The narrative returns to 1993, where Rahel discovers that the river has been reduced to a trickle and is too polluted to swim in. Across the river the History House (which Rahel thinks of as the “Heart of Darkness”) has been built up into a five-star hotel. In the hotel history is neatly repackaged for tourists to easily understand, and the traditional kathakali performances (an ancient dance and drama telling myths and stories) are shortened drastically. The narrator points out that a small thing lingers there among the hotel buildings, buried in the dirt: Rahel’s old plastic wristwatch with the time painted on.
This watch is one of the “small things” signifying a larger event of violence, but the watch itself also symbolizes the theme of preservation – the time is painted on the watch, so time is literally frozen. The image becomes especially potent considering how Rahel and Estha are still trapped inside their memories even after twenty-three years, as if time stopped for them at the place where Rahel’s watch lies buried.
Rahel walks around Ayemenem and Comrade Pillai greets her, asking about her husband and America. She shocks him by saying she is divorced, and then Pillai boasts about his son Lenin, who works in a foreign embassy. Rahel remembers Lenin as a child, one day when both Rahel and Lenin were at the doctor’s office because they each had objects lodged in their noses – Rahel a glass bead and Lenin a bean. Rahel blew her nose one last desperate time and dislodged the bead just before the nurse called for her. Back in the present Comrade Pillai shows Rahel an old photograph of Lenin, Estha, Sophie Mol, and Rahel herself, taken only days before Sophie died.
The divide between the upper class Rahel and the lower class Lenin was apparent even in the kinds of things they stuck up their noses. Time does indeed seem preserved in Ayemenem, as the same characters haunt the same places and are eager to show old photographs – another medium where time is frozen at a single moment. Rahel has also become a “disgraced woman” by being divorced, as the same kinds of standards and prejudices are still preserved in Ayemenem.