Funny Boy

Summary
Analysis
Ammachi informs the family that Mr. Nagendra—an old friend of Appachi’s from Cambridge—wants to marry his son Rajan to Appa’s sister Radha Aunty. In fact, the couple met in America, and Rajan requested the wedding himself. The aunts and uncles are thrilled to hear that Rajan is a well-paid, well-behaved engineer from a good family. And Arjie is thrilled: “there was going to be a wedding in the family!” Finally, he can play out his bride-bride game in reality.
Like all the stories in Funny Boy, this chapter is set some time after the previous one (although the gap is shorter than those between subsequent chapters). The family’s joy at Radha’s engagement reveals the values that drive their view of marriage: they want stability, social respectability, and a healthy income in their children’s partners, rather than romance or emotional connection. Nevertheless, Arjie remains entranced by the promise of romance, which he can no longer live out through the bride-bride game. Thus, his wedding fantasy runs contrary to social norms not only because it is considered an inappropriate fixation for a boy and he eventually turns out to be gay, but also because he thinks about the wedding in the Western terms of sanctifying love instead of the conventional Sri Lankan terms of sanctifying an economic and social bond between families.
Themes
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Forbidden Love and Family Theme Icon
Arjie, now age seven, does not even remember how Radha Aunty looks, since she went to America four years before. He looks at old photos of her and imagines what she will look like when she returns for the wedding—and Ammachi runs into him while he does so, then sends him back to dust the furniture. After breaking the cane over his back, she has started giving him tasks every spend-the-day to “keep [him] occupied and ‘out of mischief.’” His spend-the-days are now miserable except for the hour that Janaki lets him “read her Sinhala love comics” while Ammachi naps. This time, he imagines Rajan and Radha Aunty playing the lead roles; he cannot wait for Radha Aunty to return from America and the comic book wedding to become a reality.
Radha Aunty’s absence allows Arjie to fantasize even more freely about her perfect wedding, an obsession made far more understandable by his perpetual punishment, the mind-numbing domestic labor he is made to do instead of playing with his cousins. The Sinhala love comics also represent Arjie’s idealistic conception of love, one the reader likely envisions he will be locked out of because of his sexuality. But these comics also point to Arjie’s ability to freely cross between Tamil and Sinhalese social contexts, something that—like his femininity—eventually gets revoked because of social pressure.
Themes
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Forbidden Love and Family Theme Icon
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
The first spend-the-day after Radha Aunty returns to Sri Lanka, Arjie wakes up excited to finally meet her. When his family arrives at Ammachi and Appachi’s house, Arjie is surprised to find Radha Aunty struggling to play the piano, looking completely unlike he had imagined: she has skin “as dark as a laborer,” unruly hair, an unfashionably thin build, and Western clothing instead of a sari. She briefly greets Arjie and he starts polishing Ammachi’s brass ornaments as he laments “that a woman who was on the brink of marriage could look like this and play the piano so badly.” When Ammachi scolds Arjie for not polishing hard enough, Radha steps up to defend him.
Unsurprisingly, Arjie’s fantasy about Radha proves far from the reality. This passage also speaks volumes about the Western-influenced beauty standards—light skin and straight hair—that predominate in Sri Lanka even decades after the end of British rule. Arjie’s disappointment that Radha “could look like this and play the piano so badly” just before marriage shows, from another angle, the danger of social expectations around love and sex. By looking at the negative instead of the positive—evaluating someone against one’s own mental ideal rather than taking them on their own terms—one can become blind to others’ humanity, feelings, interests, and perspectives.
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Radha Aunty asks Arjie why he is not “playing with the others,” and he lies that he does not want to—but her smile reveals that she knows there must be another reason. Arjie sees that she is not like the other aunts and uncles, due to her “cheerfulness” and lack of “terrible curiosity.” During his comic-book hour, Radha Aunty invites Arjie to play in her room. She lets him try on her makeup and pottus, then comments that he “would have made a beautiful girl.” She even shows him to Janaki, who mentions that it should stay a secret but smiles nevertheless. Arjie spends the rest of the day playing with Radha Aunty’s jewelry and nail polish.
