Saleem Sinai, like author Salman Rushdie, is a Muslim Indian born in Bombay in 1947. As guilt-ridden protagonist and not particularly reliable narrator, he is the novel’s most fully realized character. In addition to his birth heritage of an enormous, blocked-up nose and map-stained, bulbous-templed moon face, his bandy-legged body bears witness to his stormy life: partly bald, deafened in one ear, a mutilated finger, and castrated. Most of all, he is the intelligence through which India’s cultural and political history is transmuted into human history. All is stamped by Saleem’s eccentric personality.
Saleem is larger than life, as are other characters who display a literally mythic aspect. The ancient boatman, Tai, sets family history in motion by ferrying the narrator’s ostensible grandfather, Dr. Aziz, to his first patient, Naseem, whom he marries to found the clan. The loquacious, cantankerous Tai claims to have witnessed the birth of the mountains, the armies of Alexander the Great, and an aged wandering Christ (Isa). It is he who first sounds the motif of the Aziz family nose as the point where the outside world meets the world inside. It is Tai who teaches the future doctor, Aadam Aziz, to see the fine cracks in the ice beneath the lake’s surface, cracks which come to symbolize the fatal flaws in India’s fate, in Saleem’s family, and in Saleem himself. Profane, drunken, filthy, Tai is the mythic demiurge who launches the story....
(The entire section is 447 words.)