Rukmani packs the few belongings she can carry. She leaves most of her cooking vessels behind, imagining that her daughter-in-law will already have her own tools. She’s sad to relinquish her place as the matriarch of the household, and reflects fondly on the daily chores of feeding her family. Rukmani gathers their few rupees in her sari and is ready to leave.
Leaving behind her tools represents leaving behind her identity as an able and competent housewife. The transition to old age, always difficult, is complicated by the material upheaval Rukmani is experiencing right now.
The next morning, Rukmani and Nathan hitch a ride with a bullock cart traveling towards the city. After saying goodbye to Selvam and Irawaddy, they depart the village, watching the familiar fields recede. Rukmani leans on Nathan for comfort.
Rukmani’s ride away from the town mirrors her journey here as a young bride. She’s experiencing the same feelings of fear and dependence on Nathan, but less of her youthful optimism.
Soon, Rukmani notices that one of the bullocks is not well; his yoke has rubbed a large raw patch on his shoulder. She points this out to the carter, but he says he can’t afford to let the animal rest, since he makes his living by trips to the city. Throughout the day Rukmani watches the injured bullock grow slower, and his wound grow more serious.
The animal, which can’t stop working despite its obvious sickness, mirrors Rukmani and Nathan, who lack the resources to settle down even though they’re approaching old age.
The next afternoon, the carter drops Nathan and Rukmani at the outskirts of the city. They have no idea how to reach Murugan’s house on Koil Street, but begin to walk into the city in hopes of meeting someone. The first man they meet tells them that Koil Street is in the suburbs on the other side of the town, fifteen miles away. Rukmani and Nathan walk slowly, burdened by their possessions and often losing their way. They are bewildered by the constant streams of people, carts, and bicycles, often on the verge of crashing into each other.
In Rukmani’s first exposure to a large city, the novel explicitly addresses India’s growing industrialization for the first time. Until now, it has only portrayed the side effects of that transformation, like the boom in businesses like the tannery. Just as Rukmani was confused and off-put by the tannery, she’s ill at ease in the city, which seems inferior to the tranquil lifestyle she’s always loved.
After hours of walking, Rukmani sees Nathan flagging and suggests they rest. They sit down in a quiet alleyway, and as the sun sets Rukmani knows they’ll have to prolong the search until the next day. A homeless man suggests that they seek shelter at a temple, where they might even get a meal. As they approach, they see many old and crippled people entering the temple as well. Soon, some priests appear with trays of food and perform a long blessing. Rukmani closes her eyes and imagines her children and the fields where she lived.
From being deeply rooted in their own land, Rukmani and Nathan are transformed into wandering beggars. While they accept this change with humility, it’s an extremely poignant moment that shows just how much their society has failed to provide hardworking citizens the ability to provide for themselves through meaningful occupations.
A woman next to Rukmani tells her to hurry towards the food, as there’s not always enough. She has to jostle for position with other, more experienced supplicants. When she finally reaches the front of the line, the priest refuses to give her a second portion for Nathan, so they have to share one meal. She is shocked and dismayed that he doesn’t trust her.
For the first time in her life, Rukmani has to aggressively assert herself in a hostile environment. While she’s hesitant to do so, she’s more adaptable than Nathan, who is growing more passive and more reliant on his wife’s ability to make decisions and provide for him.
After Rukmani and Nathan eat, they remember that they have left their bundles of possessions in the temple entrance hall. When they return to collect them, the bundles have been stolen. Even though some other people in the temple help them search, they are unable to find them. The others tell Rukmani scornfully that she must take better care of her belongings, even inside a temple.
Rukmani’s mistake might seem silly, but it shows how truly out of place she is right now. For Rukmani, urban life points out her vulnerabilities more than any experience on the farm did, and requires a watchfulness and cunning that feels difficult and unnatural to her.
Nathan says they shouldn’t be upset by the loss of mere belongings, but Rukmani is disturbed by the prospect of appearing at Murugan’s house empty-handed, like beggars. During the night, she dreams that someone is tugging on her arm, but when she wakes up she sees only Nathan next to her. She sleeps fitfully for the rest of the night and wakes up before dawn, watching as the temple’s carved statues gradually appear in the light, looking as if they are alive.
While Rukmani usually appears stoic compared to Kenny, her own capacity for action and anxiety is revealed by Nathan’s passivity. Of the three characters, she has the most nuanced mentality regarding human suffering.