Swami realizes that his friendships with Somu, Sankar, and the Pea are not meaningful to him outside of school. His friendships with Mani and Rajam are “more human” and the three spend nearly all of their time together with school out. Without school to worry about, Swami wants a hoop to play with more than anything and thinks constantly about getting one. He tells a coachman about his wish and the coachman claims that he can get Swami a hoop quickly in exchange for five rupees. Swami can barely imagine having that much money, but the coachman says that he has a way of converting copper coins into silver, so all Swami needs to do is bring him six paise (a smaller denomination) to start the process.
In this section, Swami gains a new understanding of how important social context is in determining the roles that people play in one another’s lives, as he sees that some of his close friends no longer feel important outside of school. His intense desire for a hoop—an essentially useless plaything—reinforces the image of Swami as childish, but at the same time his methods for getting the hoop quickly become somewhat adult, illustrating the ongoing change in Swami’s maturity.
Swami is convinced of the coachman’s plan and immediately begins trying to find six paise, which the coachman says he needs within six hours. He asks his Granny first, but she has no money to give him, even though she wants to. Swami’s mother and father also refuse his request. Unable to find any coins in his house, he remembers that Ebenezar claimed that God would help those who pray to him and wonders if he might be able to perform magic. He gathers six pebbles and puts them in a box with sand, then prays over them in the room where his family keeps images of gods and idols. He decides to wait for half an hour but only lasts ten minutes before opening the box. He is at first enraged to find pebbles instead of coins, but then he becomes afraid that the gods will punish him for his anger and instead buries the box reverently.
After his family’s refusal to help him, Swami turns almost thoughtlessly to the kind of Christian practice that he earlier opposed in Ebenezar’s class, showing that his burgeoning political awareness is still rather self-serving. Somewhat irrationally, Swami still fears the gods’ anger after they too fail to give him what he wants. This disjointed view of reality illustrates the growing pains of Swami’s increasingly complex understanding of the world around him.
Swami departs for Mani’s house and arrives to find a large, imposing man at the door who initially frightens him but turns out to be Mani’s uncle. Swami asks Mani to lend him six paise, but Mani has no money and refuses to look through his uncle’s possessions. Two weeks later, Swami goes to Rajam and asks to borrow a policeman, saying that the coachman robbed him. Rajam suggests attacking the man but Swami says that he is frightened to confront him. Swami then confesses to Rajam that he ended up giving the coachman twelve paise after being told that six was not enough. Finally, he mentions that the coachman’s young son makes faces and threatens him whenever he tries to go to the coachman’s house.
Interestingly, Swami does not reveal how he ultimately obtained enough money to pay the coachman. Through this omission, Narayan hints that Swami may be beginning to solve problems on his own, rather than relying on his family or even his friends to help him get what he wants. However, his request to his powerful friend Rajam to “borrow” a policeman demonstrates that he continues to rely on the force of existing power structures even as he seems to become more independent.
The next day, Swami and Mani go to the coachman’s house. Rajam has made a plan for Mani to befriend and then kidnap the coachman’s son, with Swami going along to point out the correct house. On the way, Swami gets frightened and tells the Mani that the coachman returned the money, but Mani doesn’t believe him and insists on continuing with the plan. Swami points out the house and Mani decides at the last minute that Swami should come to the door with him.
Despite his fears, Swami puts himself almost completely at the mercy of Rajam and Mani in this section, going along with their plan even though he is clearly anxious about it. Swami wishes to appease and impress his friends even more than he wishes to get his money back, and his earlier goal of getting a hoop is essentially forgotten. Now, Swami’s concerns are somewhat more adult, focusing on his relationships with Rajam and Mani, the two most powerful figures in his immediate surroundings.
Outside the house, Mani hits Swami and yells at him until a crowd gathers, including the coachman’s son. Mani tells the crowd that Swami is a stranger who has demanded money from him, and the coachman’s son says that Swami should be sent to jail. Swami turns and confronts the son about his missing money that the coachman took, but Mani interrupts by offering the boy a toy top and promising him a bigger one if he leaves with them. The boy agrees but then runs back into his house with the top. Mani knocks on the door until the coachman’s neighbors violently drive Swami and Mani from the neighborhood, throwing rocks and chasing them with dogs.
The final phase of this confrontation vividly shows the transition from Swami’s childish wish for the hoop to his involvement in a clearly dangerous situation. This dual meaning indicates that Swami’s seeming innocence may have been something of an illusion all along, if something so simple as wanting a hoop can lead so easily to a violent confrontation. Swami is also forced to accept that his strong friend Mani is not all-powerful, again complicating his understanding of his friends’ identities.