Despite her imperfections, Radha proves Arjie’s most sympathetic defender besides his sister, Sonali. While Appa’s other siblings are nosy and judgmental, taken to criticizing one another, sizing everyone and everything up, and ordering the children around like mindless annoyances, Radha is generous and understanding, the only adult who actually listens to Arjie and takes him seriously. While Amma is now too afraid to let Arjie roleplay womanhood with her, Radha sees nothing dangerous or wrong about this. The parallel between her and Arjie is clear: both are unique, independently minded, and understanding precisely because they deviate from social ideas of perfection, conformity, and respectability.
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At one point in the afternoon, Arjie asks Radha Aunty when she is to marry Rajan, and she jokingly pretends not to know who he is, then asks Arjie if he thinks they should marry. He parrots his family’s response: “Because he’s an engineer and he doesn’t have insanity in his family.” She laughs and he implores her to get married, for she “will be the bestest bride ever.” They whimsically plan the wedding—Arjie agrees to be a pageboy and hopes that Her Fatness will not get to be a flower girl, then recommends outfits for the whole bridal party. He decides that Radha Aunty is “definitely [his] favorite aunt.”
Just like he used to see Amma as a perfect ideal of beauty, Arjie still sees Radha’s engagement as a perfect ideal of marriage (even though he considers her far from a perfect bride). Thus, he is surprised to see that she harbors doubts, whether real or manufactured as a way to get Arjie to express his feelings about the wedding. Even though he privately believes in romantic love, he also echoes his family’s utilitarian view of what makes a good marriage, suggesting that he has not let learned to separate the two and consider the complexities of relationships. In less than a day, Arjie goes from shock at Radha’s imperfections to loving her unique perspective and freethinking personality.
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Later that afternoon, Her Fatness talks loudly about her bride-bride plans, wearing a bedsheet instead of a sari. Arjie imagines Radha Aunty dressed up for her actual wedding and feels “a glow of pride” for refusing to let Her Fatness make him jealous. When she notices his nails, in fact, Her Fatness becomes the jealous one.
Arjie and Tanuja again fight to prove their femininity. Although Arjie still appears to take some petty pleasure in outdoing her with his painted nails, he begins to learn from Radha Aunty that his self-esteem can (and should) be independent of others' opinions and expectations.
Themes
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Some time later, Amma invites Arjie to play one of the King of Siam’s children in The King and I, a play in which Radha Aunty will also be acting. Excited about the prospect of “wear[ing] makeup and costumes and danc[ing] around the stage,” Arjie asks Amma about the play but is distraught to learn that the governess does not marry the king. Amma explains that interracial marriage was rejected at the time of the play’s setting—and still remains uncommon. But she suggests that Arjie will love the songs.
Theater, a more structured version of what he was doing all along during bride-bride, now gives Arjie an opportunity to grow closer to Radha Aunty and express himself creatively. However, he continues to hope that the story will be one of romantic love and is shattered to hear that social obstacles—like racial differences—can stand in the way of two people who love each other. This also foreshadows the two tragic relationships (one interethnic and one interracial) that take front stage in this and the following chapter.
Themes
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On weekends, Arjie goes to Sonali’s girls’ school for rehearsals, where Radha Aunty introduces him to Aunty Doris, a white woman who curiously speaks with a Sri Lankan accent. Waiting in the courtyard for their turn to rehearse, Arjie watches Radha Aunty outdo a man named Anil in a suggestive argument about birds, bees, and pollination. Later, Radha Aunty is furious when one of the girls jokes that “that bee [Anil] is dying to pollinate your blossom.” Indeed, Anil ends up offering Radha Aunty a ride home, although they remain silent the whole way to Ammachi and Appachi’s house.
