Summary of "The Buddha"
The Pakistani army has found their new secret weapon: the man-dog. Three young boys named Ayooba, Farooq, and Shaheed are assigned to work with this mysterious figure that can smell out and track down rebels using only his nose. Saleem, or the old man “buddha” as the boys call him, has lost his memory and can’t confirm or deny and of the rumors that everyone is saying about him. After the four soldiers train for months together, they are sent to Dacca where they witness the troops raping, pillaging, and murdering everyone in the city. The four then go on a secret mission to find an unnamed enemy. They get farther and farther from the city until they reach the Sundarbans, forest.
Summary of "In the Sundarbans"
Once they reach the forest, Saleem tells the boys that there is no enemy. He couldn’t stand taking orders and instead decided to defect and take the young boys with him. Unfortunately, the group gets lost in the thick maze of a jungle. They are also extremely ill and begin to see the ghosts of people who they have killed and wronged in the past. Saleem sees nothing until a venomous snake bites him. On the verge of death, his entire life story rushes back. His story rushes out of him to the boys, but in the end he still cannot remember his name.
Days later, the group finds a grand temple with four beautiful women who promise to serve them. Soon Saleem notices that the four are turning translucent. Their vision clears, and they can see that the temple is falling apart, and four skeletons are lying in dust on the side of the room. The run away and back to their boat when an enormous tidal wave rips through the river and delivers them back to civilization. Present-day Saleem then admits that there is no record of a tidal wave in 1971, the year that he was lost in the forest.
The group reaches a deserted village where they discover that snipers are taking out members of the Pakistani army. Moments later, a bullet zooms by and hits Ayooba. Months later, while the remaining three are still on the move, another bullet kills Farooq. Saleem runs and away and stumbles through a field and notices a pyramid of living men, all of whom are his childhood friends. Saleem then mentions that he believes the war was fated to happen so he and his friends could be together again.
Summary of "Sam and the Tiger"
Once Pakistan surrenders to India, Saleem and Shaheed return to Dacca. Unfortunately, the soldiers still rape and kill people in the city. A grenade is lobbed through the air, and the debris from the blast kills Shaheed. Moments later, the Indian army marches through the city preceded by magicians. Parvati-the-witch is among them, and she calls out to Saleem, which restores the memory of his name. She then helps Saleem escape Pakistan by letting him travel in her magic basket.
Summary of "The Shadow of the Mosque"
Saleem does not stay with Parvati and the other magicians in the slums, though, and returns to his last uncle, Mustapha Aziz. He learns that Jamila began to openly criticize the Pakistani government after her brother went missing. She then is never seen again, though Saleem dreams that she went to a Catholic convent. Later, his civil servant uncle receives a top-secret folder labeled “Project M.C.C.” from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son.
The next day, Parvati visits Saleem and the two fall asleep together. Mustapha’s wife finds them, and she throws Saleem out of the house. He moves in with Parvati and Picture Singh, a famous snake charmer who also holds public gatherings about socialism and communism. Parvati tries to make Saleem fall in love with her, but Saleem still cannot get over his sister. He says that he is impotent and cannot have sex.
After Saleem lost his memory, he became the embodiment of a mythical figure. Using the name “buddha” is a play on words. In this case, the boys mean it to signify Saleem’s seeming age, but it carries religious connotations of the wise and peaceful leader of Buddhism. This is one of many times that Saleem has compared himself to famous religious figures. This time, Saleem sits under a tree, which is a popular image in Buddhism as Buddha gained enlightenment after sitting lotus-style under a tree.
This religious imagery is contrasted with his army nickname as “the man-dog” (399). Though it is meant to be derogatory in nature, there is still the connotation of half-man, half-beast divinities in most major religions; this allows Saleem to continue with his insistence on being compared to a religious figure.
Reaching the Sundarbarns, magic is infused into the story in a heavy-handed way, and this time even non-magical people are affected by it. While the group is being entertained in the enchanted temple, Saleem notices that all the men are slowly waning in presence. This transference of energy correlates with the boundaries theme in that the men are losing themselves without even knowing it. The longer they stay in this evil temple, the faster they will disintegrate.
Snakes return to the story in an ambiguous way, much like they did at the beginning of the novel. The snake at the heel motif is played out multiple times in many culture. Traditionally, a snake’s bite will cause a person to die. They represent evil, and in the mythological snake at the heel stories, the person crushes the snake’s head in order to conquer evil. All the men are in danger of dying from sickness, but it is a snake’s bite to the heel that brought Saleem his memory. Rushdie, like he does with so many other stories, inverts the snake at the heel motif and allows Saleem to have a variation of the myth. This keeps with the novel’s assertion that snakes do not bring evil or harm, that their presence is ambiguous.
As for Saleem’s reliability, he seems to be flipping on his stance of the war between India and Pakistan. In the last book, he asserted that the war was attacking him personally. He believed that the war was only there to destroy his family and cause him harm. Yet at the end of the war, he has been reunited with his friends. He then asserts that the war was a good thing and that the only reason the countries went to war was so Saleem could be reunited with his homeland. It is inconsistencies like these that make it difficult to trust Saleem’s words. His motives for telling the story are unclear, and his facts become muddier as he gets farther into the tale.
The man that Saleem believes to be Indira Gandhi’s son is Sanjay Gandhi. During a time in India’s history, many people in the slums were rounded up and sterilized. Saleem claims that the family found a way to “replicate” themselves, which allowed the Gandhi family to be so influential in politics. While there was no mystical replication for the family, the Gandhis were a powerful political family from India’s inception even until today.