Between classes on a Wednesday, Swami is unable to find his friends and wanders alone around his school. He stops to look at the younger children in the Infant Standards area, feeling “filled with contempt” at how small and unintelligent they are. Eventually he happily runs into Sankar, Somu, and the Pea, who he had thought were not at school. However, his three friends barely acknowledge Swami and refuse to let him join their game. They call Swami a “tail,” saying that it means “a long thing that attaches itself to an ass or a dog.” Swami doesn’t know what this means but he feels upset and embarrassed. On his way home, he catches up to Somu, who tells Swami that they now call him Rajam’s Tail, because he acts like he is too good for his old friends now that he spends time with the police superintendent’s son.
Swami’s contempt for the younger children is an ironic foreshadowing of his own vanishing childhood; soon, he will come to view himself as he does these children. The quick transformation of Somu, Sankar, and the Pea into people who are cruel to Swami rather than kind furthers the idea of identity and social roles as constantly changing. Instead of steadfast friends, Swami finds himself facing people who seem to be strangers, all because he unwittingly allied himself with a symbol of power by befriending Rajam.
This experience is Swami’s “first shock in life.” In particular, he feels unsure of who his friends are and confused that someone as nice as Somu could be so angry with him. Swami returns home and watches water and debris rush through a gutter by his house. He builds a paper boat and places an ant inside it, then launches the boat into the water. Swami watches in excitement as the boat progresses, recovering from several dangerous turns. Finally, however, a leaf falls onto the boat and overturns it, and Swami is unable to find the boat or the ant. He pinches some dirt in the gutter and says a prayer “for the soul of the ant.”
This upsetting experience is a key turning point for Swami. By facing the reality that even someone as kind as Somu can quickly become cruel, Swami begins to lose his belief that his friends play static roles in his life. By encountering a painful problem that no one in his family can help him solve, Swami is also forced to face the reality of his own autonomous life for the first time.
Over the next few days, Swami gets used to being cast out by his friends but still finds himself wishing to talk to them. At times, he thinks that they might be looking at him in a friendly way, but at other times he sees them reject him and feels self-conscious walking near them. He walks behind them leaving school, but he reflects on how frightening they have become to him and wishes to get away. Swami finally pretends to have left his notebook at school and runs away from his former friends.
Unsure of whether his friends might be considering treating him nicely again, Swami grows unable to tolerate their ambiguous role in his life, literally running away rather than facing them. Because Swami’s ability to tolerate such ambiguity plays an important role later on, this early inability is particularly important.