The following morning, Deven and Chiku come back to the brothel to continue recording, but nobody is there. Deven realizes that Nur is not coming back, and Chiku angrily yells that he is missing his sister’s wedding preparations for nothing. The women who let Deven in the first day (the brothel owner) approaches him and asks why he has come—Safiya has already cancelled their room rental. Bulu, the burly bouncer, comes up to kick them out, and they dutifully go down to the street. The brothel owner tells Deven that the police will come after Safiya if she does not pay the bill, and she shuts the door.
Deven’s research ends abruptly, without any real notice for Nur, which only heightens his suspicion that the whole thing was all a scam. After all, Nur and his friends got to party, Safiya got her envelope of cash, and the brothel owner will get paid for renting out her room. It isn’t clear if they were working together, or if they were just pulling individual tricks that all happened to harmonize. In fact, it’s even possible that they all had honest intentions the whole time: perhaps Nur really did want to share his poetry, and Safiya and the brothel owner really did want to help him. But regardless, Deven will have to bear the cost, as he took responsibility for the research—even though it wasn’t his idea, and even though he didn’t fully realize it until it was already too late.
Deven asks Murad to listen to the tapes with him in Jain’s shop, as he must return to Mirpore to grade exam papers as soon as possible. Murad and Jain both protest but ultimately agree. Chiku sets up the machine, then he leaves. Jain can’t get the tapes to play and calls over a boy who looks covered in motor oil (Pintu) to help. The boy gets the machine to work, but the tapes are a disaster. There are occasional crackling sounds, car horns, and laughs, but Nur’s voice is mostly absent. His rum and lunch orders are loud and clear, but his poems are barely audible.
The tapes were Deven’s last hope, and in a disappointing but completely unsurprising plot twist, they turn out to be completely useless. Deven’s research project is officially a failure. Of course, the recorder’s failure is important symbolically, as well as for the novel’s plot: modern technology has failed to live up to its promise of preserving memories of the past and saving Urdu from fading into oblivion. Indeed, the only new Nur poem Deven has actually discovered is the one that Nur wrote down in his notebook.
Murad complains that the tapes are useless and that Deven is to blame for not checking them during the interview process. Deven realizes that, for once, Murad is right. Deven promises that he can at least write an article for Awaaz, but he has no idea how he can deliver the tapes he promised to his college. Murad blames Jain and Chiku for the poor recordings, but Jain says that it’s Deven’s fault for failing to rent a proper recording studio. Murad agrees with Jain; he jovially puts his arm around Deven’s shoulder and says that “the tapes are hopeless” and that he’s going to lose his job. Deven realizes that his friendship with Murad is based on “nothing but familiarity, custom.”
Deven starts to confront the consequences of his research’s failure—and, at a deeper level, his weakness of will. He is exasperated to realize that, since Murad has transferred all the risk onto him, he will probably get fired for wasting the college’s resources, while Murad will lose nothing. Worse still, even in Deven’s time of need, Murad refuses to take his side. Instead, as always, he unreliably shifts back and forth, so that he doesn’t have to commit to anything or anyone. Fortunately, Deven finally realizes that his friendship with Murad is useless: they are still repeating the dynamic they set up as children, in which Murad exploits Deven and Deven lets him. If nothing else, Deven is approaching a breaking point at which he will have to confront the toxic patterns that are slowly destroying his life.
Deven starts screaming at Jain, who promises that he can salvage the tapes through editing. Deven complains that nobody in Mirpore can help him edit the tapes, but Jain offers to send grease-covered Pintu, who is also one of his nephews. Deven reluctantly agrees. He and Pintu take the bus to Mirpore with all their recording equipment; Pintu stares out the window, almost in disbelief, while Deven closes his eyes and says nothing.
Deven accepts Jain’s offer out of desperation, fully aware that Pintu might turn out to be just as useless as Chiku and only create more problems. Indeed, Pintu has no personality or redeeming qualities at all. In fact, his presence on the bus ride only reminds Deven that Jain is taking advantage of him, and that he has completely lost control of his research project.
Deven’s house is empty and full of dust when they arrive, as Sarla has spent the summer with her family. She forgot to throw out the trash, which is rotting. Struggling to contain his rage, Deven points Pintu to Manu’s bed, then he goes and takes a bath. The following day, Deven receives a letter from Nur, who writes that his eyes are worsening, he needs cataract surgery, and he has no money to pay for it. He asks if Deven can get funding from his college, as this is his only chance at continuing to write poetry.
