Poor Padma. Why did you have to fall in love with someone as lame as Saleem? You could've done so much better. Sure, you're not the prettiest. Or the smartest. Or… the point is, no one should have to deal with Saleem, but Padma chooses to deal with him. And for that, she deserves an award.
Thank goodness for Padma. She's the director's commentary on a DVD that agrees exactly with you. Every time we think that Saleem is blathering on for too long, there she is to shut him up.
Even Saleem recognizes that she's important to his ability to tell a good story. He says,
And certainly Padma is leaking into me. As history pours out of my fissured body, my lotus is quietly dripping in, with her down-to-earthery, and her paradoxical superstition, her contradictory love of the fabulous [...]. (1.3.5)
When she leaves, he barely does anything right: Saleem makes a bunch of mistakes with facts and time. When she comes back, though, everything is okay again.
Padma is basically the opposite of Saleem. She's illiterate, superstitious, and she calls his storytelling "writing-s***ing" (1.2.1). But most importantly, while Saleem is totally in the past, Padma represents the present. She keeps him grounded. When she leaves, Saleem asks,
How to dispense with Padma? How to give up her ignorance and superstition, necessary counterweights to my miracle-laden omniscience? How to do without her paradoxical earthiness of spirit, which keeps - kept? - my feet on the ground? (2.11.2)
Without her, he is a mess. Peanut butter with no jelly.
Maybe you noticed, but Saleem is obsessed with fate. He keeps saying there is no way to change your destiny, but even after hearing his whole story Padma believes in a new future. She asks Saleem to marry her, and her will gives him hope. Saleem says,
In the burning heat of Padma's determination, I am assailed by the demented notion that it might be possible, after all, that she may be capable of altering the ending of my story by the phenomenal force of her will, that cracks - and death itself - might yield to the power of her unquenchable solicitude. (3.30.3)
Unfortunately, will isn't enough to change destiny. Even though Padma does get her wish, Saleem still dies on his birthday.
Padma isn't exactly dainty. She has a thick waist, hairy arms, and huge rippling thigh muscles. That's what Saleem likes about her. He writes, "How I admire the leg-muscles of my solicitous Padma! There she squats, a few feet from my table, her sari hitched up in fisherwoman-fashion. [...] О mighty pickle-woman!" (2.19.20) That's a love letter if we ever saw one.
It must be hard to be dainty when you're named after the poop goddess. Padma's muscles and her poop namesake are what make her tied to the present. You know the familiar image: nerds are too wrapped up in their studies to be tanned and muscular. Jocks are a different story: they love the physical world and are totally ripped. Saleem is the nerd here, and Padma's the jock.
Oh, and what about the poop? That's easy. Let's hear Saleem say it:
Dung, that fertilizes and causes the crops to grow! Dung, which is patted into thin chapati-like cakes when still fresh and moist, and is sold to the village builders, who use it to secure and strengthen the walls of kachcha buildings made of mud! (1.2.39)
Their homes are dung houses, their food grows on dung fertilizer. How much more down to earth could you get?
Let's explain. Padma's namesake is part of the Holy River Ganges. That's a pretty important river in Hinduism, and it also happens to be one of the names of the goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the goddess of money, prosperity, luck, and beauty. So… think fast! What does Padma do for most of the novel? She listens to Saleem, right? Guess what Lakshmi's name means? Definition: to perceive or to observe. Totally Padma.
Lakshmi is also the consort (girlfriend, wife, or significant other) of Lord Vishnu. For those of you who don't know a lot about Hinduism, we'll fill you in. Vishnu is one of the gods in the Trimurti, or Trinity: Brahma is the creator, Shiva is the destroyer, and Vishnu is the preserver. What does Saleem do all day long with his pickles and his story? He preserves history.
We'll give you a moment to unblow your mind.
Back to Padma/Lakshmi. There are many incarnations of Lakshmi, including her as the Mother Earth, and her as Sita (the model for dedication, self-sacrifice, and courage). Saleem even hints at the references that Rushdie makes:
[…] Padma, who along with the yaksa genii, who represent the sacred treasure of the earth, and the sacred rivers, Ganga Yamuna Sarasvati, and the tree goddesses, is one of the Guardians of Life, beguiling and comforting mortal men while they pass through the dream-web of Maya … Padma, the Lotus calyx, which grew out of Vishnu's navel, and from which Brahma himself was born; Padma the Source, the mother of Time! (2.14.14)
So even though we don't learn much about Padma from the novel, Rushdie tells us tons just by her name.