The cook is putting buffalo meat into Mutt’s stew, and worries that food and supplies are getting harder and harder to buy because of the strikes. He has a sudden panic, thinking that Biju might be dead.
In further displays of the disparity between privilege and poverty at Cho Oyu, Mutt is often treated better than the cook.
Years prior, when the cook’s wife had died falling from a tree, his village had warned that her ghost was threatening to take Biju with her because she had died violently. The cook asked the judge to let him return to his village to make a sacrifice, but the judge had refused, saying that the priests were only trying to rob him of his money. Eventually, the cook lied and said that the roof of his village hut had blown off, and the judge allowed him to go. The cook worries that because he lied, the sacrifice hadn’t really worked.
The cook’s superstitions recur throughout the novel, and often appear as a way of explaining why certain events occur. As Lola and Noni discuss later in the novel, religion is used to attempt to make sense of the world and its inequality and injustices. However, it also allows society to place false blame on people who have no control over their circumstances or their poverty.
The cook first tried to send Biju abroad when a recruiting agent for a cruise ship line appeared in Kalimpong. Biju interviewed, was accepted, and signed with the company, and the cook was extremely proud. The next day, they went back to the hotel with a medical form and eight thousand rupees to cover his processing fee and the cost of the training camp.
Biju’s first attempt to get a green card serves as another example of how poverty can be difficult to escape, because people are easily exploited in trying to find opportunities. The cruise ship scam takes advantage of Biju’s optimism and desire to go to America.
Two weeks later, Biju traveled to Kathmandu for the training, only to find out that he had been cheated. A local butcher, in the process of wrestling a goat to be slaughtered, noticed him and told him that many others had come in search of this training. The butcher cursed at the goat and then slit her throat.
Again, animals come to stand in for the vulnerability of Biju and other immigrants, and the goat here is particularly evocative of how people in poverty are treated as subhuman.
Biju’s second attempt to go to America involved applying for a tourist visa. Biju had gone to the U.S. embassy and stood in line with a crowd of people camping out for days on end. Sometimes every paper the applicants brought with them was fake. Some would be chosen, and others were refused with no rhyme or reason.
While Biju’s second attempt to go to America may have taken less advantage of him, it is no less humiliating. He and fellow hopefuls wait for days on end, only for their fate to be decided by American embassy officials based on arbitrary reasons.
Biju observed as the people behind the glass asked rude questions: “Can you prove to us you won’t stay?” “What is the purpose of your visit?” The people next to him strategized about how to respond. They planned to say that a hubshi (black person) broke into a shop and killed their sister-in-law, and they had to go to the funeral. A student studying in America advised against playing into this stereotype.
Time and time again, those with power in the novel are able to humiliate those without it as a means of maintaining their superiority. The embassy officials can be as rude as they want to be, because they hold the fate of the people who are so desperate to get to America in their hands.
Biju and the others had then been surprised to see an African-American woman behind the counter. The man who had come up with the break-in story was sent to her window, and the others whispered to him to say Mexican instead. He stumbled over his response, and the woman denied his visa.
As Biju discovers in America, globalization can also reinforce negative stereotypes because people are so often in competition with one another—for visas, jobs, living spaces. Thus, it is easy for people to enhance the stereotypes of others if as a result it mitigates the stereotypes against themselves.
Biju watched as those who had large homes, wore jeans, and spoke English tried to separate themselves. They could prove that they would not stay in America because their passports had already been stamped in England, Switzerland, and America.
Just as poverty creates its own problematic cycle, the reverse is shown here. People who have already been able to travel are more likely to be allowed to travel again.
Biju approached the window and answered the questions directly and politely. He lied and said he would not remain in America because he had family, a wife, and a son here, as well as a camera shop. He showed a fake bank statement to prove he had the funds for the trip. His visa was approved. A man who had been in line behind him called him “the luckiest boy in the whole world.”
To Biju’s surprise, his green card is approved, but his actual experience in America casts doubt on him being “the luckiest boy in the whole world.” By repeating this phrase later in an ironic fashion, Desai makes the argument of how harmful this American mythology actually can be.
Biju had reveled in this title. He walked through a park, chased a cow, and did push-ups in joy. The next day, he sent a telegram to the cook. His father was overjoyed, as was Sai, who knew that with Biju in America, the cook would give his affection to her.
Sai’s reaction to Biju’s good news reveals some of her selfishness, but also proves in a way that she feels just as isolated and excluded as many other characters, because she is essentially without a family.
A little over three years after Biju received his visa, he slips on some rotten spinach in the Ghandi Café and his knee pops. He asks Harish-Harry to get a doctor. Harish-Harry exclaims that doctors are too expensive, and Biju responds that it’s Harish-Harry’s responsibility because it happened in his kitchen.
Biju’s accident shows how dehumanizing the system is, because as an illegal immigrant he cannot even ask his employer for needed medical attention. His health is completely undervalued, and even though he eventually heals, his worth as a human is called into question.
Harish-Harry is outraged. He yells at Biju, saying that he has taken him in without papers, housed him, and now he is threatening to make him pay. Biju retorts that without the staff living like pigs, his business wouldn’t survive, because he pays them nothing. Harish-Harry finally calms down and tells him that he should go home to India to get medical attention, and then come back if he wants to.
Biju may have been momentarily lucky in gaining a visa, but his circumstances are bent towards misfortune as he is abused time and time again, even by those who share a cultural heritage with him. The system is designed for him to fail, as a simple accident can undo all of the time and money that he has spent in America up to this point.
After two weeks, Biju is able to walk with a stick. Two more weeks, and he is no longer in pain—but he continues to be troubled by the specter of getting a green card. One night, Biju wakes up and his friend complains that he sounds like a cement mixer grinding his teeth. His friend then sets a garbage can with a rat inside it on fire.
Harish-Harry’s advice plagues Biju, because it means that his life in America amounted to three years of cyclical hardships. He ultimately wants to return home, but not without the proof that he could go back to America if he wanted to: the coveted green card. Also, this episode provides another example of animal abuse as a representation of the cruelty towards immigrants.
Saeed Saeed runs into Biju on the street, and now he speaks much better English and owns twenty-five pairs of shoes. Biju, on the other hand, has been cultivating self-pity. He almost cries over finding a dead insect in a bag of basmati rice that had come from India, because it mirrored his own journey. Biju remembers what the cook had said: stay in America as long as possible, make money, and don’t come back.
Saeed Saeed serves as a success story to contrast with Biju’s disappointment. What is notable, however, is that the difference between Biju’s and Saeed’s stories is relatively minimal, demonstrating that the difference between success and failure is in many ways completely arbitrary, proving the mythology that anyone can rise up in America through hard work to be just that—a myth.