Balram describes Delhi’s luxury high-rise apartment blocks, and its confusing network of roads and alleys where drivers are easily lost. In order to please Pinky Madam, who misses America, Ashok has rented an apartment in the modern, Americanized suburb of Gurgaon. Balram gets lost repeatedly as he tries to find the apartment building: Mukesh Sir scolds him, while Ashok defends him and catches his eye with a pitying look.
Ashok stands apart from the other members of his family because of the apparent sympathy he feels for Balram (note that Ashok has spent a lot of time in America, where the sorts of servitude and exploitation and corruption on display in India are less extreme). In this moment when Ashok catches Balram’s eye, one wonders about the nature of his sympathy. He does pity Balram, but not enough to help Balram substantially improve his station in life.
Shortly after arriving in Delhi, Ashok, Pinky and Mukesh Sir go shopping. Balram waits outside the mall with the other drivers, one of whom he refers to as Vitiligo Lips. (Vitiligo is a skin disease that afflicts many of India’s poor.) Vitiligo Lips calls Balram “Country Mouse” and gives him tips on how to survive as a driver in Delhi: he stresses the importance of keeping one’s mind occupied during long waits on the job, and offers Balram a trashy magazine called “Murder Weekly” which all the drivers read. He also says he can help Balram find prostitutes and foreign liquor for Ashok: Balram refuses and insists that Ashok is a good man.
Vitiligo Lips’ behavior demonstrates yet again how the Rooster Coop is enforced from within. The seasoned driver genuinely wants to help Balram, but his way of doing so is to immediately introduce the innocent country boy to Dehli’s corrupt, sordid side. Similarly, Balram’s refusal to believe that Ashok would ever seek out prostitutes or foreign liquor reveals the thinking of someone born into servitude, someone who has not developed the impulse to question his superiors, someone who still idealizes the powerful. The “Murder Weekly” magazine is like tabloid culture gone totally insane: Indian society is depicted here as feeding on its own depravity.
A few days after his exchange with Vitiligo Lips, Balram takes Ashok and Mukesh Sir to deliver bribes to ministers. He drives them to their destinations in the Honda City, which is like a “dark egg” sealed protectively against Delhi’s polluted air. After the brothers deliver their final bribe of the day, they drive past a well-known statue of Gandhi. Ashok, angered by the irony of passing this statue after bribing government officials, repeats, “It’s a fucking joke.”
Gandhi is held up across the world as a symbol and practitioner of moral conscientiousness. He led India to freedom from the British with a principled non-violence. Ashok’s exclamation as the car drives past Gandhi’s statue reveals his frustration that he must participate in his family’s corrupt political dealings in a free India that has strayed so far from Gandhi’s ideals. It also reflects the disillusionment with which Ashok views India as a whole. Unlike the rest of his family who care only about preserving their own power and luxury, Ashok has some idealism in him. He wishes things were better, non-corrupt, and has more sympathy for servants like Balram – though at the same time Ashok does not have the will or possibly even desire to actually stand up to his family and do something about it.
Partially because of his tense relationship with Pinky Madam, Mukesh Sir returns to Dhanbad. When Balram brings him to the railway station, Mukesh Sir issues several orders about how he should behave as a driver, and tries to convince Ashok to discipline Balram. Ashok waves off his brother and assures him that Balram is honest, that there is no cause for alarm. This is a crucial moment for Balram, who recognizes that his master is weak, vulnerable, and unused to having servants.
While Balram detected and appreciated Ashok’s gentle nature from their first meeting, he almost instantly begins to perceive his master’s kindness as vulnerability as opposed to a virtue. This shift reflects the cutthroat social environment of India: in a world where one is either predator or prey, little value can be placed on kindness towards others.
Soon after Mukesh Sir’s departure, Balram begins a process of self-improvement. He tries to reform his bad habits and starts taking better care of his appearance. He stops chewing Paan, the tobacco-like substance, and attempts to distance himself from the other drivers, choosing to meditate alone in his car rather than keep them company. He buys a western t-shirt and sneaks into one of Dehli’s shopping malls, usually off limits to the poor. He declares this adventure, “His first experience of being a fugitive.”
Balram’s attempts to study the ways of Delhi’s rich and powerful in their natural habitat, the mall, reflect how he thinks about fashioning his own, ever-changing identity and his emphasis on a “street education” as being the most important. He believes that he need only study the habits and behavior of wealthy Indians, and remake himself in their image. That he describes his secret infiltration as his first experience of being a fugitive suggests that there will be a second at some upcoming time.
On the evening of Pinky Madam’s birthday, Ashok orders Balram to dress as a Maharaja and serve the pair dinner. However, after dinner Ashok and Pinky get into a fight, and then ask Balram to drive them into Delhi for a drink. Afterwards, Pinky insists on driving them home even though she is drunk, and the car collides with an unidentified “small black thing” that dies instantly. Suspecting that they have killed a young child, Balram takes the wheel and speeds back to the apartment. He confirms that the accident’s victim was a human child, but “reassures” Ashok that the child was “one of those people”: a homeless wanderer who no one will look for, who’s family will not press charges.
Ashok’s apparent relief when he learns that Pinky hit a child from a poor family, (one of “those” people, as he puts it), reveals that despite his relatively more developed morals than his other family members he too feels the disregard and disdain for the poor displayed by other rich characters in the novel. Note, though, that while Balram wants to reassure Ashok that the victim was poor and therefore lacking in consequence, in reality Balram and the victim come from the same social class. Balram has at once internalized the sense of his own inferiority, and come to see himself as more a part of Ashok’s family (even as a servant) than a member of his own class with responsibility or loyalty to that class.
The next morning, Mukesh Sir arrives from Dhanbad and summons Balram to the apartment. After telling Balram that he is “part of the family,” the Mongoose makes him sign a document stating that Balram, not Pinky Madam, was driving the car that hit the unidentified person. The Mongoose reveals that he is prepared to bribe the judge assigned to their case, and that Balram’s grandmother Kusum approves of this course of action. Balram breaks into his narrative to comment that, as outrageous as it seems, servants in India are often framed for crimes committed by their masters. Rather than protest, the servants’ families feel only pride that their relatives serve their masters with such loyalty.
It is evident from Mukesh Sir’s swift and decisive actions –his lack of qualms about framing Balram, and ability to easily secure Kusum’s approval— that this sort of set-up is common practice for members of his class. That he calls Balram “part of the family” before asking him to sign away his life reflects the damaging and destructive notions of familial “duty” that operate within the traditional Indian family unit: family is posed here in such a way as being entirely made up of negative obligations to other family members. There is no reward in this for Balram other than getting to continue to serve his masters. And those in the Rooster Coop see Balram’s loyalty, which made him sign away his future, if necessary, to protect someone else, as only something to be proud of, not as a sign of the extreme exploitation of the poor by the rich.