When Irawaddy is fourteen, it’s time to find a husband for her. Rukmani picks Old Granny to act as a matchmaker; she’s grateful that the old woman agrees to this task, even though Rukmani hasn’t sold vegetables to her in years. Every week Old Granny brings news of a different boy, and Rukmani and Nathan discuss their merits. Eventually, they settle on a young man who stands to inherit some good land from his father. Since Irawaddy is beautiful, she can obtain such a husband even without a large dowry.
As Rukmani married “beneath” her station, Irawaddy marries “above” it because of her unusual beauty. For women in the community, superficial attributes make the difference between a life of comfort and security or a life of poverty.
Irawaddy accepts her marriage without protest. Wistfully, she asks Rukmani how often she will visit, and her mother says she’ll come often, even though Irawaddy’s new home is ten villages away. Rukmani wants to communicate that soon she’ll be so absorbed in her new household and life she won’t miss her mother at all, but she doesn’t know how to say this; moreover, Rukmani herself is saddened to part ways with her daughter.
Irawaddy’s mingled excitement and fear mirrors Rukmani’s feelings in the lead-up to her marriage. While Rukmani recognizes that her community’s rituals—separating children from mothers at such a young age—are imperfect, she doesn’t desire to change the circumstances, believing them inevitable.
Rukmani and Nathan host the small wedding, at which Irawaddy looks like a child in her elaborate outfit and makeup. Rukmani cooks food that she has been stashing for months, and everyone agrees that the match is very good. When it’s finally time to leave, Irawaddy looks frightened but remains calm as Rukmani and Nathan bless her and she climbs onto her new husband’s cart. At home, the boys fall asleep and Rukmani lays down beside Nathan, leaving the cleaning until the morning. She finds it hard to fall asleep without her daughter under her roof.
Although it’s a triumph to marry Irawaddy off to a good husband and a practical benefit to have one less mouth to feed, the novel stresses Rukmani’s feelings of sadness and loss. In this way, it contravenes the stereotype of Indian women as material bargaining chips and focuses on their meaningful roles within their families.