Saleem Sinai, child of Independence, is switched with another child at birth and raised by parents who, for a decade, do not know about the switch. He grows up with a sense of exceptionalism (feeling of being different from the norm) as a result of his doting parents. This sense probably saves him as he struggles with his Indian identification and the strife of his life, which parallels the disastrous birth and early years of the new nation.
Named after the Hindu god of creation and destruction, Shiva is the only other baby born exactly at midnight on August 15, 1947, just a few moments after Saleem. He is thus one of the midnight children, with powers almost as strong as Saleem's. Shiva is constantly acting against Saleem, sowing destruction, mayhem, and irresponsibility throughout the young nation.
Saleem, coming full circle in his adventures, returns to Bombay and to the earthly reward of his favorite condiment prepared by Padma, a voluptuous woman. She is clearly willing to nurture the battered wanderer. In the end, Padma accepts Saleem's impotence (inability to have sex and therefore children), and they marry.
Aadam Aziz returns to Kashmir after medical school, changed by life on the continent. He finds that life is changed at home as well. His mother has become the primary wage earner. The behavior of this early-century branch of the family foreshadows more flexibility in later generations.
Proud to think of herself as a traditional Indian woman, the bride of Aadam Aziz refuses her husband's request to "move" under him during sexual intercourse. Faced with economic disaster after Aadam dies, she is reborn as an entrepreneurial gas station proprietor and lovelorn adviser.
Called the Brass Monkey for her hair color and her unruly behavior, Jamila emerges as a girl with a golden voice. She avoids love and marriage and finally moves into the convent that bakes her favorite bread.