With the play rehearsals, Arjie is thrown into a completely new social context that exposes him to people who contradict his assumptions: Aunty Doris is both white and Sri Lankan, and Anil’s seemingly vulgar interest in the engaged Radha continues to suggest that marriage and romance are not as perfect and cut-and-dry as in the storybooks. Although she is reluctant to engage with Anil and expertly fends off what looks like a clumsy sexual advance, Radha also does not advertise her engagement to Rajan.
Themes
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The second time Anil drives Radha Aunty home, Ammachi interrogates her about “this boy you’re taking lifts from.” Ammachi is distraught to hear that Anil is Sinhalese; she complains to Appachi about Sinhalese boys’ bad morals and laments that “people will talk,” and this might threaten Radha’s engagement to Rajan. As Arjie follows Radha away, he wonders what is wrong with being Sinhalese—he was learning Sinhala at school, and his friends and even his parents’ friends were Sinhalese. Radha calls her mother a “racist,” a word Arjie does not know yet. Janaki tells Radha not to “forget what happened” and describes a mutilated dead body, but Radha hopes they can move on and not “hate every Sinhalese” because of a single act of violence. Ammachi comes back, but Arjie “somehow [sees] her differently.”
Although Radha is pushing against Anil’s interest, Ammachi does not bother to ask for Radha’s perspective or experience before berating her for associating with the wrong type of men. For the very first time in the book, Arjie hears explicit mention of Sri Lanka’s racial divide, which—like the gender roles imposed on him—is ingrained in concepts of social normalcy and respectability, and which he scarcely understands, since he does not see language and ethnicity as meaningfully distinguishing the people he knows. Nevertheless, Ammachi’s attitude is far too typical, and her blanket condemnation of all Sinhalese boys shows how tensions can escalate as people interpret individual acts of violence, prejudice, or exclusion as reflecting an entire community of people.
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Arjie asks his father what “racist” means and what happened with the dead body. Appa dodges the first question but explains that the body was Ammachi’s father’s, and that he was killed for being Tamil in the 1950s, two decades before. Appa is reluctant to explain the war, but simply explains that riots and killing started after the Sinhalese tried to make theirs the only official language. Over time, by listening to adults, Arjie learns about the Tamil Tigers (whom Ammachi supports) and their attempt to create a separate state. Appa, however, sends Arjie to Sinhalese class. Arjie even notices tensions between Tamil and Sinhalese students at school.
As Appa explains the reason for Ammachi’s outrage, Arjie comes to understand that her racism is actually symptomatic of long-standing conflicts throughout Sri Lanka that continue into the present. For the reader unacquainted with the history of the Sri Lankan conflict, this section outlines the most important points: after independence, Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority took power and tried to kick the overrepresented Tamils out of government by making Sinhala the only official language; the Tamil Tigers were an armed rebel group that fought a low-level conflict with the government until the 1980s, when it turned into a full-scale civil war. While the Tamil Tigers claimed to speak for the whole community, many Tamils (like Appa) rejected the Tigers’ nationalism and tried to integrate their families into Sinhalese society.
Themes
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On the next spend-the-day, after play rehearsal, Janaki tells Radha Aunty that Ammachi has visited Anil’s family and told them to keep their son away from her daughter. Radha decides to go apologize later that day and Janaki suggests she bring Arjie to avoid suspicion. That night at the beach with the rest of the cousins, Arjie is nervous and excited—he and Radha head away once Janaki sends the other cousins to the ocean. Radha realizes that Arjie was eavesdropping on her earlier conversation with Janaki but does not mind. They reach Anil’s house and he comes out to greet them, seeming “more concerned than angry.”
Still overbearing and uninterested in Radha’s actual motivations, Ammachi lashes out because she perceives Anil as a threat to her family’s ethnic homogeneity and Radha’s engagement to Rajan. Ironically enough, not only does this reveal that Ammachi, too, does not fully trust Radha and Rajan’s relationship, but it is also precisely Ammachi’s reaction that draws Radha and Anil closer together, forcing them to meet each other on serious terms for the first time.
