In the modern day, Uma is invited to a coffee party thrown by Mrs. O’Henry, the Baptist missionary she admires. Mama and Papa say there is no good reason for Uma to go. Uma argues that Mama and Papa go out to see friends, but Mama say that they only go for Papa’s career. Against their protests, Uma goes. At the coffee party, Uma stands out from the other Indian ladies, complimenting Mrs. O’Henry on the peanut butter sandwiches, strong coffee, and other American snacks. She shows interest in the cards that Mrs. O’Henry presses and stamps. Mrs. O’Henry sees Uma as having “potential”—perhaps to become Christian – and invites Uma to a Christian retreat in the mountains of Landour. Uma doesn’t dare ask Mama and Papa if she can go. Instead, she returns home with a bundle of handmade cards, treasuring them as “tokens of a fairytale existence elsewhere.”
For MamaPapa, Uma can’t leave the house just to enjoy herself or to make friends, because they don’t recognize Uma’s need for friendship or pleasure as legitimate. It is as if they view socializing as a bad thing, an evil that must be done only if one has no other choice. Uma calls them out on their hypocrisy, asserting herself by refusing to accept their excuses. What Mrs. O’Henry interprets as religious potential might be Uma’s kindness and openness to new people and ideas. Uma treasures Mrs. O’Henry’s handmade cards because they are relics of an exotic life, of the world outside, the world that Uma is hidden away from.
The novel flashes to an overview of Arun’s childhood, which centers entirely on school. Papa allows him no rest: All year round, Arun has a series of tutors hired to drill words, rules, facts and formulas into his brain. When finished each evening, his father urges him to go out and exercise, but Arun tiredly buries himself in comic books. When he reaches the end of his high school exams, Papa plunges him into applying for college, taking more tests, and applying for scholarships. When Arun’s letter of acceptance to the University of Massachusetts finally arrives, Arun shows no excitement or relief, only exhaustion. Uma packs his bags while his father rests and his mother cries in pride, but even as he departs, Arun shows no joy. Uma is saddened, wishing he would be happy so that at least someone would be happy, even if she cannot be.
MamaPapa dedicate all of their efforts into Arun’s health and education, in contrast with their neglect of Uma in these areas. Yet, they force onto Arun the same high expectations as Uma. Just as Uma was never asked whether or not she wanted to marry or to live with MamaPapa forever, neither is Arun asked whether or not her wants to study hard and go to college in America. Arun can’t enjoy his success because he isn’t working for his own dreams, but rather for his father’s. Even though he is given more opportunity and care than Uma, his emotional self is just as neglected as that of Uma.