Kunthi’s sons begin to work at the tannery, bringing home high wages to their mother’s delight. Rukmani still refuses to accept the tannery, pointing out that wages buy less and less in the town. Kunthi calls Rukmani a “senseless peasant woman,” and Rukmani retorts that at least she has “true” values. Rukmani notices that Kunthi often travels into town, where men admire her beauty. The villagers gossip about her behavior, but her husband is mild-mannered and doesn’t intervene.
While Rukmani’s independence emerges as laudable and revolutionary, Kunthi’s is dangerous and immoral. This dichotomy shows how the novel both allows women to challenge some social norms but insist they live within traditional roles.
Soon, Janaki’s husband’s store fails because of competition with new shopkeepers. Without bewailing their fate, the family packs their possessions and bids farewell to the village. After they leave, no one knows what has become of them, and the village soon forgets they’ve ever lived there.
The tannery continues to grow, often absorbing the small farms that lie next to it. Rukmani can’t believe that such a high demand for tanned skins exists anywhere in the world. Several tannery officials settle in the town, Muslims who form their own separate community. Rukmani pities the women who have to walk around the town veiled in burkas, but Kali points out that they are wealthy and have servants to do their housework. Once, a Muslim woman beckons Rukmani into her house in order to buy some vegetables. Rukmani sees that she wears several rings, each of which could feed her family for a year. Still, she decides she wouldn’t trade the “unfettered sight of the sun” for this woman’s life.
The town is becoming part of an integrated economy, rather than a self-sufficient entity. Rukmani still prioritizes farming over trade, but given the famine it’s less and less clear that agriculture is a superior way of life. Rukmani’s pity for the Muslim women is not necessarily a critique of Islam, but rather demonstrates her determination to appreciate the benefits of her own life, arguing that this trait makes her happier than women like Kali.