It is a new millennium. Subhash spends his weekends taking walks through town, and as he does he marvels at how he has moved from a city with so little space to a city with so much of it. On one walk one day, through a new nature trail, he sees a sign saying that the ground he is standing on was the site of a 1675 battle between the Narragansett tribe and a colonial militia. Subhash researches the battle online and learns that there is a granite marker somewhere in the nature preserve commemorating the battle. On the day he sets out to find it, however, Subhash gets lost. Standing in the swamp, he is profoundly aware of his age—he is over sixty, now—and of how alone he is.
Whereas Gauri has made a life for herself focused intensely on forward motion and a negation of the past, Subhash is consumed by history. He spends his time seeking out the history of the place where he lives, desperate to learn more about the people and events that came before him. His and Gauri’s very different reactions to the paths they have chosen—paths that have taken them away from their heritage and their homeland—set the stage for the next section of the novel, which will be concerned with how each deals with the resurgence of the past.
One day, on the nature path, Subhash is surprised when a man on a bicycle pulls up next to him and addresses him by name. Subhash recognizes the man as Richard, his old roommate. The two are surprised but thrilled to see each another, and they sit and talk for a while, catching up and telling the stories of their lives. Richard has a wife and grandchildren, and his life is full of work and travel. Subhash feels his own life is sparse in comparison.
Richard’s reappearance is the first instance—from Subhash’s point of view—of the past rising up once again. This section of the novel will focus on how the past inevitably makes its way into the present, and Richard’s appearance—though happy at first—does serve to make Subhash feel insecure and to question the choices he has made in his life.
Subhash and Richard begin meeting frequently to walk the nature trails or have a beer in town. One weekend, the phone rings—it is Richard’s wife, telling Subhash that Richard has died suddenly from a blood clot. Subhash is devastated. He attends Richard’s funeral, and then the reception at Richard’s home; there, he meets a woman named Elise Silva, one of Richard’s neighbors. Subhash is attracted to Elise, and as the two begin talking, they discover another strange connection—Elise was one of Bela’s high school teachers. Elise now works part-time at the historical society. She is a widow. When Subhash asks her a question about the battle which took place on the nature path, Elise offers Subhash a spot on a tour of a house the historical society has been recently restored, and offers him her card. He accepts it.
Richard’s death throws Subhash into a bit of a tailspin, but also serves to introduce Subhash to Elise Silva—a woman who represents the balance of the past and the future. Subhash’s relationship with Gauri was tied too heavily to mending the wounds of their tangentially connected pasts, and could not support the weight of the unrealistic future they thought would fall into place. With the introduction of Elise, the potential for a new, more balanced relationship emerges.
For several nights after the funeral, Subhash cannot sleep. He is kept awake by his anxiety—he feels “a disproportionate awareness of being alive.” He is assaulted by memories of his childhood and cannot stop thinking of Udayan. He realizes that what is disturbing him so deeply that he is “still too weak to tell Bela what she deserve[s]” to know—in other words, the truth that Udayan is her father. It is “the great unfinished business of his life.” Subhash is still frightened to come clean to Bela, but knows that one day he will die—and he wants to have told her the truth before he does.
Subhash’s unexpected confrontation with the idea of mortality forces him to realize that he does not want to go to his grave with the secret of Bela’s true parentage unrevealed. He wants to come clean and erase the secrets and conspiracies that have come to define his life, yet he has become so dependent on the structure they have given his world that he is afraid to do so.
Subhash attends the tour of the historical society’s restored house and is shocked by the coincidence he discovers when he gets there—it is the house he used to share with Richard many years ago. As Subhash navigates the completely redone house, he feels that his presence on earth is being denied; he believes that his own past is refusing to admit him. He feels that Providence, the “arbitrary place” he landed after leaving Calcutta, is not, and has never been, his. He thinks of his childhood home in Tollygunge, which he still owns, and wonders if its current tenants are aware of that house’s own history.
Subhash’s uncanny experience of moving through the house he once lived in—already a place tied to memories, redone to reflect an even more distant past—makes him consider the history contained within houses all around the world. In specifically wondering about his own house, he is assaulted by memories of the past he has tried to repress, and forced to think about his family’s insignificance in the larger history of their home country.
A few days after the tour, Elise calls Subhash and asks if he’s all right—she noticed he seemed “shaken” on the tour. He tells her that she is fine. Elise then invites Subhash to join her hiking club on a trek through the Great Swamp—the site of the battle that has so interested Subhash.
Elise represents the opportunity for a new kind of future, and a reconciliation with or investigation into the past, all in one—just the right balance Subhash needs.