The narrative flashes back to the evening Udayan was killed. When the police vans approach his house, he sees them coming—he is on the roof. Ever since the explosion, he has felt a sense of both physical and emotional instability, and he is suddenly seized with a terrible vertigo. As he watches the paramilitary officers flood the courtyard of his home, he knows that he is too weak to leap from the roof to that of another building—instead, he runs back down the stairs, through the new part of the house and into the old, and out the narrow doors to the back garden.
For the first time in the novel, Lahiri introduces her readers to Udayan’s point of view. She demonstrates how on the night of his death, he was feeling ill, trapped, and desperate—he’d gotten himself in with the party completely over his head, a state of mind and being which is symbolized in his decision to hide out in the lowland.
Udayan runs quickly through the yard out back towards the lowland and enters the flooded pool where the water hyacinth is thickest—where it might hide him best. He takes a deep breath and goes under, pinching his nostrils closed with the fingers of his good hand. He feels pressure mounting in his lungs—he knows that the sensation he is feeling is carbon dioxide building up in his blood. He also knows that if he is able to fight the instinct to take a breath, his body can survive for up to six minutes underwater, as blood will flow to his vital organs; the doctor who treated his hand explained all of this to Udayan when he asked.
Udayan’s last-ditch attempt at escaping police forces clearly seems doomed to fail. Udayan is desperate, though, and he has been spending weeks thinking of ways of evading capture for his involvement with the Naxalites. The lowland, a symbol of connection throughout the novel, now completely engulfs Udayan—it is the first time in the novel a character has actually entered the lowland, but his submergence symbolizes isolation rather than connection.
Underwater, Udayan feels a strange freedom—the freedom of not having to struggle to listen to anything. Since the explosion, his ears have been ringing constantly, causing him to have difficulty hearing. It is not silent, though, and Udayan can hear a “toneless exhalation” as sound conducts itself through the water. He wonders if the “deafness” he is feeling underwater is what it is like to visit a country where one does not understand the language.
Underwater, Udayan is isolated—but at peace with his own thoughts for the first time in a long time. As he considers the nature of his isolation and the otherworldliness of this once-familiar place, his thoughts drift and morph.
Udayan mourns the fact that he has never been to China or Cuba and hears the final words Che Guevara had written to his children echoing in his head: “Remember that the revolution is the important thing, and that each one of us alone is worth nothing.” Thinking of these words now, Udayan laments that his own revolution “fixed nothing, helped no one.” He knows now that there will be no real revolution, and also wonders why his body is so desperate to save itself if he is “worth nothing” on his own.
Despite all of his hard work on behalf of the Naxalites and the hope of a Communist revolution in India, Udayan realizes at last that all his effort has been in vain. His actions have only served to isolate him from his family, his country, and his heritage. All the revolutionary ideals about the meaninglessness of the individual seem false and stupid now, at this moment of truth, as Udayan at last sees the value of his own life.
Udayan’s body overcomes his mind and he surfaces involuntarily, gasping and choking. Two paramilitary officers have guns pointed at him, and one shouts into a megaphone, ordering him to surrender or face his family’s death. Udayan stands up in the weedy, shallow water of the lowland, still coughing. He feels unsteady and dizzy, and as he walks out of the water with his hands above his head, he is disappointed to realize that Bijoli and Gauri have returned from shopping to witness his capture.
Udayan’s crimes have caught up with him at last. Though it is clear, from his thought process while underwater, that he has some remorse about his choices, it is too late—he has put himself, and his family, well in harm’s way.
Udayan remembers how his involvement with the Naxalites began. He and his fellow students lamented their country’s stagnant economy and deterioration of living standards. Independence, they felt, was a “travesty” which left half of India “still in chains.” After the 1966 strike at Presidency, Udayan and his group had successfully shut down Calcutta University for sixty-nine days.
Udayan’s reflections on the choices that led him to this point reveal that his aims began nobly enough—he wanted to fight on behalf of his people, to correct the injustices and heal the wounds of colonialism, Parition, and poverty.
After the strike at school, Udayan went to the countryside to “further indoctrinate himself.” He met desperate farmers, starving peasants, and witnessed the tragic effects of poverty. Udayan himself suffered during this time, never feeling well-fed or watered, and enduring terrible stomach cramps, but in miserable moments he reminded himself that his deprivation was only temporary.
Udayan is revealed to not only be an idealist—he has witnessed the issues he has been fighting against first-hand. In complicating Udayan’s character and providing him with real depth and motivation, Lahiri shows the dark side of duty, and the vortex-like pull of political violence.
Back in Calcutta, the CPI(M-L) formed. Subhash left for America, disapproving of the party’s objectives. His brother’s disdain filled Udayan with a “foreboding” feeling that the two would never meet again, but he shook it off. In Subhash’s absence, Udayan had only his comrades for friends, and filled his time with carrying out “missions” alongside them. As the missions grew increasingly dangerous, Udayan “began living two lives.” In one life, he was married to Gauri, living with his parents, working as a teacher, and pretending that the movement was behind him. In his life as a party member, however, he’d been enlisted in a mission to kill Nirmal Dey.
Here, Udayan reveals that the intensification of his involvement with the CPI(ML) and the Naxalites was, in many ways, a direct result of his feelings of isolation and abandonment after Subhash left. Udayan had always had a double and a partner, and in the wake of his brother’s departure for the U.S., Udayan felt alone for the first time in his life in spite of his marriage to Gauri and his living situation with his parents.
Udayan was not the one to stab Nirmal Dey in an alleyway, but he was the lookout, and he watched as the policeman bled out and died after his comrade’s attack. Udayan dipped his hand in the policeman’s blood and wrote the party’s initials on the alley wall once the deed was done, making his part in the act a “crucial” one.
Though Udayan did not kill the policeman himself, the blood is quite literally on his hands.
At the edge of the lowland, Udayan listens as his parents plead with the police, professing their son’s innocence, having no knowledge of the truth of the things he has done. Udayan is brought over to beg at his family’s feet for their forgiveness and is able to look only Gauri in the eye. He knows that he has used her and involved her in his party’s plots, but he still loves her. He sees Gauri look at him with “disillusion,” and knows that she has already begun to revise everything they once shared.
Udayan’s final moments are not redemptive, as Gauri’s earlier recollection of the moment suggested. Instead, he knows that he is being judged and condemned by Gauri. In marrying her, he vowed to protect her—instead, he roped her into acts of political violence and took advantage of her intense love for him.
The police put Udayan into the back of the van and start it up, but then cut the engine and pull him out again after a short drive. In the field where Udayan used to play with Subhash as a boy, the paramilitary officers untie Udayan’s hands from behind his back and tell him to walk in the opposite direction, reminding him to pause after every step. Though the officers are telling Udayan he can return to his family, he knows that they are not telling the truth.
Udayan knows what is happening to him as the police prepare to execute him. The fact that he dies in the field where he and Subhash used to play, and where they both have so many happy memories, is a cruel and painful irony that demonstrates the influence of political violence on personal relationships.
Udayan feels the bullets rip through him and hears only silence as he is pulled out of the world. He is not alone, though; Gauri is in front of him, in the peach-colored sari she wore to meet him at the cinema. Udayan sees Gauri coming towards him, her hair shimmering. He knows she is speaking to him but cannot hear what she is saying. He takes a step towards her, mesmerized by the sunlight on her hair.
Udayan sees Gauri in his last moments, recalling the day when they met outside of the cinema. This symbolic meeting, which represented their commitment to one another, serves to remind readers of Udayan’s possible motivations for allowing his life to take such a wrong turn: perhaps, above all, what he wanted was to protect those he loved.