At four years old, Bela is developing a memory. When she uses the word “yesterday,” though, she is referring to the whole of her life that has become before the present moment. Bela is a precocious child, and Gauri often finds herself losing her patience with her daughter. One day, when Gauri is zipping Bela’s jacket, Bela protests that Subhash lets her do it herself—“Your father’s not here,” Gauri replies, and is chilled by the double meaning of the sentence.
The trials of Bela’s infancy have passed, and yet new struggles present themselves as she grows older. Bela’s fluid concept of time and her inability to understand why certain rules are in place frustrate Gauri, who is struggling with the constant reminders of her child’s dead father, and the bargain she herself has made to ensure a “normal” life for Bela.
After dropping Bela at school, Gauri goes to the library each day to read. She is becoming more and more engaged with philosophy, filling notebooks with her own questions and observations about the nature of time—how it is perceived, how strangely it passes, whether animals are aware of it too. Gauri, who has been married to Subhash for five years now, feels more guarded by space than by time. She has, deliberately or otherwise, forgotten the things she saw from the terrace the night Udayan was killed, and believes it is because she physically removed herself from Tollygunge that she has been able to move on and go back to “willfully anticipating [the future] in ignorance and in hope.”
This period of Gauri’s life is filled with her struggle to understand the nature of time and memory. Bela’s unstable grasp of how time works shakes up questions in Gauri, which she attempts to explain to herself through her studies in philosophy. Yet even she struggles to understand how her own memory works, and how she has been able to, against all odds, eradicate much of the past in order to make room for her own anticipation of the future.
Each day at noon, Gauri collects Bela from nursery school. Subhash is attending a postdoctoral program fifty miles away and is gone each day. Gauri checks the mail with Bela each day at this time; she rarely gets any, but sometimes a letter from her brother Manash arrives with news of what’s happening in Calcutta. Kanu Sanyal is alive but in prison; Charu Majumdar died in police custody the same summer Bela was born. Many of Udayan’s comrades are still being tortured in prison. Though the Naxalite movement has attracted the attention of some Westerners, and many have written the Indian government demanding the prisoners’ release, Indira Gandhi has declared an Emergency and begun censoring the press. Reading these letters, Gauri can’t stop herself from expecting some news from Udayan.
Even though Gauri knows that Udayan is gone, and has managed to expunge a lot of what happened between them in his final days from her memory, news of India always brings with it the hope that somehow, impossibly, Udayan will come back to her. The news of violence and continuing controversy over the Naxalite movement stirs these feelings up, and yet Gauri cannot help herself from reading them as a way of staying connected to her heritage and all she has left behind.