Two months after Gyan arrives to tutor Sai, a monsoon starts to build. In a flash, it arrives. The wind blows the trees around, and the cook clamps all the doors and windows shut. When Sai opens a door just as he’s sifting flour, a gust covers them both in powder. They laugh and say that now they’re just like the English.
Although Sai, like the judge, grows up in an environment dominated by British culture, her adherence to that culture is much looser than his, because he was brought up in a time of explicit colonialism. Thus, while he takes powdering his face very seriously and experiences quite a bit of self-hatred over the color of his skin, she sees the humor in it and is able to slip in and out of the cultures as she pleases.
As lightning strikes around the house, Mutt is terrified. This season lasts three to five months, and condensation seeps into everything. Mold starts to grow on their clothes and in their books. The TVs and phones in the neighborhood stop working. Sai enjoys succumbing to this loss of modernity. At Mon Ami, Lola resigns to not being able to listen to her daughter on the BBC.
In contrast to the cook, who longs for modern appliances, Sai enjoys being able to relinquish some of these modern devices. It is clear, however, that this is a dynamic related to privilege: it is easy for Sai to want to give these things up because she has access to them most of the time.
Recently, a series of strikes and processions have indicated growing political discontent, but a three-day strike is postponed because of the weather. Between storms, Gyan walks to Cho Oyu. He worries that he might not be paid, because Sai has fallen far behind in the syllabus—though his worry might, in reality, come from a different place.
Even though Gyan is not yet part of the GNLF, his concerns reflect the same concerns of the movement. He worries that he will not be paid appropriately for his work—a demand that the Nepalis bring up later as well.
Gyan finds Sai reading the newspaper (ironed dry by the cook) and wearing her kimono. She had just been thinking about how the country is coming apart at the seams: police unearthing militants, Punjab on fire, taxes being reduced on ladies’ undergarments and raised on wheat, rice, and kerosene. Gyan and Sai begin their lesson, but quickly Gyan realizes he won’t be able to leave because the storm has grown so bad.
Contrasted with the end of the novel, here Sai still retains the privilege of being able to look at the growing political turmoil at a distance. Her wealth is still a protective blanket, and she and Gyan are both shielded by the fact that neither has fully come of age yet.
At dinner, the judge is irritated by Gyan’s presence (he calls Gyan “Charlie”). The judge realizes that Gyan is unused to eating with cutlery and becomes bitter. He asks what poets Gyan is reading. Gyan answers uncertainly, telling the judge he is reading Tagore. The judge tells him to recite something; Gyan recites a passage every schoolchild in India knows. The judge laughs at Gyan.
As the judge will remember in the next few pages, he endured the same kind of humiliation when he lived in Cambridge. In making Gyan undergo this humiliation, the judge reveals the extent that certain values had been ingrained in him through colonialism, to the point where he wants all Indians to follow suit.
The judge remembers his own study of poetry forty years earlier. He had loved the library because it offered privacy and a lack of thugs. He had read a book entitled Expedition to Goozerat, which is an Englishman’s account of traveling to India. He had been amazed by the information in it he did not know, like the fact that the East India company had rented Bombay for ten pounds a year from Charles II.
The judge learns about his own country through the lens of colonialism, providing him with a perspective on the world that did not come from his own people. This distinct bias plays into his adoption of colonialist narratives and beliefs, like the fact that British people, places, and products are truly superior to Indian people, places, and products.
The judge rose from his books midmorning and went to the bathroom, having serious digestion issues. As time went on, he worked harder and harder, reading late into the night. Mrs. Rice would tell him not to work too hard, to which he would respond, “One must, Mrs. Rice,” like the Queen.
As time goes on, the judge learns to adopt more and more cultural codes. Taking on a speech affect and speaking and reading only in English, however, would make his job (and the rest of his life) more difficult, as his grasp of other native Indian languages became more tenuous.
At the judge’s final examination, sitting before a row of twelve examiners, his first task was to tell them how a steam train worked. He was unable to. Then, they remarked that he was from the same part of the country as Gandhi—what was his opinion of the Congress? He had said that his commitment to the current administration was unquestionable.
In the judge’s examinations, he is forced to make his opinions on Britain and India clearer than ever, as they demand that he set himself explicitly against the Indian National Congress, a party fighting for Indian independence.
Lastly, the examiners asked the judge to name his favorite writer. Though he did not have a favorite writer, he responded that he was fond of Sir Walter Scott. They asked him to recite a poem, which he did. They began to laugh at him, however, for his thick accent, as he had barely spoken during his years spent in England.
This anecdote creates a direct parallel for the way the judge has just treated Gyan. In a sign of the changing times, Gyan undergoes the opposite political awakening, making sure to protect his own culture rather than to adopt one from those who have oppressed him.
