As dawn breaks, Nathan wakes up as well. Rukmani is happy to see he looks healthier after a good sleep. They wash themselves at a communal tap and venture onto the street, where stops are selling fried pancakes. Cheerfully, Nathan suggests they use some of their slim funds to buy breakfast—but when Rukmani reaches into her sari, she finds her coins are all gone. Returning to the temple, they search their sleeping area but conclude that someone has robbed them during the night. Other beggars in the temple look at them with pity, clearly scorning them as ignorant country people.
This second robbery adds insult to injury, and means that Rukmani and Nathan are truly helpless. As they become more and more distanced from the village and more absorbed into city life, their vulnerability and poverty increases. This trend suggests that rural poverty is more empowering than urban poverty, but as Rukmani has seen through the famines and her eviction, this dichotomy is much more nuanced than it seems.
Rukmani and Nathan make their way through the city, hoping to find Murugan before sundown. Many times they have to stop and ask for instructions, and Nathan finds it hard to walk quickly. In the middle of the day they sit down to rest and watch a dozen street children playing in the road. Although they are dirty and emaciated, they are cheerful and happy—until they discover any food left in the road, whereupon they fight each other bitterly for possession.
The street children’s happiness mirrors the many moments in which Rukmani has been content despite her material poverty. Although Rukmani feels very distanced from urban life, many of her experiences will show the close ties between the urban and rural poor.
Rukmani decides to ask the children for directions. Nathan calls them over and asks where Koil Street. One boy explains that there are four Koil Streets, but he happens to know which one Murugan’s employer, Birla, lives on. He agrees to guide them there if they pay him later on, when they have money. He proudly introduces himself as Puli, the “leader of our pack,” and Nathan and Rukmani take a liking to him. Rukmani notices that his fingers have been eaten away by leprosy, and he’s left with only stumps.
Puli’s knowledge and confidence in the city contrasts with Rukmani and Nathan’s complete helplessness. However, his jaunty air is complicated by the disease that has already claimed his hands. Puli is much like Rukmani in that he maintains an incredibly optimistic demeanor given the trials he’s had to endure.
After showing them the correct house, Puli quickly disappears. Assuming they are beggars, a servant tries to dismiss them, but Nathan explains that they are looking for their son. The servant says that no one named Murugan works here, and he doesn’t even know of such a person.
Even though they were always poor, at home Rukmani and Nathan were rooted in a community where people knew and respected them. One of the worst aspects of city life is being estranged from that community and losing the identity it provides.
At that moment, Birla, a female doctor dressed in men’s clothing, approaches. Rukmani explains her plight, and Birla remembers that Murugan came to her on Kenny’s recommendation. However, he left her employ two years ago, and she believes he’s now working for an official on Chamundi Hill. She directs them to her servants’ quarters to have a meal before they set off.
Although Birla makes only a brief appearance, she’s a character who contravenes traditional women’s roles more completely than Rukmani or Kunthi ever do. There are many drawbacks to city life, but increased flexibility in social mores is one positive thing it provides.
The servant brings Rukmani and Nathan to a small cabin and introduces them to his friendly wife, who is caring for a small baby. Rukmani immediately relaxes in the homey atmosphere, cradling the baby while the woman prepares dinner. Later, the servants persuade Rukmani and Nathan to spend the night in their home so they can be well-rested when they continue their search in the morning.
The small cabin and air of hospitality reminds Rukmani of her life at home. While their circumstances and occupations are vastly different, the attitudes and values of the rural and urban poor remain very similar.