Settled in the mist of Mount Kanchenjunga, Sai and her grandfather, the judge, are sitting on the veranda of their home, which is called Cho Oyu. She is reading an old National Geographic; he is playing chess against himself. Underneath the judge’s seat, his dog Mutt is sleeping. The cook is in the kitchen, lighting damp wood to make a fire for tea.
From the very opening of the novel, the activities of the characters point to a theme of colonialism and globalization: the judge plays a European game; Sai reads a geography magazine in English. The cook, meanwhile, is stuck in a past age, which will become important in his own quest for modernity coupled with a desire to see his son escape the servant caste.
Sai looks out into the mist and notices that her algebra tutor, Gyan, is more than an hour late. She excuses his absence because of the thickening mist. The judge complains that the cook is late with his tea, and Sai offers to get it for him.
Both Sai and the judge exhibit the privilege of being able to wait for things to be done for them, while those who are poorer than they are must work: the cook is late because he is making the tea with damp wood; Gyan is (presumably) late because of the weather.
In the hall mirror Sai notices herself. She kisses her reflection. Sai ponders the melancholy situation of the giant squid, whose lives were so solitary that they might go an entire lifetime without finding another giant squid. Sai concludes that love is “the gap between desire and fulfillment.”
Sai’s apparent narcissism is given a little more context later in the novel when her relationship with Gyan is revealed; however, traits like these are part of the reason Gyan becomes so upset with her in the first place—because she is naïve and self-involved while he and the other Nepalis struggle for a grander political cause.
The cook complains about his aching bones and joints, thinking that he might as well be dead, if not for his son Biju who lives in America. Sai takes the tea to the judge, who grumbles that there is nothing to eat with the tea. Sai tells him that the baker left for his daughter’s wedding, and the judge complains that the cook is too lazy to make something himself. He is disappointed at the inadequacy of his “teatime.” The cook comes out with chocolate pudding for the judge.
The judge’s frustration at not being able to have a proper teatime displays how, even after so many years of living in India, he still aims to imitate British customs. Yet readers can also see how much of the world, including Biju’s son, is looking to America for advancement because it is a center of globalization and is comparatively freer from the shadow of colonialism.
Meanwhile, several boys are crawling across their lawn, and no one notices them until they are on the steps. There are no neighbors within calling distance except for Uncle Potty, who is probably drunk on the floor by this hour. One of the boys carries a gun, and the team of them are searching for any weapons they can find.
The fact that Cho Oyu is so far from other people also plays into the judge’s desire for isolation because he doesn’t feel that he fits in with any culture. Though it is not yet evident, this lack of belonging in the culture is one of the reasons why the boys from the GNLF target the house in the first place.
Mutt barks at the boys once and they recoil in fear, but she then turns around to show a wagging tail to them. The boys come back up the steps, and the one with the rifle says something the judge cannot understand. The boy sneers at the fact that the judge cannot speak Nepali, and continues in Hindi. He asks for the judge’s guns. The judge denies having any guns and threatens to call the police (an empty threat, as there is no telephone).
The boys’ sneers hint at one of the reasons they are at the house, as it will be revealed that they (Nepalis) constitute the majority population in Kalimpong and Darjeeling, but they are treated like servants. One of their primary demands is to have schools taught in their language, which would provide them with a sense of belonging.
One of the boys points the gun at Mutt, and Sai goes to get the judge’s rifles, which he earned in the Indian Civil Service. The boys take the guns and ask for tea and snacks. They drag the cook out from where he is hiding under the dining table. He begs for his life and they tell him to make the tea, and command the judge to set the table for them.
It is symbolic that the guns, which the judge earned in the ICS, now become the thing that threatens him most, as he is also targeted for the wealth that he earned in the civil service. The cook’s ready ability to beg for his life also demonstrates that he is used to being humiliated.
The cook fries pakoras for the boys while the judge is forced to set the table, something he would never do as the head of the house. The boys, meanwhile, carry on a survey of the house and take anything of value they can find: rice, lentils, sugar, tea, oil, soap, and all of the alcohol.
The humiliation continues, as the judge is made to do things far beneath his social standing and set the table for these young boys from a much lower caste.
The boys finish by making the judge, Sai, and the cook say “I am a fool” and “Jai Gorkha” before leaving with Sai and the judge’s engraved trunks, which the boys use to carry the food they’ve stolen. Sai and the cook try not to look at the judge in his humiliation.
Finally, the degrading scene ends with a politically symbolic gesture. Forcing the cook, Sai, and the judge to say “Jai Gorkha”—“long live Gorkhaland”—advances their cause at the expense of those who have profited from old systems of colonialism.
These events take place in February of 1986. The newspapers describe a gathering insurgency. Where Sai, the judge, and the cook live, Kalimpong, the Indian-Nepalese are treated like a minority, even though they constitute the majority of the region. They are demanding their own country, or at least their own state. The region, however, has always had a messy map, with borders that are blurred even further by the mist from the Himalayas.
Here the “insurgency” of which the boys are a part is given an explanation. Their demand for their own state further explains their definition of “home.” The Indian-Nepalese already live here, but they’re attempting to create a state in which their culture, language, and people are valued as much as anyone else.