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Anil invites Radha Aunty and Arjie inside, and then Anil’s father comes in and sends Anil to go put on a shirt. They all sit down and Radha apologizes for her mother’s visit. Anil says “it was nothing,” but his father calls it “downright insulting,” because they “are from a good family as well” and would never want Anil “to marry some non-Sinhalese.” He rejects the apology and, as his wife calls him away, he warns that “we Sinhalese are losing patience with you Tamils and your arrogance.” Anil apologizes; Radha and Arjie make to leave, but before they leave, Anil asks about Radha’s fiancé. Arjie understands that Ammachi’s real fear was Radha and Anil falling in love—although he thinks they are not, and that Anil was “too young” and “not serious enough” to be in love.
Anil’s father is a spitting image of Ammachi; he, too, sees his social world as bounded by ethnicity and cannot imagine opening his “good family” to Tamils. But his threat holds a disturbing weight since the Sinhalese are Sri Lanka’s majority group and have control of the government; this statement points to the constant threat that hangs over Tamils like Arjie’s family. Again, he thinks in terms of entire ethnic groups, speaking on behalf of millions of people instead of considering individuals on their own terms. Curiously, while Arjie is delighted about Radha’s engagement and charmed by her youthful energy, he sees Anil as too immature for romance.
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At the next rehearsal, Anil asks Radha Aunty why her mother is so anti-Sinhalese, and Radha explains that Ammachi’s father was killed in an ethnic riot in 1958. When Anil asks, she says she would let her child marry someone Sinhalese, but would not do so herself, since she already has someone.
Radha finally reveals that she is engaged, although this seems to be more as a way of dodging Anil’s question about ethnicity—for she has no issue marrying someone outside her group but recognizes that her mother's prejudice would prove a significant barrier.
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At lunchtime, rather than ride with Anil, Radha insists on taking the bus, to Arjie’s confusion. At lunch, Radha and Arjie take the only available seat, which happens to be at Anil’s table. Anil offers Radha his food, but she refuses—he decides to wait until her food arrives to eat, “because you are a lady.” (When she insists that she is just “a friend,” Anil’s friends laugh.) Just when Radha’s food arrives, the other friends pay and exit the restaurant, leaving Radha and Arjie alone with Anil, who starts asking her about her “intended.” She explains that they met in America; Anil asks how they fell in love and then declares that he is taking his “only chance” to—presumably—declare his own love for her. Radha freezes: she sees her sisters—Mala Aunty and Kanthi Aunty—in the restaurant, heading for their table to greet them.
Clearly affected by Ammachi and Anil's father's prejudice, Radha consciously avoids Anil but again cannot avoid having her motivations misinterpreted, now by Anil’s friends as well as her own sisters. In reality, her apparent date with Anil is completely artificial, and much like Arjie during the spend-the-days she gets blamed for being caught between the competing wills of Anil and her family. Anil’s apparent faith in love not only contradicts the social norms around marriage in Sri Lanka, but also mirrors Arjie’s own idealistic commitment to romance.
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The aunts reach Anil, Radha, and Arjie’s table; Kanthi Aunty asks, “what are you doing here?” but Mala Aunty escorts Kanthi Aunty out. As Radha Aunty nearly starts crying, Anil proclaims that “it’s out in the open now” and they can declare their love. Radha admonishes him for staying at the table and he asks if she likes him, then smiles when she does not respond. He says that it is possible for them to get married, despite her preexisting engagement and their bigoted parents. He promises that they can "make our parents accept us” and insists on paying the bill. As they leave the restaurant, Arjie wonders how Radha feels about Anil, and where Rajan “fit[s] in” to the whole picture.
Radha and Anil interpret the same event in diametrically opposed ways: for him, the fact that their lunch is public means Radha can reveal any feelings she has, but for Radha, it merely means that now her family will think she is stubbornly pursuing a relationship with Anil, even though she has never pursued or displayed any interest in him. He interprets her ambiguous responses as a sign that she shares his feelings, and for the first time Arjie wonders if she may be falling for him precisely because their relationship goes against their families' wishes.
