Chanu is at the computer showing the girls the world wide web, but Shahana is unimpressed. They have the internet at school. Bibi asks to see a kadam, a kind of prickly pink flower that grows in Bangladesh. Chanu looks it up and tells the girl to come take a peek, but Shahana won’t, saying that it’s boring. Furious, Chanu lunges at his daughter, who hides behind the couch. He forbids her to use his computer, managing to slap her wrist. The girls go to bed and Nazneen tells him that Mrs. Islam came by for the money. He says he will get it to her next week.
All of Chanu’s attempts to engender in his daughters—namely Shahana—a love of Bangladesh and respect for its contribution to the world of arts and letters end in failure. Many of these failed attempts result in beatings, which fail in their own way. It is difficult, then, for Nazneen to believe Chanu when he says he will soon have the money they need to pay of Mrs. Islam and her thug-like sons.
After the girls go to bed, Nazneen and Chanu watch their daughters sleep. Nazneen sees that Chanu, tenderly moving hair out of Shahana’s face and kissing Bibi’s cheek, is not only baffled by his daughter’s presence, but even afraid. They leave the room, leaning on each other.
Chanu might pretend during the day to be an authority on everything, but his daughters confuse and intimidate him. He loves them but does not know how to tell them.
Nazneen recalls a period of time—weeks, she thinks, maybe months, although it felt like an infinity—when Chanu took to his bed and did nothing. He no longer made plans because all of his plans had failed him. Every new business he hoped to start, every new suit and briefcase and pair of shoes bought, ended in absolutely nothing, and even when he did succeed in getting a job, he soon quit over some small offense. He shrank in front of Nazneen’s eyes. His large belly became an empty sack. Finally, what pulled him out was reading. He employed the girls as page turners and they sat at the end of the bed, trying to anticipate when their services were needed.
A sexist culture can at times be just as toxic for men as it is for women. Men are told that they must be “big men,” that their value will be measured by their financial and professional success. For some, including Chanu, this pressure proves too much to bear. Chanu fails at everything because he is afraid to try. He is afraid to try because he thinks he has to be outstanding at everything he does, or he will not be seen as a respectable man.
Nazneen finds navigating the triangle of daughter-father-daughter nearly impossible. Bibi is always trying, futilely, to gain her father’s attention and regard. Chanu is always getting offended. Shahana is mostly embarrassed and angry. To Nazneen, trying to meet everyone’s needs is like walking through a field of snakes. It exhausts her, and she sometimes wonders if maybe she doesn’t love her daughters as she should. Maybe she loved Raqib more. She tries not to think of that. She tries, instead, to trust in the power of prayer to keep her strong.
Always in the background, Nazneen works tirelessly to please everyone. She succeeds, instead, in pleasing no one, least of all herself. Of course, she doesn’t really consider her own needs in these matters. It is as if she does not exist. Snake imagery returns, suggesting this time that it’s not just Nazneen who is discontented: it is the entire family.
One day, Nazneen is making tea and thinking about the gossip she heard at the gate while waiting to pick Bibi up from school. A local imam is being questioned by police. Meanwhile two English women discussed how best to get their dogs to slim down. Nazneen doesn’t know what to think about any of it. Then Chanu comes home with a parcel and interrupts her. He has a batch of pants that need to be hemmed—and that’s not all. For two months, he keeps her sewing. She lines dresses and sews buttons on shirts and attaches catches to bras. Chanu adds up their earnings, telling her not to worry about any of it. He will take care of everything.
It is a disconcerting experience for Nazneen to encounter a populace so rich that it finds the need to discuss diets for its dogs. Nazneen, meanwhile, is getting her wish. She will work as a seamstress. Like most of Chanu’s decisions, this comes as a surprise to her. He did not say anything about finding her work; he simply acted, completely without her permission. Furthermore, as her husband, he will control her earnings.
Chanu’s mood improves and he begins reading again and lecturing the family on the history of Bengal. He starts shaving, too, and humming. Nazneen recognizes these as good signs. She eventually runs out of sewing and that day, Chanu gathers the family together and announces that they will be moving home soon. Thanks to Nazneen’s work on the sewing machine, they can soon afford to move back to Bangladesh. Also, he has become an employee of Kempton Kars, a cab company. He will now do his part to help them get home. Nazneen is shocked that he can drive a car. She never knew.
Chanu’s job as a cab driver reveals just how far he has fallen since he first stepped foot in England hoping to find work as a prestigious civil servant. Like many intelligent and striving immigrants before him, he has to settle for a position for which he is over-qualified. Nazneen hadn’t known Chanu could cook; she didn’t know he could drive, either. It seems husband and wife, having been married several years now, still know very little about each other.
Chanu stops being Nazneen’s middleman and becomes a cab driver. One hot day a new middleman shows up, armed with a bale of jeans over one shoulder. This is how Karim comes into her life.
Clothes make another symbolic appearance. It would seem that Nazneen is about to try to remake herself yet again.