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Saleem describes the estate that once belonged to an Englishman, William Methwold.
The estate is comprised of four identical houses, each bearing the name of a different European palace. Saleem’s parents buy one of the houses, agreeing to the conditions that they purchase everything inside the house and that the legal transfer of property will not occur until midnight, August 15. Methwold says that his reasons for the conditions are allegorical, as he equates the sale of his estate with the national transfer of sovereign power.
Saleem lists the other inhabitants of Methwold’s Estate: Mr. Homi Catrack, a film magnate who lives with his idiot daughter; old man Ibrahim, his sons, Ismail and Ishaq, and his wife, Nussie; the Dubashes, who become parents of Cyrus, Saleem’s first mentor; Doctor Narlikar; and finally, Commander Sabarmati, his wife, Lila, and their two sons, who will grow up to be nicknamed Eyeslice and Hairoil. As the transfer of power draws closer, the inhabitants of Methwold’s Estate complain incessantly of having to live among Methwold’s things. As the inhabitants settle in, they remain unaware of the fact that they have begun to imitate Methwold’s habits, from the cocktail hour he keeps to the accent with which he speaks.
The Times of India announces a prize for any child born at the exact moment of independence. Still recalling the prophet’s words, Amina declares that her son will win. The summer rains begin, and Amina grows so heavy she can scarcely move. After the rains end, Wee Willie Winkie, a poor clown, returns to the estate to perform for Methwold and the new families. Willie Winkie tells the crowd that his wife is expecting a child soon as well. Saleem tells us that the child actually belongs to Methwold, who seduced Winkie’s wife with his perfectly parted hair. Saleem’s narrative then jumps to a church, where a midwife named Mary Pereira sits in a confessional booth, telling the young priest about her relationship with an orderly named Joseph D’ Costa, who has taken to committing acts of violence against the British. Saleem says that on the night of his birth, this woman made the most important decision in the history of twentieth-century India. Back at Methwold’s Estate, Musa is still “ticking like a time-bomb” as the hour approaches midnight.
On August 13, 1947, Bombay comes alive as the city prepares for India’s imminent independence from the British. At midnight, the nation of Pakistan will officially be created, a full day before India will be declared independent. Violence breaks out on the borders of Punjab and in Bengal.
A series of events occurs all at once, and Saleem’s narrative skips between them. At Methwold’s Estate, Ahmed and William Methwold drink cocktails in the courtyard. Meanwhile, at the old house on Cornwallis Road, in Agra, Aadam Aziz rises from his bed and nostalgically pulls out the perforated sheet, only to discover that moths have eaten it. Back at Methwold’s Estate, Wee Willie Winkie’s wife, Vanita, goes into labor. William Methwold walks into the courtyard of his former compound, stands in the exact center, and salutes the landscape. Shortly afterward, a sadhuji, or holy man, enters the compound and sits under a dripping water tap. He proclaims that he awaits the birth of the One, the Mubarak. As soon as he says this, Amina goes into labor. Once the sun has set, Methwold ends his salute and pulls off his hairpiece. Amina and Vanita lie in adjacent rooms at the nursing home, and two boys are born at midnight. Upon hearing the news, Ahmed drops a chair on his toes. In the ensuing confusion, Mary Pereira switches the babies’ nametags in memory of her revolutionary Joseph, giving Saleem, biologically the son of Willie Winkie and Vanita, to Ahmed and Amina.
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