Whenever Udayan is at Gauri’s house, studying and discussing communism with her brother Manash, Gauri stays on the balcony or in another room. One day, however, the houseboy is out on an errand, and Manash asks Gauri to make the two of them tea. Gauri brings the men their cups, and when she locks eyes with Udayan, the attraction between them is instantaneous—they both feel it.
The narrative returns to India, to the early days of Udayan and Gauri’s courtship. Lahiri portrays Gauri at the outset as an aloof girl—Udayan’s presence, however, ignites something in her.
Gauri and Udayan’s universities are next to one another, and Gauri often finds herself looking for him. Even at home, on the wide balcony that wraps around the two sides of her grandparents’ apartment, Gauri scans the people on the streets below for Udayan’s face. One day, Udayan joins Gauri on the balcony; Manash is out running errands. Gauri and Udayan begin talking, and Gauri tells Udayan that she has “observed the world” from this balcony for most of her life. She reads on the balcony, and even sleeps out there some nights.
Lahiri uses Gauri’s frequenting of balconies to establish her as a character who prefers to observe the world but remain aloof and detached from participating in it. Gauri has seen many things, but always from the safety of her high perch. As she grows closer to Udayan, she does not yet know that she is becoming close to someone who has disdain for such aloofness.
Udayan notices that Gauri is reading Descartes and asks her about her studies in philosophy. Gauri enjoys says they help her understand the world, but Udayan believes that degrees have become meaningless in India. When Gauri points out that Udayan himself is enrolled in a degree program, he quickly changes the subject, and asks about Gauri’s family. She lives with Manash, their maternal grandparents, two uncles and their wives. Gauri explains that she moved around a lot as a child—her father was a district judge—but she came to live with her grandparents after her parents died in a car accident.
Gauri and Udayan have had very different pasts. They see things differently and are ideologically at odds with one another. Gauri’s choice to study philosophy, of all things, is significant—it positions her as someone curious in the human condition and the choices people make, but mostly theoretically. Udayan, meanwhile, is interested in taking direct action and witnessing human suffering up close.
As Gauri tells Udayan her story, she realizes he is fascinated by the amount of autonomy she has had in her life, both as a result of how her parents raised her and as a consequence of their deaths. Udayan asks Gauri if she will miss her balcony when she marries and goes to live with her husband, but Gauri replies that she is never going to marry. Instead, she wants to teach philosophy. Udayan agrees, flirtatiously, that Gauri should never stop doing what she loves “for the sake of a man.” Udayan points to a home across the street and asks Gauri whether it would be “all right” to get married if the man lived just on the opposite corner. Gauri smiles coyly and laughs.
Gauri is steadfast and sure in what she wants out of her life—she wants to study, learn, and teach. She does not seem to have romance on her mind at all. As Udayan flirts with her, though, she finds herself charmed by him—and impressed by his being in agreement that she should not give up what she wants for the sake of tradition.
Gauri and Udayan run into each other all the time, and frequently meet at one another’s campuses. Udayan gives Gauri books, and she feels her mind “sharpening [and] focusing.” She enjoys thinking deeply about the things that matter to Udayan: individualism, freedom, and what Indian society might become.
Though Gauri told Udayan she would not let herself be changed by a man, she begins absorbing Udayan’s ideologies as her own—mostly as a way of growing closer to him. She feels Udayan’s presence in the books she is reading.
As Gauri and Udayan grow closer, Udayan is often pulled away because he suddenly has to be at a meeting, a study session, or a rally. He often talks about his desire to travel out to the villages, and asks Gauri if she would understand if one day he had to leave Tollygunge and go live among peasants. Gauri, aware that she is being tested, replies that she would understand. As Gauri spends more and more time with Udayan, she feels herself being swept up in his orbit, and questions the person she once was. She feels she is seeing herself more clearly with Udayan in her life.
Gauri knows that her relationship with Udayan is not perfect and is demanding of her things she doesn’t want to agree to or give away. At the same time, being in Udayan’s presence feels so good that she is willing to compromise her own ideology to accommodate Udayan’s. She feels he is making her into a sharper version of herself rather than whittling away at the girl she was before she met him.
One day, Gauri discovers a note in one of the books Udayan has lent her, asking her to meet him at a matinee at a cinema. The day of the matinee, Gauri hesitates, but eventually decides to go. She does not arrive until intermission; Udayan is outside, though, smoking a cigarette. As she approaches him, she expects him to be irritated with her, but instead sees only pleasure in his expression. She asks him what has happened so far in the film, and what she has missed; he replies that he does not know, because he has been outside the whole time, waiting for her.
This scene is highly symbolic and seems to portend that Gauri and Udayan will proceed through their relationship as equals, taking care of one another’s needs and never diving into something without the other’s consent. Udayan waits for Gauri and greets her joyfully, gratefully, even, though he has sacrificed his own enjoyment for her comfort.