The novel rewinds to the months preceding the summer, to Arun’s first days at college. He remembers his college dorm for its striking foreignness—the loud music, the weekend parties, the cigarettes, the careless attitudes evident in conversation and bumper stickers alike. He remembers scanning his classrooms for people, and finding all of them undesirable for companionship. An older student sits down one day to have lunch with him, and he quickly excuses himself after she begins discussing her cervical cancer and tries to ask him about his own life. He realizes that he has a “resistance to being included.” When a group of Indian students try to involve him in their cooking nights and movie hangouts, he even rejects their company, preferring to be alone. After a life supervised by his parents, he thinks to himself that he desires solitude more than anything.
Arun reacts very differently to new environments than does his sister Uma. Both Arun and Uma grew up surrounded by family, allowed very little solitude. Yet, Arun was the focus of much of his parent’s worry and attention, unlike Uma, who was in many ways neglected. As adults, Uma craves human contact, and loves reaching out to new people and places in any setting. Yet, Arun rejects the efforts of others to get close to him. He doesn’t want to be a part of any group—whether foreign or familiar. In his experience, being a part of a group always brings pressure and requires emotional energy. After years with his family, he has little emotional energy left.