Summary of "The Fisherman’s Pointing Finger"
Ahmed and Amina bring Saleem back to Methwold Estate not knowing that Saleem is not their biological child. Winkie sticks around and brings Shiva with him during the routine cocktail hours. As Shiva grows, the most pronounced feature of his body are his large knobby knees, a characteristic that Saleem reports will be important later on in the story. New mother Amina dotes on Saleem as do the other residents of the villa.
Ahmed is jealous that his wife no longer pays attention to him, so he begins having affairs with his secretaries. He also embarks on a scheme to create tetrapods with his neighbor Dr. Narlikar, a man who despises women and children -- despite his profession as a gynecologist. This business venture is conducted in secret, though, and the government finds out and freezes Ahmed’s assets. Amina tries to comfort him which results in the conception of Saleem’s sister, the Brass Monkey.
Summary of "Snakes and Ladders"
To make ends meet, the family rents the top floor of their house to Dr. Schaapsteker, a herpetologist with a large collection of snakes. Aadam and Reverend Mother also move in with the family to help Amina and Ahmed. Amina then secretly steals away to the racetracks and bets on horses at random. Saleem attributes her luck to his magical powers, and Amina is able to pay for Ahmed’s legal counsel.
It is at this time that Saleem mentions that his favorite game as a child was Snakes and Ladders. He mentions that the game was simple, that ladders brought you victory and snakes were bad luck. He adds that life, however, is not as simple as the game. For example, Saleem’s Muslim uncle became a successful filmmaker in the Hindu nation of India. Yet on the night of his premiere, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. The family worries that the assassin will be Muslim and make life difficult for all Indian Muslims, but luckily the killer turned out to be Hindu.
Mary, who has taken a permanent position as Saleem’s ayah to atone for her crime of switching the babies, notices a man walking across the rooftops. When the police arrive, they shoot the perpetrator on site. Unfortunately, the shadowy figure was Mary’s lover Joseph who was planning on blowing up the area as an act of terrorism. Baby Saleem turns violently ill during this turmoil and is given a death sentence, but Dr. Schaapsteker appears and gives Saleem and homemade typhoid medicine made from snake’s venom. The medicine works, teaching Saleem that snakes are not always as evil as they might appear.
Summary of "Accident in a Washing-chest"
When Saleem gets older, he feels the pressure from his parents’ expectations. He finds comfort hiding in a washing room closet. One day, though, his mother goes into the room where he is hiding and begins to cry while repeating the name “Nadir.” Saleem watches silently but then begins to get worried when his mother takes off her sari to use the bathroom. At that moment, Saleem’s nose begins to bother him, and he sniffs. Discovering her son has seen her naked, Anima punishes Saleem to one day of not talking. Yet during that day, Saleem begins to hear voices in his head. He announces to his family that he believes he is divinely graced like Mohammed and Moses, but his parents are ashamed by the blasphemous statements.
Summary of "All-India Radio"
Saleem realizes that the voices in his head aren’t divine beings, though. He realizes they are the voices of everyone in India. He spends his days in solitude of the clock tower listening to various people around the country. While he is busy with his gift, the country is ripe with language marches. Dr. Narlikar offends a group of protestors, and they throw him into the ocean along with his concrete tetrapod. His distant female relatives, known collectively as Narlikar’s women, take over his business. They nudge Ahmed out of the tetrapod company, making Ahmed sink deeper into an alcoholic depression.
Throughout these chapters, present-day Saleem accuses Padma of being in love with him, and she takes offense to his brazen and insensitive approach to her feelings. Yet when Saleem compares his story to the Ramayana written by the Hindu elephant god Ganesh, Padma storms out. It doesn’t take long for Saleem to realize that he too has become fond of Padma and begins to miss her. He also acknowledges that, in his weakened state, he has mixed up the date of Gandhi’s death. He also offhandedly remarks that Winkie died most likely during these first few years of his life, leaving Shiva an orphan of the streets.
Ahmed and Narlikar’s tetrapod business plays directly into the theme of borders and boundaries. Narlikar was inspired by how the ocean constantly overtakes land with the tide, and he believed he could harness the power to make a firm boundary between land and sea. Ahmed clung to Narlikar’s concept because it allowed him to create a firm border while he was still slowly losing his personality. His alcoholism was making him slowly fade away. He thought that the tetrapods would help him put up a barrier and give him purpose again. Unfortunately when he lost his part of the business after Narlikar’s death, it was a destructive blow to his identity and drive.
The idea of a chiasmus comes up again, this time in the form of Snakes and Ladders. Saleem points out that, in the game, the rules are finite: ladders bring you up, and snakes bring you down. Even in the Old Testament, snakes are seen as evil as they tempted Adam and Eve into sinning. Yet things aren’t that clear in real life. Dr. Schaapsteker’s snake venom medicine saves Saleem’s life.
Even outside of the snakes versus ladders metaphor, the story of his uncle’s premier shows how life is unexpected, that life will take unexpected turns. With this example, he points out that every victory brings a downfall and every downfall brings a victory. His uncle, a Muslim man living in a Hindu country, was given the change to be a lauded filmmaker. Yet his religion is thrown back in his face when the family worries about whether or not Gandhi’s murderer was Muslim or Hindu. They realized that their lives could come to a tragic halt if a Muslim killed the most famous Hindu man in the world. Rushdie is also trying to show that dividing India and Pakistan into two countries based on religion wasn’t successful. Tension still hung between the two religions.
Religious imagery comes to play when young Saleem believes himself to be divinely graced like Mohammed and Moses. He also compares himself and his story to the Ramayana and Ganesh. With the comparison to the Ramayana, Saleem is trying to say that he represents the ideal India because he and India are one. This notion of an ideal archetype is the sole concern of the Ramayana. Also, the comparison between himself and Ganesh is more tongue-in-cheek, as Saleem’s own nose resembles the elephant god’s snout.
Saleem had grown up with the belief that he and India were intertwined. This gift just gave him another reason to believe that he was more significant than others. While it turns out that he wasn’t given religious authority because he could hear everyone in India, the magical realism of Rushdie’s texts gives readers the impression that being born at midnight infused Saleem with mystical properties. If he can hear every voice in India, then it is almost as if every voice in India is inside of him; after all, every voice is inside of India.
However, there is still the problem of Saleem’s narrative reliability. He openly admits that he got the date of Gandhi’s death wrong and asks the reader if one factual error compromises the entire story. But because of Saleem’s unreliability, he doesn’t mention that none of the events in Book One attest to his family history and his biological lineage. It is still up to the reader to decide whether or not Saleem’s claims are true or if his version of reality is merely a way for him to uphold his God complex.
Rushdie does not fully explain the significance of the language marches in Midnight’s Children. After India’s independence, the government wanted to expel English from the country and instead return to speaking on Hindi. The issue was hotly debated with many wanting a centralized, unified language. The only problem was that the British tried to eradicate all native languages from India. Many did not understand Hindi and were apprehensive about having to learn a new language at such a late age in their life. Narlikar’s death is not the first time that the language marchers will play a significant role in Midnight’s Children. They will continue to be a fixture for the next few years of Saleem’s life.