The narrative returns to 1993, where the Ayemenem house has grown filthy and decrepit while Baby Kochamma and Kochu Maria spend all their time watching TV. They watch a subway busker play on the Phil Donahue show, and the narrator muses about something a man once told Estha about dreams: “Big Man the Lantern, Small Man the Tallow-stick.”
The dirty, dilapidated house is a tragic prize for Baby Kochamma’s jealous “preservation” of the Ipe family name. The busker is like the Indian people, whose dreams have been stolen and “redreamed” by others.
Estha enters the house silently, and Baby Kochamma proudly predicts what he will do, as he has the same habits every day. Rahel follows him to his room, Ammu’s old room, which is obsessively clean. She watches Estha undress, studying his nakedness for familiarity. She touches his ear but Estha doesn’t react, and he begins to wash his clothes in a bucket.
The adult Estha obsessively cleaning himself is a foreshadowing of the “uncleanness” he will experience in the next chapter. Estha and Rahel study each other carefully, as they are basically strangers at this point.