Book One: The Perforated Sheet
Saleem Sinai begins by mentioning his date of birth: August 15th, 1947. This is the same day that India gained its independence from the British Empire. Even though this story is his autobiography, Saleem begins his tale in earnest nearly thirty years prior to his birth.
His grandfather Aadam Aziz just returned to India after becoming a doctor in Germany. He falls in love with a patient named Naseem. He can only see one part of her body at a time due to her father's strict rules about preserving her modesty.
Book One: Mercurochrome
Aadam and Naseem fall in love and are soon married. They soon realize that they are a bad match, but they remain together. Aadam begins to wither away while Naseem, who now goes by Reverend Mother, gets more robust and powerful with each child she bears.
Book One: Hit-the-Spittoon
Reverend Mother continues to become more angry and resolved, and Aadam falls in line politically behind Mian Abdullah. He and his personal assistant Nadir are the victims of an assassination attack, though Nadir is able to get away. He is permitted to hide in Aadam's basement.
Book One: Under the Carpet
Aadam's second child, Mumtaz, falls in love with Nadir. Because Nadir is in hiding, though, he and Mumtaz have a secret marriage. They live together in the Aziz household's basement until Mumtaz becomes ill. Her father does a physical and discovers that she is still a virgin even after two years of marriage. Nadir runs away and divorces Mumtaz, but she soon becomes interested in Ahmed Sinai. The two get married, and Ahmed changes Mumtaz's name to "Amina."
Book One: A Public Announcement
Like her parents, Amina does not have a healthy marriage with Ahmed. Still, she tries to make herself fall in love with her husband. She soon becomes pregnant. One day, she saves a man from being killed by a Muslim-hating crowd, and he tells her that his cousin will tell her son's future.
Book One: Many-headed Monsters
Anima follows the man she saved to his cousin, and the mystic prophesies that Amina's son will be the same age as his homeland, and that noses and knees will be important. He also vaguely details different events in the child's life that will be significant.
Book One: Methwold
Amina and Ahmed move into a grand estate owned by William Methwold. He instructs that his Indian tenants use proper English manners and habits. Though the tenants are angry about having to use Western customs, things like kitchen appliances and cocktail hour become second nature to them.
Book One: Tick, Tock
Amina goes into labor and has her son at midnight on August 15th, 1947. In the next room, another woman has a child at the exact same moment. Mary Pereira, a midwife at the clinic, sees a chance to impress her revolutionary lover and switches the name tags on the two baskets. Amina and Ahmed leave the hospital with Saleem, the narrator, while their true biological child, Shiva, is raised in the slums by a poor singer.
Book Two: The Fisherman's Pointed Finger
Mary, feeling bad about her sin, devotes herself to being Saleem's nanny for the rest of her life. She is like a mother to him. Ahmed, though, makes some bad investments, and the government freezes his assets. Saleem's sister, Brass Monkey, is conceived during this time before Ahmed becomes too cold and distant for Amina to reach.
Book Two: Snakes and Ladders
Though Mary is devoted to raising Saleem, she is still in love with her revolutionary lover. However, he is murdered by the police while trying to blow up a nearby clock tower.
Book Two: Accident in a Washing-chest
Saleem, feeling the pressure of being the first-born son, begins to hide in the washroom when he gets older. One day, he accidentally sees his mother undress while hiding. She catches him and punishes Saleem to one day of silence. It is during that day that Saleem begins to hear thousands of voices in his head. When he tells his family that the voices are divine, he is chastised for being sacrilegious.
Book Two: All-India Radio
Saleem realizes that the voices belong to every person in India. When he focuses, Saleem can narrow in on the children who were born in the first hour of India's independence -- the children of midnight. They also have magical powers that vary in strength based on how close they were born to midnight. He also learns that Amina and Ahmed's biological son, Shiva, has powerful knees that are able to kill humans with their strength.
Book Two: Love in Bombay
Saleem falls in love with an American girl, but she doesn't pay him any attention. He tries to impress her with his newly-found bicycle skills, but she is more interested in a riot that is occurring nearby. Saleem becomes angry, so he uses his mental powers to push into the girl's mind to try and find out why she doesn't like him. She can feel him intruding, and Saleem discovers that he can dig deep into people's minds.
Book Two: My Tenth Birthday
Saleem laments his birthday. He knows that 1,001 children were born at midnight ten years earlier, but only 581 children lived to see their tenth birthday with him. Ahmed is becoming more despondent as he continues to lose money, regardless of how hard he tries.
