A powder puff is a kind of pad used for applying powder to one’s skin. The judge’s powder puff, which he uses for his job, takes on a much larger significance when he returns from Cambridge as a part of the Indian Civil Service. It represents the judge’s adoption of British culture and his rejection of Indian culture, not only in a metaphorical sense but also in a literal one, as he whitens his skin with the powder puff during his trials. When he returns home and Nimi steals the powder puff, the judge’s discovery of her deception initiates his attempts to “Anglicise” her as well, as following this episode he gets a British companion for her, throws away her hair oils and bangles, and demands that she learn English. Additionally, the powder puff serves as a way of further culturally separating the judge from his own family. When he is looking for the powder puff, he tries to explain what it is and what purpose it serves, but they don’t understand why he needs it and laugh at him for using it. This foreshadows the later feelings that the judge’s father expresses, when he tells the judge that he has become a stranger to the family.
The The Inheritance of Loss quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Powder Puff. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of The Inheritance of Loss published in 2006.).
Chapter 32 Quotes
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Powder Puff appears in The Inheritance of Loss. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...toiletry case, trying to learn a bit about English culture. She picked up the judge’s powder puff and powdered her breasts. She buttoned up her blouse and stuffed the puff inside it,... (full context)