Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Silver Spittoon

The silver spittoon given to Amina as part of her dowry by the Rani of Cooch Naheen is responsible for Saleem’s loss of memory. Even when he has amnesia, however, Saleem continues to cherish the spittoon as if he still understands its historical value. Following the destruction of his family, the silver spittoon is the only tangible remnant of Saleem’s former life, and yet it too is eventually destroyed when Saleem’s house in the ghetto is torn down. Spittoons, once used as part of a cherished game for both old and young, gradually fell out of use: the old men no longer spit their betel juice into the street as they tell stories, nor do the children dart in between the streams as they listen. The spittoon is the symbol of a vanishing era, which, in retrospect, seemed simpler and easier. And so, although Saleem may not be able to recall the specific association between the spittoon and his family, the spittoon maintains its symbolic quality as both a container of memory and source of amnesia.

The Perforated Sheet

The perforated sheet through which Aadam Aziz falls in love with his future wife performs several different symbolic functions throughout the novel. Unable to see his future wife as a whole, Aadam falls in love with her in pieces. As a result, their love never has a cohesive unity that holds them together. Their love is fragmented, just as their daughter Amina’s attempts to fall in love with her husband are also fragmented. Haunted by the memory of her previous husband, Amina embarks on a campaign to fall in love with her new husband in sections, just as her father once fell in love with her mother. Despite her best attempts, Amina and Ahmed’s love also lacks the completion and unity necessary for genuine love to thrive. The hole of the perforated sheet represents a portal for vision but also a void that goes unfilled. The perforated sheet makes one final appearance with Jamila Singer: in an attempt to preserve her purity, she shrouds herself completely, except for a single hole for her lips. The perforated sheet, in addition to preserving her purity, also reduces to her to nothing more than a voice. The sheet becomes a veil that separates her from the rest of the world and reflects her inability to accept affection.

Knees and Nose

The seer, Ramram, predicts the birth of “knees and nose,” which represent Shiva and Saleem, respectively. In addition to symbolizing each boy’s special power, knees and nose also play another role. When Aadam Aziz first kneels down to pray, his knees touch the floor and his nose hits the ground. Knees and nose, in this instance, represent an act of prayer, as well as the submission and humility necessary faith. After hitting his nose on the ground, however, Aadam rejects that submission, and a hole opens up inside of him. Knees and nose also become significant with Farooq’s death via a sniper bullet. Shot, Farooq first drops to his knees, then hits his nose on the ground. Just as Aadam bowed before god, Farooq bows before death. Shiva is suspected of killing a string of prostitutes with his powerful knees, while Saleem uses his nose to discover the most decrepit prostitute in the city. Knees and nose—just like Shiva and Saleem, destruction and creation, faith and humility—are inextricably related.