Subhash travels to Rhode Island to attend a university there. He takes a room off-campus, which he shares with a Ph.D. student named Richard Grifalconi. Richard tells Subhash that he was active in the civil rights movement. One day, on campus, Subhash sees Richard standing at the center of a group of students and faculty, speaking into a megaphone, decrying the war in Vietnam. This demonstration is nothing like the explosive ones in Calcutta; even so, he thinks of how his brother Udayan would ridicule him for not taking part in it. Subhash reminds himself that he is in America as “Nixon’s guest,” and cannot make waves.
Subhash has left one country with a complicated political situation and found himself in another. Though he does not seem particularly allured by politics in America, either, he has the excuse this time of being a “guest” in America—in Tollygunge, the only excuse he had was his own skepticism and hesitancy.
There are few other Indians at the university, and Subhash is the only one from Calcutta. He meets a professor named Narasimhan and his American wife, who give Subhash their number and tell him they’ll invite him round for dinner one day, but an invitation never comes.
Subhash is not just politically but culturally isolated in America, and even the support of other Indian students never quite materializes for Subhash.
One day, Subhash sees a wedding taking place at a nearby church. After the couple leaves, he enters the church and thinks of his own future marriage. He wonders what woman his parents will choose for him, and knows that getting married will mean returning to Calcutta. He does not feel in any big hurry to do either. He is proud to be on his own in America—it is a step he has taken which Udayan will never take. He is alone in this strange, coastal landscape.
Though Subhash struggles with loneliness and feelings of dislocation in his early days in America, he at least has the point of pride of having taken one decisive step of his own. He has at last gone where his brother cannot follow—it is he now, not Udayan, who is leaving the trail of footsteps.
With Richard’s help, Subhash learns how to drive, and the two travel up the coast one afternoon. Richard asks Subhash about India—he is ignorant of the politics there and does not know what Naxalbari is or what it stands for.
Richard’s ignorance of Naxalbari symbolizes how faraway India is from the minds of average Americans, confirming Subhash’s isolation.
One afternoon in November, Subhash receives a letter from Udayan. Udayan excitedly describes meeting Kanu Sanyal. He also reveals that their parents are adding onto the house in anticipation of both the boys’ marriages, and lastly tells Subhash that the days are dull without him, asking him to come home soon. Subhash reads the letter several times, missing his brother intensely. He knows that the references to meeting Sanyal render the letter somewhat dangerous, and as such burns the letter. He then writes Udayan a letter back, telling him about his studies. He describes the marsh grass in Rhode Island, and how its propagation pattern is similar to that of the mangroves in Tollygunge.
Through letters, Subhash and Udayan are attempting to repair the gap between them. They are, however, still very different men: Udayan’s letters are about his continuing political involvement, while Subhash’s response is uneventful, focused on the quiet observations Subhash has made about his new home. Udayan longs openly for Subhash to return; the most Subhash says about missing India is making the comparison about the march grass and the mangrove trees.
New Year’s Eve comes and goes, and a new letter from Udayan arrives—along with a black-and-white photograph of a young woman. Udayan’s letter informs Subhash that he is married to the woman in the picture, whose name is Gauri. The two of them have kept things quiet; Gauri is a studious orphan with similar beliefs to Udayan’s. Udayan describes how he has rejected the idea of arranged marriage, which goes against Mao’s tenets, and has married Gauri without his parents’ blessing. The two are going to wait to have children until the country is “fixed,” Udayan writes. Udayan asks Subhash when he is going to return to India, and to bring along certain politically-sensitive books for Gauri to read.
Subhash has just begun to settle into his life in Rhode Island when this letter from Udayan arrives, causing him to question his choices and falter. Though Subhash has a lonely, isolated life in this new country, he has taken pride in his own intrepidness in even coming to the States in the first place. This letter from Udayan, though, erases all of Subhash’s feelings of progress—with his marriage, his younger brother has again outpaced him in a major way.
Subhash reads this letter only once. He is concerned for his brother, who, at only 24, cannot possibly support a family. He feels Udayan has made an impulsive decision, disrespectful of their parents, and is surprised that for as deeply as Udayan eschews convention, he has so suddenly gotten married. He is also upset that in rejecting arranged marriage, Udayan has forged ahead of Subhash, denying his own place as the younger brother.
Subhash is jealous of Udayan, to be sure, but also worried for him. He is afraid that his brother is making impulsive, irresponsible choices—but at the same time, there is a part of him which cannot suppress his feelings of being left behind.
Subhash destroys the letter but keeps the photo of Gauri tucked into the back of one of his textbooks. From time to time he looks at it. He wonders when he will meet Gauri, and what he will think of her. He feels “defeated by Udayan all over again, for having found a girl like that.”
Subhash continues to be perturbed by his brother’s having found a wife first. Subhash has spent his whole life feeling outpaced by Udayan and being “defeated” in romance is one of the largest blows of all.