In the second year of his Ph.D.., Subhash lives on his own; Richard has moved to Chicago. In the spring semester he boards a research vessel with a group of students and professors, and heads on a three-week trip along the coast to study the effects of pollution on ocean life. Subhash is mesmerized by the wildlife, big and small, which struggle against all odds to survive, but cannot escape intense feelings of isolation and longing for his family. He has not heard their voices in a year—they do not have a phone back in India, and so Subhash has had to settle for receiving news only in writing.
Subhash’s emotional isolation is given shape as he embarks on a physically isolating journey. Though he is excelling in his studies, he misses home, and his family’s absence from his life makes his thoughts of them a ubiquitous presence, even when deep in the trenches of his own research. Subhash is struggling with the fact that his duties now are not to his family, but to his own advancement.
Udayan’s letters no longer mention Naxalbari or any kind of politics. He asks repeatedly, though, when Subhash is going to return to Calcutta and marry. Subhash is puzzled by the blandness of these letters in contrast with Udayan’s earlier, fiery missives. Letters from Subhash’s parents express their disappointment with Udayan’s rash elopement, and urge Subhash to trust them, when the time comes, to choose his wife for him. Subhash replies encouragingly, assuring them that his future is in their hands. Subhash knows that though Udayan has provoked their parents, he still lives under their protection with his wife Gauri—Subhash wonders if the girl has already replaced him.
Subhash’s feelings of isolation, disorientation, and not just physical but emotional absence from his family is palpable here. He is surprised that Udayan seems to have forsaken his radical politics, and though he should be relieved that his brother has removed himself from danger and controversy, instead he is fearful that Udayan’s return to normalcy means that Subhash will be further edged out of his family.
One summer day, Subhash, back from his research trip, goes down to a beach near campus. He spots a woman, Holly, walking with a her son, Joshua. Joshua is looking for starfish and Subhash, knowing where the starfish hide, procures one for him. Holly strikes up a conversation with Subhash, asking whether he likes it in Rhode Island. Subhash replies he has “discovered the most beautiful place on earth.” Though he does not belong here, it doesn’t matter; here, alone in this “majestic corner of the world,” he can breathe.
Subhash has been feeling isolated due to his removal from the familiarity of Calcutta. When asked how he feels about Rhode Island, however, he has nothing but wonderful things to say. This scene reveals that despite his waffling, Subhash does truly feel empowered by his choice to come to America and sees his isolation more as a freedom or an opportunity than a burden or detriment.
Subhash learns that Holly and Joshua live nearby. Though Holly does not mention her husband, Joshua talks about his father a lot. Subhash sees Holly and Joshua at the beach often, and the three of them—along with the dog, Chester—frequently take walks together. One afternoon, while they share a picnic on the beach. Holly confesses that she and Joshua’s father have been living apart for nearly a year—he is with another woman. As the weeks go by, Subhash finds himself nursing an attraction to Holly. He knows that there are “great chasms” separating them: cultural differences, an age gap of nearly ten years, and the fact that Holly has experienced love and heartbreak—things Subhash has never known.
Subhash finds himself once again shirking tradition, going against what is expected of hi, and taking a bold step into new territory by acknowledging his attraction to Holly. Subhash has been feeling pulled, lately, back toward his homeland and his family, but at the height of that depression Lahiri introduces a complication to his narrative: the attraction to a woman who represents a clear choice to separate himself from his duties to his family and his desire to return to the familiar, traditional world of Calcutta.
One afternoon at the beach, Subhash arrives to find Holly there alone—it is a Friday, and Joshua spends Friday evenings with his father. When it begins to rain, Holly invites Subhash back to her house for dinner. There, Subhash sees that she lives an isolated life; she has few neighbors, and her home is small and cramped. Subhash can tell that the sparsely-decorated cottage is a place she moved after separating from her husband. He sees that Holly is just as alone as he is—maybe even moreso.
Though they are an unlikely match, and their circumstances are vastly different, Subhash and Holly are brought together by a great equalizer: loneliness. As Holly at last allows Subhash a peek into what her life is really like, he recognizes his own loneliness in her, too, and sees that they are perhaps more alike than he’d previously considered.
As Subhash and Holly eat dinner, Holly confesses she is afraid the separation is negatively affecting Joshua. After dinner, when it is time for Subhash to leave, Holly offers to walk him to his car with her umbrella, but at the door, Subhash pauses. Holly invites Subhash to stay the night, and he agrees to. The two make love—it is Subhash’s first time, and he is both “embarrassed [and] exhilarated.” In the morning, Holly asks Subhash if he would like her to tell him the next time Joshua is spending the night at his father’s, so they can rendezvous again. Subhash agrees. He leaves Holly’s house, and when he walks outside there is no sign of last night’s rainstorm.
As Subhash and Holly give into their lust, they both find that desire is enough—for the time being—to bridge whatever differences there are between them. As they decide to embark upon an affair, Subhash feels as if his world has been changed. The world outside, though, shows no sign of the “storm” within him, symbolizing the world’s indifference to the choice he is making in spite of the fact that it feels like a serious step to him.