In the present, the judge scoffs at his past self, and leaves the dinner table. Sai apologizes for his behavior, but Gyan is too preoccupied staring at her. The cook clears the dirty dishes and makes up a bed in an extra room. Sai and Gyan immerse themselves in newspapers again until the cook retires to his hut.
The judge’s superior behavior towards Gyan foreshadows the coming conflict between himself and Sai over many of the same issues of class. Gyan’s preoccupation with Sai’s looks seems to precipitate her own obsession with her looks.
Left alone, Sai and Gyan read for a bit longer in an overly focused fashion, until Gyan is unable to bear the tension any longer. Gyan asks if she uses hair oil, then what shampoo she uses, then asks to see her hands because they are so small. They compare the measure of their hands, then arms, legs, and feet. He cups her head, asking if it is flat or curved. He traces her eyebrow with a finger and moves down to the tip of her nose. Just before he continues to her lips, she jumps up and says goodnight.
Gyan’s questions show his innocence, but hint at the way he and Sai will act with each other, much like curious schoolchildren. Even though he initiates this dynamic, this will cause him to believe that Sai is too babyish, and he will react against her in joining the GNLF movement and trying to grow out of adolescence. Yet at the same time there exists a fair amount of sexual tension here, brought on by a physical touch that only he is allowed to initiate. Sai, compelled by the knowledge that she bears the burden of preventing their touch from going too far, is forced to leave the room.
The judge lies awake in the damp air and continues to remember. His score had ranked him forty-eighth, but only the top forty-two had been admitted to the ICS. He started to break down, but at that moment a man came out with a new list, which had been conceived in order to “Indianize” the service. The judge was the very last admitted.
The British attempt to “Indianize” the service signals the growing political discontent of the time period. It demonstrates an attempt at compromise on the part of the British, but in bringing in people who hate Indian culture as much as the judge does, it does not really constitute an attempt to make the ICS more culturally inclusive.
The judge had cried with relief. Mrs. Rice was glad to hear his news, thinking to herself how progressive the world was. The judge informed his father about the results, and neighbors and acquaintances visited the house to offer their congratulations.
Mrs. Rice’s reaction demonstrates how racism can be so insidious in these kinds of regimes. Though she may genuinely think that the decision by the British is progressive, its decision still works within an inherently oppressive system.
Jemubhai had previously lived on ten pounds a month, but could now expect three hundred pounds a year. At his new boardinghouse, he found his only friend in England: Bose. Bose was a fellow Indian student who had been chosen for the ICS, and who was also in the process of releasing himself from Indian culture. He said things like “Cheerio,” ate tea and shepherd’s pie, listened to opera, and avoided the other Indian students.
In Bose, the judge finds the closest thing to home that he experiences either in England or in India. Thus, Bose serves as an example that home can be constituted merely by people who share one’s values. The judge values relinquishing Indian culture in order to adopt British culture, and Bose has made those same choices.
At the end of their probation, the judge and Bose swore to obey His Majesty and went back to India. On the train home, the judge sipped beef tea and read How to Speak Hindustani, since he had been posted to a part of India where the language was foreign to him. He sat alone because he still felt ill at ease with the English.
The judge’s return to India already indicates just how isolated he is from both cultures, and from this point is unable to truly find a place to call home. He sips beef tea specifically (the cow is sacred in the Hindu religion) and does not know the language where he is going. At the same time, he still cannot call himself British or even interact with British people.
Meanwhile, Sai walks by the judge’s door on her way to the bathroom. She wanders in and out and in and out, absent-minded and forgetting what she did and did not wash: her feet, her face, her teeth? She thinks about Gyan and how gentle he had been.
One of the reasons Sai is at first so taken with Gyan is that he treats her with respect, and like an equal. It then makes sense why their relationship falters, when he begins to feel superior to her.
Meanwhile, the cook sits in his own hut, opening two letters from Biju. The first letter’s ink has completely washed away. The second letter does not reveal much new information, only reaffirming that there is an ocean between him and his son. He lies in his bed.
With Biju’s letters taking on a formulaic tone, the cook begins to feel the same emptiness that Biju feels. Even though the cook has only ever called India home, he also begins to feel a little alienated from it because he is now completely without family.
In the spare room, Gyan wonders at his bravery in going beyond the bounds of propriety and whether it was the right or wrong thing to do. He feels frightened but also proud. All four inhabitants of Cho Oyu lie awake in thought as the storm rages on.
Even though Gyan questions whether his actions were in the right or in the wrong, it is clear throughout the novel that this society condones going beyond the bounds of propriety—as long as it is the man doing so, and not the woman.