Chamundi Hill is well-known and easy to find; everyone knows of the Collector, who is Murugan’s employer now. Approaching the house, Rukmani and Nathan are again dismissed as beggars, but when they mention Murugan’s name the gatekeeper directs them to Murugan’s wife, Ammu. As she approaches Ammu’s cottage, Rukmani trembles with anticipation.
This moment could potentially be a warm, familial reunification. It’s important to remember that Rukmani hasn’t seen or heard from her son in years, so meeting him now could be a step towards reversing the painful diaspora of her children.
Ammu, a thin and dirty young woman, comes out of the cottage carrying a baby. She’s unfriendly and suspicious, even when Rukmani and Nathan introduce themselves as Murugan’s parents. Without preamble, she tells them that Murugan abandoned her two years ago, and she has no idea where he is.
Ammu’s attitude contravenes expectations of loving behavior towards parents. She’s a reminder that Murugan has purposefully distanced himself from his parents by choosing his own wife rather than letting them arrange his marriage.
After this blow, Rukmani and Nathan have no idea what to do. They sit down in Ammu’s cottage, which is much less tidy and cheerful than that of the servants they met before. Her children are obviously hungry. Ammu speaks with hostility, as if she blames Murugan’s parents for his actions; she believes he has left the city, and no one knows where to find him.
By abandoning his family, Murugan has seriously betrayed his parents’ values. While Nathan is an especially loving husband and father, always prioritizing his children’s needs above his own, his son has demonstrated the opposite behavior in his own family.
Trying to conciliate the young woman, Rukmani asks Ammu about her work and picks up her youngest child. Ammu points out bluntly that he isn’t even Rukmani’s grandson; saying that “one must live,” she implies that she conceived him while working as a prostitute.
Again, prostitution proves the only recourse for women who must provide for their families without the help of the man. The novel’s frequent references to prostitution argue that society needs to provide more legitimate ways for women to support themselves.
As they share a midday meal, Rukmani suggests that there must have been “reasons” for Murugan to run away. Offended, Ammu says that the reasons were “women and gambling.” Although she’s tempted to retort sharply, Rukmani reminds herself that Ammu is a young and very stressed women, trying to support children by herself. She apologizes.
Rukmani’s ability to admit her son’s faults is truly admirable. Here, she shows a solidarity with women disadvantaged by bad marriages, rather than a blind obedience to male dictates.
Nathan says that he and Rukmani must leave soon and prepare to return to their village; he doesn’t reveal that they don’t have the money to make this journey. Kindly, he asks how Ammu will manage her many children, but Ammu says coldly that she’s used to taking care of herself. Rukmani sees that “misfortune has hardened her,” and there’s no way to befriend her. After taking a last look at their grandchild, Rukmani and Nathan depart. A servant runs after them, chiding them for using the master’s gate instead of the smaller one for servants.
Nathan and Rukmani want to establish a familial connection with Ammu, but she rejects this entirely. This both represents the inability of recreating rural norms in urban setting, and the irreversible dissolution of the strong family network that Rukmani imagined her children would preserve.