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When they return to Ammachi and Appachi’s house, Mala Aunty’s car is out front and the whole family is waiting at the dining table. Radha Aunty briefly stops in her room and then follows Arjie to dinner. Ammachi explains that she is calling Aunty Doris to have Radha removed from the play, and laments that she is “flaunt[ing her] illicit relations in public” before slapping her in the face. Radha Aunty cries, and then Ammachi reveals her plan: she will send Radha to stay with her cousin in Jaffna until she “come[s] to [her] senses.” Radha Aunty gets up and leaves, and Mala Aunty chastises her mother for “slap[ping] a grown woman like that” before following Radha Aunty to her room. Arjie gets up, too, supposedly to go to the bathroom.
This time, Ammachi involves the whole family in her campaign to shame Radha Aunty; she again punishes Radha for something Radha has not actively chosen, and Arjie's discomfort probably testifies to his recognition that Radha’s punishment is fundamentally unmerited. Although she plays a relatively minor role throughout the book, Mala Aunty appears as the voice of reason here; while she may agree with Ammachi’s goals in chastising Radha, Mala clearly disagrees with her cruel method.
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From the house’s side garden, Arjie listens to Radha and Mala talk. Radha admits that she was never interested in Anil until Ammachi got between them. Now, she thinks about Anil as well as Rajan. She hopes that love will be more important than their parents’ differences, but Mala laments that she has “to live in the real world” and should not cross her family. She also notes that the ethnic tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese are worsening, as the Tamil Tigers are becoming more violent. This might make a “mixed marriage” dangerous.
Radha reveals that she has developed feelings for Anil not only despite the social barrier separating them but in fact because of it: the very impossibility of their love is what draws them to pursue it. Although Mala clearly understands enough to listen patiently to her sister, she also voices the perspective of the family as a collective, taking into account the likely social ramifications of a relationship as well as Ammachi’s unjustifiable but consequential prejudice. Although Radha (like Arjie) now thinks in terms of romance, Mala tries to remind her that romance is fleeting and replaceable, while family and reputation are not.
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When Ammachi calls to get Radha Aunty kicked of the play, Aunty Doris refuses. They agree that Radha will stay in the play—but Appachi will drive her—after she comes back from Jaffna. After the next rehearsal, Doris explains her reasoning to Radha: she wants her to “get to know this boy” and “be sure you are making the right decision.” In fact, Doris regrets her own marriage to a Tamil man—her Burgher family never forgave her and left Sri Lanka in secret, never to be heard from again. Since her husband has died, she is completely alone, and she wonders if her sacrifices were worth it, and whether it really matters in the long run to marry the person one loves. So she thinks Radha should use the rehearsals to consider if she wants to marry Anil. Radha agrees to “think about it carefully.”
Mala Aunty agrees with Ammachi's opposition to Radha and Anil's budding relationship while Aunty Doris does not offer definitive advice, but both look past Ammachi's demands to voice their own, more logical and measured concerns. Doris clearly sees Radha as a version of her past self, about to throw her family away for love on a whim; in this sense, she and Mala Aunty offer the same lesson about the irreplaceability of family. Doris does not regret her love for her husband or attempt to justify her family's prejudice, but she sees that sometimes an unreasonable and unjust situation requires a person to suspend their ideals for the sake of social survival.
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On the way home, Arjie imagines Aunty Doris’s experience losing her family, and he realizes that this is “a warning to [Radha]” and she might be kicked out of the family if she does marry Anil. Afraid of losing his only friend, Arjie holds Radha’s hand.
In addition to speaking to Radha, Aunty Doris’s warning also more subtly speaks to Arjie, who has clearly learned that his gender expression (and eventually sexuality) might threaten his position in his family and community. With these warnings, Arjie starts to lose his previous blind faith in romance.