The rotting trash is an obvious metaphor for Deven’s unhappy marriage, and it reminds him that absolutely nothing in his life is going well. Nur’s letter—the first of many—is an obvious ploy to get more of Deven’s money. After all, Nur hasn’t been writing much poetry, and he hasn’t shared the little he has written, so not even Deven is foolish enough to think that a little more money will change things.
At the college, which is also completely empty, Deven gets to work correcting exam papers and editing the tapes with Pintu and Siddiqui. Unsurprisingly, Pintu doesn’t actually know how to use the recording device, and Siddiqui doesn’t care about the project at all. Deven accepts that he’ll have to figure out the tapes on his own if he wants to keep his job. But then, he gets a surprise visit from one of his students, tech-savvy Dhanu, who has been hanging around the college and studying radio technology in his free time. Dhanu proposes re-recording the useful parts of the tapes on his own tape recorder to make a “master” tape. Dhanu’s friends start coming to the college to help, and Pintu and Siddiqui disappear.
Pintu does turn out to be incompetent and unhelpful, after all, but at least Dhanu comes to the rescue. Still, this may be too little, too late. Deven is painfully aware that he is just trying to pick up the pieces of a hopeless situation, and he's quite embarrassed to be completely dependent on a student to finish his research. Put differently, even in his most desperate moment, Deven can’t solve his problems on his own; even after he has nearly destroyed his career by trusting other people to do everything for him, he continues to outsource everything to them.
Deeply grateful for Dhanu’s help, Deven withdraws his last savings to buy him a blank cassette. Dhanu and his friends salvage what they can of the tapes, but the finished product is a “bizarre pastiche” of short clips. When they finish, Deven invites Siddiqui to come listen to it. He tells Dhanu that the tape is “charming,” but he quietly asks Deven, “is that all?” He's visibly disappointed, but Deven promises that he’s writing a book, too. Siddiqui says it doesn’t matter: the college gave them funding to produce a tape. He asks what will happen if the board members ask to listen to it at their upcoming meeting.
Naturally, Deven’s last-ditch effort to save his recordings ends up costing his last few rupees. Thus, Nur officially bankrupts him. Siddiqui’s brutally honest reaction to the tapes is discouraging, but at least it can realistically prepare Deven to face the administration. Namely, Deven will need to admit and take responsibility for his failure—something he has struggled to do throughout the book. He has long viewed himself as a failure, and he has often blamed himself for his mistakes, but he has never truly taken responsibility for them.
Pintu approaches Deven to demand his pay, and Deven gives him some loose change. Then, Dhanu and his friends demand that Deven give them the highest grades in their class. Deven asks where they learned to fix radios and points out that their attendance is poor, but they complain that Hindi is useless and won’t help them get jobs. They run off.
In a twist that should surprise nobody, the boys were helping Deven out of selfishness, not altruism. Their complaint about Hindi underlines why Deven feels so useless and undervalued at work: in post-independence India, nobody seriously cares about literature or the humanities. At best, they view Hindi classes as a tiresome, outdated requirement.
At home, Deven receives another letter from Nur, blaming him for “hastening [his] early death” and demanding a free education at the college for his son. Deven spends all night grading papers, then lies in bed, motionless, hoping for his life to be as dull and uneventful as it was before he met Nur.
Now fully aware that Nur is taking advantage of him, just like Murad has been throughout the book, Deven simply ignores Nur’s letter and accepts that they will never be true friends or intellectual partners. But his anxiety-filled night shows that he needs to do more than just say no to the people who are exploiting him: he also needs to learn to stand up for himself and demand what he deserves.
The next morning, Deven brings his sheet of final marks to a meeting in the college staff room, at which the administration talks on and on about academic standards and poor attendance. Deven hands in his grades and, seeking to avoid his students, agrees to have tea with his dreadful colleague Jayadev. He admits to Jayadev that he spent the whole summer break working—and that he’s more likely to get fired for it than promoted. Jayadev shows him a postcard from an old colleague who has gone to teach biochemistry in America—and get rich. Jayadev says he wants to do the same, but Deven yells that nobody needs Hindi teachers in America. Jayadev admits that they should have become scientists, and they both agree that the humanities have no future.
