Sai’s routine continues in Kalimpong until she is sixteen. Noni and Sai ponder a physics textbook, until Noni feels a wave of exhaustion and they put the textbook aside. As the baker arrives with Swiss rolls and various cakes, Noni worries that Sai won’t pick up social skills because she lives in a lonely house of only men. Sai explains that she doesn’t mind it because the cook talks so much.
As Sai grows closer to an age when she’ll experience relationships and love, Noni’s concerns spring from a well-meaning place but ultimately one that’s rooted in a misogynistic society. Her worries spring from her own experience, because she herself has felt lacking because she is alone, but at this point Sai has little desire to get married.
Sai explains that the cook talks about his wife and Biju, and about their family affairs and finances. Noni believes that it is inappropriate for servants to speak so openly with their employers, and that it is important to draw lines between classes. Noni recalls how she and Lola had been shocked when their maid spoke openly about her romance with the milkman, who lied about her caste so she could marry him.
Here Noni and Lola both reinforce classist ideas that permeated Indian culture and then was propagated by the British during their rule: that it is necessary to draw distinctions between people of different castes. The maid’s story thus becomes even more threatening, because she marries across these social divides.
Lola had always thought that servants didn’t experience love in the same way that people like her did. Hearing the maid talk, she wondered if she had never experienced real love with her husband, Joydeep. Noni had never experienced love at all, and so was jealous of her maid.
Lola’s thoughts not only reinforce the caste structure but also harmful stereotypes within it: that those of higher castes are implicitly better than those of lower castes. However, their doubts about the system reveal insecurities, which are potentially reasons why they cling so tightly to this idea of a caste system.
Noni asks Sai if she wants to meet people her own age; Sai responds instead that she wants to travel, inspired by the books and National Geographic magazines she reads. Noni tells her that if she gets a chance in life, she should take it—when Noni was young, she wanted to be an archaeologist, but her father had been old-fashioned and didn’t allow her.
Here, Noni opens up about her own experiences with her father’s misogyny, encouraging Sai to take a different path. But Sai’s desire to travel also reveals her privilege; as Biju explains later, Indians with wealth are usually the only ones who are permitted to travel.
Noni and Sai attempt physics a few more times, but to no avail. Noni tells the judge that Sai needs a more qualified tutor to continue her studies. The judge sends a letter to the principal of the local college, asking for someone to tutor Sai.
In contrast to Noni’s own story, it is impressive that the judge seems so bent on educating Sai. Again, this is a privilege that is rarely provided to girls in particular, except by those who are wealthy enough to afford it. By contrast, the judge and Gyan had been taught at the expense of their sisters’ educations.