Hoping to catch Nur alone, Deven plans his visit at an unusual hour. But once again, there’s a huge crowd in his courtyard. Deven slips upstairs and enters Nur’s room, which is again completely dark. Nur asks if he has heard the news: Imtiaz is very sick, and no doctor can cure her. Nur blames her vigorous birthday celebration, as she collapsed the same night. Deven wonders if the older woman who arrived just before he left (Safiya) ended up beating Imtiaz nearly to death. Secretly, Deven is pleased that Imtiaz is sick, but Nur’s helplessness disgusts him. Deven tells Nur that perhaps Imtiaz just has a virus; Nur says that he hopes so. He thinks they should take her to the hospital (where she refuses to go). Deven enthusiastically agrees, less because he wants Imtiaz to recover than because he wants Nur all to himself.
The past keeps repeating itself: Murad sets the terms for Deven’s interview, and then Deven arrives at Nur’s house, only to find that he has to compete with both Imtiaz and the crowd for Nur’s attention. Thus, Deven’s cruel, thinly veiled resentment at Imtiaz is understandable: he feels that she is trying to get in his way and that her ultimate goal is to destroy her husband’s literary legacy out of petty jealousy. But in turn, this makes him want to destroy her—or at least get her away from Nur. Clearly, he firmly believes that a great man’s art is more important than a woman’s life, and he feels little guilt about the minor role he may have played in Imtiaz’s illness (if it’s true that Safiya’s attack provoked it).
Unable to find a drink for Nur, Deven decides to change the subject and ask Nur to start their interviews. Nur agrees, declaring: “before Time crushes us into dust we must record our struggle against it.” He says he wishes his secretary were around, so that he could dictate his old poems from his student days, but Deven explains that he can do the same with his tape recorder. Then, remembering that he still knows nothing about tape recorders, Deven starts to feel inadequate.
At last, Deven and Nur appear ready to start serious research—until Deven realizes that he can’t do it without the tape recorder, which has put new constraints on the process. Nur’s comment about time is another brief flash of poetic insight amidst his otherwise nonsensical lectures. In fact, it offers a profound answer to the novel’s central dilemma: Deven’s choice between the past and the future. Rather than trying to return to the past and resuscitate Urdu—which is dead in India, for all intents and purposes—perhaps the solution is to figure out how the past can inform the future. After all, this is the purpose of Deven’s whole project: to make and disseminate a record of Nur’s “struggle against” inevitable change.
Deven explains that they just need to meet alone a few times, so that Nur can tell his life story and recite his poems. But Nur insists that he can do no such thing while Imtiaz is sick—especially because she will overhear everything, and she doesn’t like him reciting poetry anymore. Plus, he thinks she’s right: he'll “make a fool of [him]self” if he tries to recite more poetry. Deven furiously says that he’s wrong, but Nur orders Deven to be quiet. Suddenly, Ali comes inside and explains that Imtiaz wants to see both Deven and Nur. The men look at each other in confusion; Deven thinks the house is full of spies. But Ali helps Nur hobble over to her room anyway, and Deven follows.
The first time Deven visited Nur, Imtiaz complained that Nur wasn’t writing any new poetry because he was too busy partying. But now, she manipulates him by insisting that he shouldn’t be writing or performing. In both cases, even as Imtiaz’s opinion has shifted, everything seems to elegantly fit together to prevent Deven from getting his work done. While Imtiaz appears to be using her illness to manipulate Nur, readers would also be justified in asking whether Nur might be in on the scheme, too.
Imtiaz is lying in her bed, looking sickly and wearing a bandage on her forehead, surrounded by followers and attendants. She tells Deven that he shouldn’t let Nur make any public appearances, lest he end up like her. Deven protests that this isn’t his plan, but Imtiaz says that she knows that “jackals from universities […] feed upon [the] carcasses” of poets, and that Deven wants to “tear at [Nur’s] living flesh.” Nur protests, but Imtiaz reiterates her warning. She asks Deven why he keeps visiting, and Deven says that he wants to pay his respects to Nur and hear his poetry. Imtiaz insists that Nur won’t recite anything. Nur agrees, but she still cries and says that she knows he will anyway. He promises not to and holds her hands.