Deven claims to hate Jayadev’s shallowness and naivety, but their conversation suggests that Deven’s real issue is that Jayadev reminds him of himself—and especially his insignificant, hopeless career (which, to make matters worse, he is about to lose). Indeed, their names make it clear that they are character foils for each other: they share the same root, “dev,” which means “deity.” Like Raj’s job in Cairo, their colleague’s job in the U.S. represents the greener grass on the other side of life, which they will never be able to reach. And their lament about the state of Hindi and the humanities echoes Nur’s complaint that India is trading its rich, unique traditions for shiny, mass-produced technology. Of course, everything they say about Hindi is doubly true for Urdu.
Deven passes his glaring students on his way out of the canteen. At home, he finds two more letters. One is from Sarla, so he doesn’t open it. The other is from Nur, who has also sent a 500-rupee bill for the room in the brothel. Deven decides to go to Delhi one last time before Sarla returns and the school year begins. It’s the scorching part of late summer just before the monsoon. From the bus window, the countryside looks totally devoid of life. In Delhi, Deven takes a rickshaw straight to Murad’s office.
Deven’s students are glaring at him because he didn’t inflate their grades like they asked him to do. This shows that Deven is finally standing up to someone—and he seems to have worked up the courage to go confront Murad in Delhi, too. The ridiculous brothel bill might feel like the last straw. But, of course, it isn’t—because in this novel, there’s always more extortion and manipulation to come.
Murad immediately starts complaining that Deven’s article held up his journal. Deven shows him the 500-rupee bill, and Murad yells that he won’t spend any more on Deven or Nur. Deven points out that interviewing Nur was Murad’s idea, but Murad explains that he already spent a small fortune on rum and food for Nur, and his mother won’t send him any more money for such expenses. Deven says that all he wants is his payment for the article, and Murad rages that the article isn’t worth 500 rupees. After all, Deven did it for passion, not pay. But Sahay, the elderly printer, insists that Murad ought to pay Deven. Murad finally agrees to pay Deven, but not until the magazine publishes the article.
As usual, Murad goes on the offensive so that he doesn’t have to admit to his mistakes, and as usual, Deven takes the bait by engaging him in argument rather than dismissing him through action. Ultimately, it will never be clear whether—and to what extent—Murad was in on the scam all along—perhaps he got to keep a cut of the recording and rent payments from Deven’s college, or perhaps he lost money to Nur and Nur’s family, too. But between Sahay’s disapproval and his funding from his mother, Murad is finally backed into a corner, and he has no choice but to start making concessions.
Distraught, Deven puts his head on the table and almost faints. People crowd around, concerned for his health, and someone brings him water. He drinks it, stands up, and walks out with a newfound sense of calm. Murad runs after him and makes another offer: he will pay off Deven’s debts in exchange for the rights to his tape of Nur. Deven pushes Murad up against the wall and reminds him that the college owns the tape, and Murad tells Deven that he should get the college to pay his debts instead.
Deven’s drink of water marks an important turning point in his character development: he finally breaks his cycle of passivity by taking matters into his own hands, standing up for himself and rejecting Murad’s proposal. It may be too late to save his research, but he can still save himself from manipulators like Murad by refusing to give them power over him.
Deven walks out into the ungodly Delhi heat and starts wandering around aimlessly. He passes Chandni Chowk and thinks about visiting Nur, but he continues on instead, past the city’s famous Red Fort and toward Darya Ganj, where he grew up. He considers visiting Raj’s widowed aunt but decides against it and goes to sit in a park bench instead. He watches Delhi’s huge central mosque, the Jama Masjid, as the afternoon sun gradually sets. He remembers his conversation with Jayadev about the humanities and sciences, and he realizes that, if poetry offered simple answers like math and science do, then it would lose its perfection and become worthless.
Deven wanders around a number of significant places in Old Delhi, which was the seat of power for centuries under India’s Muslim rulers and the center of its Urdu literary culture. This setting makes it clear that he is grappling not only with his own identity and future, but also with India’s. Specifically, he is wondering what will happen to India’s linguistic and cultural heritage as India grows into an independent democracy with a modern economy. It’s already clear that Indians see math, science, and English as the way of the future—and art, literature, and above all Urdu as relics from the past. Yet Deven realizes that the humanities must survive precisely because the sciences can never take their place. In other words, literature will always stay relevant precisely because it speaks to the complexity of the human experience and can’t be reduced to single answers, like science can.