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Radha Aunty continues meeting with Anil in secret—even Arjie’s bathroom break at the zoo turns into a rendezvous at the “elephant-dance arena.” When she rewards Arjie by promising him the job of “chief pageboy,” he realizes she is now thinking “about her wedding to Anil and not to Rajan.” When they return to the rest of the family after an hour and claim they got lost, Mala Aunty is suspicious and Radha Aunty tells Janaki that she and Anil will marry after she returns from Jaffna.
Like much young love, Radha and Anil's relationship only takes off once it is forbidden; as Radha’s friend and chief alibi, Arjie becomes privy to all her secrets. While he previously felt outraged at the injustices against Radha, after contemplating Mala Aunty and Aunty Doris’s warnings, Arjie has no clear sense of which would be the ideal wedding—the one between Radha and Rajan that he used to imagine, or the one that would fulfill Radha and Anil's newfound love but threaten the family.
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After Radha Aunty leaves for Jaffna, Arjie has to go to the play rehearsals alone, but feels “lost and alone” and does not know who to talk with. He decides to stand by Anil and soon takes a liking to him; Anil is genuinely friendly, in a “casual and effortless” way that most men cannot match.
For the first time, Arjie develops his own relationship with Anil and begins to understand what Radha sees in him. This is the same thing Arjie sees in Radha: an unpretentious honesty that few Sri Lankan adults seem to share.
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One day before Radha Aunty is set to return from Jaffna, the family hears of violent unrest there. Ammachi arranges a police escort to take Radha to the train station. After rehearsal, however, Amma does not come get Arjie, and Anil gives him a ride to Ammachi and Appachi’s house, where the whole family is gathered. Diggy reports that “Radha Aunty’s train was attacked” by Sinhalese people and that she was “hurt and everything” because of the trouble. They worry that the violence will spread to Colombo. When they learn that Anil gave Arjie a ride, Ammachi and the aunts are horrified, but Amma goes and thanks Anil before explaining that a family friend managed to save Radha when the train was attacked. But she also tells Anil that he will not be able to see Radha when she returns.
In a horrifying recapitulation of the violence that ended Ammachi’s father's life, the attack against Radha is all the more horrifying because it is random and unpredictable; it demonstrates that ethnic tensions can boil over at any moment in Sri Lanka. As when she reluctantly forces Arjie to play with the boys in the first chapter, Amma takes a middle ground by meeting Anil outside: she recognizes that he means well and has nothing to do with the attacks, but also that the irrational social pressures to follow will likely draw a final and resolute line between him and Radha.
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Back in the house, Arjie notices a photo of Ammachi’s father, who was murdered in the 1950s riots, and realizes that this violence might be “happening all over again.” At lunch, everyone is silent and only listens to the radio, which reports a curfew in Colombo. During the meal, Radha Aunty arrives and reveals that, under her scarf, “the right half of her face [is] dark and swollen.” Ammachi embraces her, but Radha does not hug back. Arjie scarcely recognizes her.
Now that he understands Sri Lanka’s ethnic turmoil, Arjie begins to feel the constant, low-level fear that he realizes the adults in his family have endured all their lives. Of course, this ends up foreshadowing the rest of the book, in which ethnic violence emerges as a driving force in the Chelvaratnam family’s lives. The attack has clearly left Radha with an emotional wound as well as her physical one; it remains to be see whether she can recover her previous carefree, independent idealism, or whether her experience will forever turn her pragmatic or cynical.
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Ammachi leads Radha Aunty to her bed, where Mala Aunty, who is a doctor, examines her wound and determines that she will not need stitches. Arjie goes to get her a new bandage but stops in the dining room to hear Mr. Rasiah, the family friend, describe Radha’s assault at the Anuradhapura train station. Arjie brings Radha the bandage and contemplates “how people could be so cruel, so terrible.”