Even if Deven doesn’t take Imtiaz’s complaints about him seriously, they are perfectly valid: Deven expects to get famous by publicizing Nur’s work—not his own. Arguably, then, Deven is exploiting Nur’s work for his own benefit—just like Murad is exploiting Deven. It’s significant that Imtiaz calls Deven a jackal—which is the same word that Deven and Siddiqui used to describe the university registrar, Mr. Rai, who does nothing besides push papers. Her point is clear: having built an industry around analyzing and promoting poetry, academics like Deven are really preying on poets, stealing the money and status that should rightfully be theirs.
Deven suddenly feels he must leave. He slowly backs out of Imtiaz’s room and runs down the stairs to the front door. He decides that he simply can’t record Nur at his home—they need to go somewhere else. But this will be challenging, since Nur can’t walk without help. Deven hopes Siddiqui can help find a solution. Before he leaves the courtyard, he hears a voice calling to him. He walks past a little girl in a doorway to another courtyard, where goats are tied up, clothes are drying, and an old woman (Safiya) is starting a cooking fire.
Another pattern keeps repeating itself: rather than saying goodbye to Nur and calmly going home at a socially appropriate time, Deven witnesses Nur’s family descend into chaos, suddenly feels that he has to leave, and abruptly flees without telling anyone. He probably feels this way because Nur’s unhappy family life reminds him too much of his own. The only difference is that Nur and Imtiaz actually act on their resentments, whereas he and Sarla silently cling to theirs.
Deven realizes that this woman (Safiya) is the one who fought Imtiaz during his last visit. He figures that Nur has multiple wives, and she must be the eldest of them. She claims that Imtiaz is making up her illness in order to get Nur to stop spending time with Deven. Nur’s followers all hate Imtiaz, the old woman explains, and Imtiaz especially hates that Deven cares about Nur’s poetry as a form of art, and not just a source of entertainment. Imtiaz doesn’t want Nur to achieve fame or glory, she explains before putting a pot of dal on the fire and asking Deven to sit.
As the finer details of Nur’s polygamous family life come into view, he starts to look even more callous and cruel than before. (Polygamy is historically uncommon but not unheard of in India; it is mostly practiced among wealthy Muslims and particularly associated with the old royalty.) After becoming famous, Nur seems to have all but abandoned Safiya, his first wife, and redirected his attention toward Imtiaz.
The old woman (Safiya) tells Deven to ignore Imtiaz, interview Nur, and write his book. She says that Nur is a great man and asks if Deven thinks so too. He declares that Nur is India’s greatest living Urdu poet, and he asks if the woman knows how he can get Nur alone to conduct his interviews. The woman agrees that Deven has to get Nur out of the house, because Imtiaz will never leave (or let Nur leave). The woman says she can sneak Nur out the back door, and Deven can rent a room somewhere in the same lane to do the interviews. She offers to arrange the room, too. Deven agrees and promises to send a message with a date and time for the interview.
Safiya confirms Deven’s suspicion that Imtiaz is trying to prevent him from interviewing Nur. Deven couldn’t stand Imtiaz’s explanation for her behavior—that scholars like him unjustly prey on the writers they study. But Safiya’s explanation—that Imtiaz is jealous—appeals to Deven because she paints him as Nur’s savior. Of course, she also offers him an easy solution to the question of where and how to record Nur. Still, critical readers might wonder to what extent Safiya is playing on Deven’s misogyny to manipulate him—and to what extent the novel is trying to show how it backfires when men try to circumvent and overpower women instead of taking them seriously.
Deven gets up to leave, but before he can, the woman (Safiya) tells him not to forget to pay Nur for his time. Poets’ families have to eat too, she says, and Deven should name his price in the message he sends. As he walks away, Deven wonders why Nur married such different women, and he concludes that he’ll have to give up on his project.
When Safiya asks for money, this suggests that she might also have ulterior motives for working with Deven—just like Murad, Jain, and possibly even Nur himself. But Deven has already spent all his funding from the college on the tape recorder—there is no way he can afford to pay Safiya, too. Thus, now for the third time, Deven walks away from Nur’s house convinced that his research is over. But the cycle will continue; he will be back sooner than he knows.