughout Bombay hear the Hummingbird and rush to the scene, injuring the assassins to such a degree that the murders are rendered unrecognizable. Mian Abdullah dies, but Nadir Khan manages to escape and, finding Rashid the rickshaw boy in the field surrounding Doctor Aziz’s house, pleads with Rashid to notify Aadam of the situation.
The period of optimism that Mian Abdullah inspired ends with his assassination. The Rani of Cooch Naheen, one of Abdullah’s allies, takes to her bed, while Aadam puts his energy into treating the poor. One day, while using the bathroom, Aadam is startled to find Nadir Khan hiding in the laundry bin. Aadam agrees to provide him sanctuary, despite his wife’s protests and concerns for their daughters’ purity. In retaliation, Naseem promises never to speak again, and silence descends upon the house.
Several suitors line up for the three Aziz daughters, including Major Zulfikar, an official in the Pakistani army; Nadir Khan, who lives hidden in the Aziz basement; and Ahmed Sinai. Mumtaz, Aadam’s favorite daughter and the darkest-skinned of all the children, tends to Nadir Khan. The two fall in love without ever exchanging a word, and Nadir asks Aadam for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The family arranges a secret marriage between the two. Afterward, Mumtaz happily moves into the basement, returning to the upper floors by day to preserve the secrecy of her husband’s concealment.
The Rani of Cooch Naheen dies, her skin having turned completely white, and bequeaths a silver spittoon to the Aziz family. Mumtaz falls ill, and, while giving her a check-up, Aadam discovers that after two years of marriage Mumtaz remains a virgin. Upon hearing the news, Naseem ends her three years of silence, releasing a torrent of abusive words at her husband. Saleem notes that this occurred on the same day that America dropped the atomic bomb on Japan: August 9, 1945. Emerald runs out of the house and tells her suitor, Major Zulfikar, that Nadir Khan is living in her basement. Nadir Khan flees, leaving a note for Mumtaz that reads, “I divorce you.”
Take a Study Break!