Radha's fate forces Arjie to cope with profound moral evil for the first time; far beyond his sense of injustice at getting kicked out of the girls’ group or watching Ammachi retaliate against Anil’s family, here he sees that senseless suffering can occur without any apparent purpose, precipitating circumstance, or even discernible perpetrator.
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Anil shows up at the house, asking for Radha Aunty, whom Kanthi Aunty says is not at home. Ammachi and Kanthi yell at Anil and curse the Sinhalese. Hearing the whole episode, Radha breaks down and cries for a long time.
Although they apparently think they are defending Radha, Kanthi and Ammachi’s behavior leaves her again caught in the middle of a conflict she has not asked for, forced to watch someone she cares about get hurt, supposedly for her own good.
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Because there was already violence near Arjie’s grandparents’ house, his immediate family brought Ammachi, Appachi, and Radha Aunty to stay with them for a while. One night, Arjie and Sonali wake up to find Radha Aunty looking out the door into the garden. She is more serious and harsh than before.
Radha Aunty’s trauma has now made an enduring imprint on her personality; Arjie sees how the conflict injures even its survivors and begins to understand the lasting toll of violence.
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Over the next week, riots spread and stop, but Colombo remains safe. At play rehearsal on Saturday, Anil asks Radha Aunty about her wounds and then explains that he chose not to visit again because of Kanthi Aunty’s obvious anger. The play’s whole cast crowds around to hear Radha’s story. That day, she is standing in for the part of a concubine, and Anil’s role is to play the guard who captures her. He and the other guards throw her onto the stage, but they do it too hard and hurt her. She avoids him for the rest of the scene, and he starts to look at her differently.
Having already lost much of her optimism and innocence, Radha’s relationship with Anil now hangs in the balance; the overarching questions are, first, whether she can bring herself to continue pursuing romantic love, and secondly, whether the attacks might change her mind about marrying a Sinhalese man. When he throws her onto the stage, Radha is forced to act out the same kind of physical violence she just genuinely suffered, and likely to relive her trauma—just as Anil’s presence and rigidly pro-Sinhalese family are likely to make her endlessly relive her attack.
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After the next scene, Arjie and Anil notice that Radha Aunty is gone, and then find her crying outside the classroom. She sends Arjie back and returns, without Anil, while Aunty Doris is cleaning up after the rehearsals. Radha asks Aunty Doris to let her quit the show, and Arjie realizes that Radha and Anil can never be together after the attack. They take the bus home.
Although she has certainly reached a breaking point, it is still unclear whether Radha feels genuinely repulsed by Anil or simply realizes that it is impossible for her to be with him. In quitting the show, she is not only deciding once and for all to end things with Anil, but also giving up on the whimsy, fantasy, and imagination that her participation in theater partially represents.
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Forbidden Love and Family Theme Icon
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
Radha Aunty and Rajan soon get engaged, and on the night of their engagement, Radha is beautifully made up and dressed, finally looking like Arjie imagined when he first heard about her return from America. The Nagendras arrive; Rajan is handsome and Arjie realizes that, although he will finally be able to participate in the wedding he had hoped for, “there would be something important missing.” As Rajan gives Radha her ring, Arjie slips away to the back garden and remembers playing bride-bride just months before. As he listens to Janaki work in the kitchen, he realizes that he can no longer truly believe “that if two people loved each other everything was possible.”
In the end, Radha Aunty is ultimately poised to fulfill the fantasy on which Arjie was fixated at the beginning of chapter: her marriage to Rajan. But ironically, in the process of getting there, she has actually broken Arjie's faith in romantic love, the foundation of his wedding fantasy in the first place. In addition to learning about the evils of racism and random violence (especially when paired together), Arjie also learns that love seldom looks like it does in storybooks. Arjie seems to still believe in love, but not necessarily in its power to overcome external social constraints. In her own roundabout way, Radha ends up following Aunty Doris’s advice, choosing stability over romance in the faith that love will eventually develop either way.
Themes
Forbidden Love and Family Theme Icon
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon