Subhash and Bela adjust to life in the wake of Gauri’s abandonment. Bela is entering the seventh grade and is maturing into a young woman. She grows thin and quiet, and keeps to herself most of the time—“behaving,” Subhash observes, “As Gauri used to.” Subhash is shocked by the realization that Bela is “establishing her existence apart from him.”
One day, Bela’s guidance counselor calls Subhash. She is concerned by Bela’s performance in middle school so far—she is unprepared and distracted, disconnected from her classmates and not a part of any clubs or activities. Most worryingly, Bela was recently seen walking down a highway by herself, balancing on the guardrail beside the shoulder lane. The guidance counselor suggests Subhash and Gauri come in for a meeting. When Subhash tells the guidance counselor that Gauri no longer lives with them, the counselor is shocked—she asks whether Subhash and Gauri sat down with Bela to discuss the separation before it happened, to prepare her. As Subhash hangs up the phone, he feels fury towards Gauri for having left Bela with him in one way and taken her away from him in another.
As Bela’s behavior grows more and more worrisome and eventually attracts the attention of school officials, Subhash becomes even angrier at Gauri for inflicting such pain on him and on Bela. Gauri did not prepare them in any way for her swift exit from their lives, and her selfish actions have had very deep, very dangerous ramifications when it comes to Bela’s development and happiness.
On the guidance counselor’s recommendation, Bela begins seeing a psychologist once a week. She attends the sessions alone and does not discuss them with Subhash; the psychologist does not seek out Subhash to discuss Bela’s progress with him, either. One afternoon, Subhash asks Bela if she would like to write Gauri a letter. She says no, and then begins weeping.
Even as Bela gets help in coping with her mother’s abandonment, she is very clearly still torn apart by the unexpected and cruel departure, itself an act of personal violence and a complete denial of Gauri’s duties as a mother.
As the year goes by, Subhash can see Bela experiencing a “release.” She grows calmer and more confident and begins making many friends in school. By eighth grade, Bela’s appetite and grades have improved, and she has joined the marching band and a nature studies club at school. As she moves through high school she becomes an active member of the community, collecting discarded food from restaurants and bringing it to shelters, assisting at children’s summer camps, and going door to door with other students collecting signatures for local action petitions.
As Subhash watches Bela heal and move on, he recognizes that she is becoming her own person independent of his desires and wishes for her. She must heal from the great violence that has entered her life in her own way, and though Subhash is her father, he is unable to help her or guide her in this respect.
The summer Bela graduates from high school, Subhash receives a letter from Deepa informing him that Bijoli has had a stroke. While Subhash travels back to Calcutta, Bela stays behind in Rhode Island, wanting to spend time with the friends she will soon leave behind for college.
Subhash returns to India to reconnect with his ailing mother, while Bela rejects the chance to return to her family’s homeland—perhaps in part because of what happened the last time she was there.
In Tollygunge, Subhash finds that Bijoli’s mind has truly left her now—she believes she is in the past, and speaks to Subhash in fragments, as if he were a young child. She tells him not to dirty his shoes playing in the lowland or stay out too late with Udayan and their friends. Subhash laments that he does not exist in his mother’s mind anymore. Eventually, Bijoli is hospitalized; she has a heart attack and dies late one night, without Subhash by her side.
Subhash and Gauri have struggled for years not to become lost in their painful memories of the past. As Subhash watches his mother succumb to her memories and enter a world which is neither the past nor the present, he acknowledges the difficulty in remaining tethered to reality in the face of such pain.
Subhash returns to Rhode Island. Bela goes off to a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, where she majors in environmental science. Subhash hopes that Bela will attend graduate school, but it is of no interest to her. Subhash senses that Bela carries disdain for Subhash’s own life within the walls of a university—not to mention Gauri’s faraway position as a teacher at a college as well.
It seems as if Bela is following in Subhash’s footsteps in her first years of college. She is studying something very similar to what he chose to study when he first came to America, but as she graduates, her desire to move away from the influence not only of Subhash but of Gauri, as well, becomes clear.
After college, Bela moves to Western Massachusetts and takes a job on a farm as an agricultural apprentice. She visits Subhash on the weekends, as she is not very far away, and Subhash watches as Bela grows and changes. She lives simply and grows weathered and brown in the sun; she gets a tattoo, dyes her hair, pierces her nose. She soon moves on from the farm in Massachusetts and takes a series of jobs in places around the country, always in isolated, rural towns. She makes no money and is instead paid in food and shelter. She sends Subhash postcards and boxes of fruits and vegetables, never staying in one place for very long.
Bela is carving out a nontraditional path—just as Subhash himself did. As he watches his daughter grow, change, and experiment with who she is and who she wants to become, he is reminded of his own attempts to shirk tradition. He is grateful that he has been able to give his daughter certain freedoms he never had, but also wary of her becoming too distant from him.
Subhash has maintained a quiet social life, but the only company he longs for is Bela’s. She is skittish, though, and returns to Rhode Island infrequently and unpredictably. Even when she is home on visits, she is closed-off and quiet; Subhash fears that Bela is a little lost, and worries that she is, like Gauri, allowing her vocation to define her and direct her course.
Subhash laments Gauri’s influence on Bela, in spite of her swift departure from their lives and her absence during Bela’s formative years.
Over the years, Subhash notices Bela becoming more political and socially active. On her visits home, Bela berates Subhash for not buying locally and for not composting his food scraps. Subhash is wary of Bela’s rootless but passionate path—nonetheless, he lets her go and accepts her for who she was, embracing all the turns her life has taken. He admires her resilience in the face of Gauri’s abandonment. Sometimes, Subhash worries about Udayan’s influence on Bela—though it is irrational, he fears that Udayan has, in a way, returned, and claimed Bela “from the grave as his own.”
Subhash struggles with his competing desires to encourage Bela’s independence and to prevent her from tearing off on a path he recognizes as similar to Udayan’s—and therefore potentially dangerous. Subhash cannot escape his feelings of inadequacy and the sense that he is an imposter, and as he watches Bela grow up, he is unsettled by how, despite being raised by Subhash, she is becoming an image of Udayan.