Two weeks before his April school exams, Swami notices that his father is becoming more strict about making him study. He pesters Swami frequently, eventually pointing out that Swami will have to be in a different class from his friends if he fails the exam. At that point Swami listens to his father and begins to study harder.
In this chapter, Swami’s father becomes a more antagonistic presence as the pressure of Swami’s schoolwork increases. His convincing point that Swami needs school to maintain his friendships also illustrates the paradoxical truth that school, while often harmful to Swami, also fosters some of the most important parts of his life.
All of Swami’s classmates and friends are overwhelmed by the pressure of the upcoming exams. Mani is particularly worried and attempts to get information about the exam questions from the school clerk, who is rumored to know everything. He bribes the clerk with food and although the clerk is pleased, he tells Mani that he doesn’t know anything about the test questions. Mani persists, and eventually the clerk gives him advice about what to study, despite not actually knowing what will be on the exam. Mani is pleased with the information he gets from the clerk and shares his knowledge with Swami.
Mani’s foolish attempt to cheat at the exam points to the impossibility of true success in the boys’ academic environment. Even an important school administrator does not know how to achieve success, and talking to him only gives Mani false hope.
Swami arrives home feeling bored and is disappointed that his Granny doesn’t feel like talking to him. He goes to look at his brother, who is now six months old. Swami now finds his brother charming and “love[s] every inch of him.” However, the baby is asleep and Swami, even more bored, wishes that his father would let him go out to play with Mani. Swami tries to study a map of Europe and wonders about the people who live there, and about how the people who make maps know the shapes of countries. He thinks that perhaps they look down from a high place to see the shape. He eventually finishes his map and his father comes home to compliment him on his work, which Swami feels is “worth all his suffering.”
Swami’s growing affection for his brother proves the Pea’s claim that the baby and Swami’s feelings for him would change rapidly. Swami’s ability to feel comforted by his father’s acceptance here shows again how reliant he is on his family’s support. At the same time, his dreamy analysis of the European map demonstrates his budding, if uninformed, interest in the ways that power is controlled and shaped in different countries.
Two days before the exam, Swami makes a list of everything he will need for the exam and is disappointed that he can only think of five things, thinking that he had “never known that his wants were so few.” Swami makes his list longer and more complicated and then brings it to his father, who is busy working. Swami tries to go away and not interrupt him, but his father hears him at the door and calls him in, demanding to see the paper he’s holding. Swami’s father calls his list “preposterous” and tells Swami to take supplies from his desk instead. Although Swami gets most of what he needs, he is sad not to be able to go and buy everything on his list. As he leaves his father’s office, his father asks him to move the baby out of the hall so that his father won’t have to hear the baby crying.
Swami’s surprise at learning something about himself through making the list is an early example of his fluid identity. Swami’s discovery that he does not know himself as well as he expected leads him to fashion a new, more admirable self through the creation of a new list. However, his father undermines this initial effort of self-determination, effectively bringing Swami back under his control and constraining him within the family system. All of this plays out through an academic task, again showing the dual role of support and restriction that school plays in Swami’s life.