Book Two: At the Pioneer Cafe
Saleem uses his mental abilities to follow Amina around the town. He discovers that she is having an affair with Nadir. He also introduces himself to Shiva, the boy whose life he was supposed to have. Shiva is angry and aggressive, and he wants to rule the children of midnight with an iron fist, though Saleem wants to do otherwise.
Book Two: Alpha and Omega
At a school dance, Saleem gets the tip of his finger cut off. His parents race him to the hospital for surgery. When the doctors ask for blood, Amina and Ahmed try to donate theirs. But the doctor informs them that Saleem is not a match for either parent.
Book Two: The Kolynos Kid
Ahmed, angry with the revelation that Saleem is not his, sends Saleem away for a few months. He lives with his filmmaker uncle and movie-star aunt. He is attracted to his aunt, and he gropes her one day while she is crying. The two send Saleem back to his parents.
Book Two: Commander Sabaarmati's Baton
When he comes back, Saleem's little sister, Brass Monkey, is the new favorite of the family. Saleem then learns that his neighbor's wife is having an affair. He feels betrayed since his mother was having an affair, so he arranges things such that the affair would be discovered. The neighbor shoots and kills his wife and her lover.
Book Two: Revelations
Everything is fine until Mary, still grieving about her actions, admits to switching the children at birth. She runs away from the family and leaves their lives in ruins.
Book Two: Movements Performed by Pepperpots
Amina, Saleem, and Brass Monkey move to Pakistan after Ahmed becomes a violent drunk. They live with Amina's sister Emerald, and they are the poor disgrace of the family. At Brass Monkey's fourteen birthday party, she sings for her guests. They are amazed at her voice, and everybody starts to call her "Jamila Singer," her real name.
Book Two: Drainage and the Desert
Amina, Saleem, and Brass Monkey are called back to India four years later. Saleem then gets a serious sinus infection, and his parents make him undergo surgery to get them cleared. He realizes that he has lost his power of telepathy, but in its place is a powerful sense of smell.
Book Two: Jamila Singer
All four family members move to Pakistan to start a new life. Jamila becomes famous as a singer, and Ahmed enjoys moderate success making bath linens.
Book Two: How Saleem Achieved Purity
The Sinais' happiness in Pakistan is short-lived. India invades Pakistan and begins to bomb the city where the Sinais live. All of Saleem's family is killed except for Saleem and his sister during an air raid. A spittoon flies through the air and hits Saleem on the head, and he loses all of his memory.
Book Three: The Buddha
After a time jump, Saleem is in the Pakistani army. He memory and identity are still lost. The army uses his super sense of smell like they would a dog's, and Saleem becomes disillusioned with his orders to constantly kill Indians.
Book Three: In the Sundarbans
Saleem leads a group of young soldiers to the jungle. The trip is harrowing as they nearly die and come into contact with ghostly spirits. However, Saleem finds his identity in the forest. He tells his entire life story to his four young companions. Their attempt to escape the jungle leaves the other four members of his group dead.
Book Three: Sam and the Tiger
Saleem returns to Pakistan and meets Parvati-the-witch, one of the children of midnight whom he knew when he was younger. Using her magic, Parvati smuggles Saleem back into India.
Book Three: The Shadow of the Mosque
Once back in India, Saleem goes to live with his one remaining uncle. His uncle, who works for the Indian government, receives a folder that looks suspicious to Saleem. He is soon kicked out for not being devout enough, so he returns to the slums and lives with Parvati and her father figure, Picture Singh. Parvati urges Saleem to marry her, but he refuses constantly.
Book Three: A Wedding
In retaliation to Saleem's rejection, Parvati uses her magic to summon Shiva, Saleem's midnight twin, and becomes pregnant with Shiva's child. Shiva, who is violent to begin with, becomes even more violent until Parvati breaks the curse she has over him. He leaves immediately, and Saleem marries Parvati so her child is not raised without a father.
Book Three: Midnight
The prime minister of India, who believes in magic and mysticism, has heard about the children of midnight. She uses Shiva to capture and torture Saleem into telling the government the names of all the children of midnight. Once they are all compounded, the prime minister has all the young men and women sterilized. She knows surgery will cause them to lose their powers. She also doesn't want any of their children rising up and trying to take her down with their own powers.
Book Three: Abracadabra
Because Parvati had died when Saleem was captured, he and Picture begin raising Parvati's son by themselves. They make a trip to Bombay and visit a nightclub so Picture can challenge a snake charmer to a match. Saleem finds out that the food he's eating is made locally, so he goes to the pickle factory. When he arrives, he is greeted by his nanny, Mary Pereira. She takes care of him and his son while the sickly Saleem writes his memoirs.