Summary: A Public Announcement
Saleem begins describing the political events of 1947. He interrupts his story at one point to complain that a Dr. N. Q. Balliga has dismissed his claims to have cracks in his body. He returns to his historical account and describes his mother and father’s departure from Agra and their subsequent arrival in Delhi. Amina remains in love with her first husband, Nadir Khan. However, with her typical assiduousness, she trains herself to fall in love with her new husband by focusing on one part of his body or personality at a time, echoing the courtship of her mother and father through the perforated sheet. Without fully being aware of it, she slowly transforms her new house into the basement she used to live in, and Ahmed gradually begins to resemble Nadir Khan as he puts on weight and loses his hair.
One morning, two of Ahmed’s business associates, Mr. Mustapha Kemal and Mr. S. P. Butt, arrive at Ahmed and Amina’s house. The men tell Ahmed about a fire at one of his warehouses, set by a radical anti-Muslim organization named Ravana, after a many-headed demon. On the street, a young man named Lifafa Das calls out for people to come “see the world” through his peepshow box. The peepshow contains as many postcard images as Lifafa could find depicting global scenes. As eager young children surround him, one girl starts a chant, scorning Lifafa as a Hindu. Soon, others join in, and a mob forms, accusing Lifafa of being a rapist. Amina brings Lifafa into her house, securing his safety by announcing to the crowd that they’ll have to kill her, a pregnant woman, before she’ll let them harm him. In exchange for saving his life, Lifafa offers to take Amina to see his cousin, a great seer who will tell her unborn child’s fortune. Musa, a household servant, says nothing, although Saleem notes that Musa will eventually be responsible for destroying the world, albeit by accident.
Summary: Many-headed Monsters
Saleem questions the roles that chance and providence play in determining the future. He wonders about his father’s perspective on fate as it relates to Saleem’s own impending birth and considers the role time plays in the partition of India. He notes that what’s true isn’t necessarily what’s real and briefly introduces his ayah, or nanny, Mary Pereira and the stories she told him during his childhood.
Amina Sinai sets off to visit the seer as her husband sets off, with money hidden under his coat, to pay off the Ravana. The narrative jumps back and forth between these two clandestine journeys. As Amina leaves the city in a taxi with Lifafa, she loses her “city eyes” and becomes aware of the abject poverty around her: the beggars, cripples, and starving children clutching at her saris. Meanwhile, Ahmed, surrounded by the stench of failure, is consumed by his money problems and the knowledge that he will never rearrange the Quran in chronological order, as he has always wanted too. Saleem relates a host of disappointments and missed opportunities that will haunt his unhappy father for the rest of his life, as well the tragic deaths awaiting Ahmed’s companions, Mustapha Kemal and S. P. Butt. Lifafa reassures and comforts the frightened Amina as they walk up dark steps, past cripples, to the room where Lifafa’s cousin appears to be sitting six inches above the ground. Ahmed and his companions follow the orders of the Ravana and deposit the money at an ancient fort overrun with wild monkeys who are taking the building apart brick by brick. In the room with the prophet, Ramram, Amina lets him touch her belly, at which point he falls into a trance and begins to deliver an almost incomprehensible prophecy. He tells her that her son will never be older or younger than his country and there will be two heads, knees, and a nose. He eventually collapses onto the floor, overwhelmed by what he has seen. At the temple, wild monkeys attack the Ravana members assigned to collect the ransom, and Ahmed and his associates begin scrounging to re-collect their money. As a result, the Ravana burn down the men’s warehouses. Ahmed decides to get out of the leather business and move to Bombay, where land is cheap. On June 4, as Earl Mountbatten announces the partition of India into two separate nations, Ahmed and Amina board a train for Bombay.
Historical patterns become more apparent now, as Saleem reflects on the incidents leading up to India’s independence as well as on his parents’ relationship. The role of the perforated sheet, which first appeared in the love affair between Aadam and Naseem, seems to be reprised between Ahmed and Amina. One person falls in love with the other through a series of isolated glimpses, creating affection in a piecemeal fashion. This approach fared poorly for Aadam and Naseem, who, after falling in love with each other in parts, failed to recognize each other as whole people. Whether the same will be true of Ahmed and Amina’s relationship remains to be seen. However, as these patterns grow clearer, a sense of inevitability begins to emerge. Indian history seems to be moving inexorably toward independence, and the power of Amina’s reenactment of the perforated sheet proves so great that it seems to physically transform Ahmed Sinai into Nadir Khan. However, just as the formal patterns of the novel are becoming increasingly complex, Saleem casts doubt over his reliability as a narrator. Saleem tells us that Dr. N.Q. Balliga has rejected Saleem’s self-diagnosis and that the doctor cannot find any cracks on his body. Saleem takes the parallels between India and his physical body as evidence of the fact that he, as an individual, represents the totality of Indian history. If that piece of evidence is questioned, it is possible—and perhaps wise—to doubt all the patterns and parallels that Saleem has so painstakingly insisted upon.
The incident with Lifafa Das represents another manifestation of the tension between pluralism and singularity. Lifafa’s peepshow box literally symbolizes the concept of looking at the world through a multiplicity of perspectives and viewpoints. The mob that surrounds him, however, can only see Lifafa’s religion and nearly kills him because of its singular view. The allusion in these chapters to Ravana, a many-headed demon from the Indian epic the Ramayana, emphasizes the frightening specter of mob mentality. The incident with the peepshow box exemplifies the nationwide tension already threatening to tear India apart along religious lines. That tearing will, of course, become literal once India gets divided into the Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.