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Chapters 1-2 Summary
Set primarily in the mid-1980s in the small, remote village of Kalimpong in India, Kiran Desai's 2006 novel, The Inheritance of Loss, tells the story of the recently impoverished people who are caught in the middle of a revolution. Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Pankaj Mishra referred to Desai's novel as "extraordinary." The author uses "intimacy and insight" to explore not only the challenges of 1980s India, the reviewer wrote, but also contemporary issues of inequality and terrorism that continue to plague almost every country today. Though the characters of The Inheritance of Loss at first appear to be separated by social status, education, and economy, Desai connects them through a "common experience of impotence and humiliation."
A young woman called Sai is the protagonist of The Inheritance of Loss. She is an orphan living with her British-educated grandfather, a retired judge. While she waits for her math tutor, Gyan, to arrive at her home, a small band of young, desperate men push themselves into Sai's house, demanding weapons and food. They threaten to kill the family's dog first, then the grandfather, if Sai does not hand over any guns or knives the family owns. After Sai gives them her grandfather's old shotguns, the young men insist on being fed by the family cook. There is little food stored in the kitchen, but after rummaging through the house, the intruders discover a trunk filled with staples. After eating, they leave, taking the guns and the trunk filled with food with them.
It was February of 1986 and Sai was seventeen years old. She and her math tutor, Gyan, had been in love for almost one year. The village in which Sai lived with her grandfather, a male cook, and a dog called Mutt was located at the edges of the Himalayas. Rebels, who were dissatisfied with their treatment in neighboring Nepal, often raided the Indian villages within their reach. They searched for food and weapons with which to fight their enemies, most of whom were officials from China and England and who were constantly stealing land from them. They had lost too much, and though ill-equipped, they were ready to make a stand.
The day after the robbery, the judge sent the cook to the police station to report the crime. The cook was nervous and thought of his son, Biju, who had gone to the States to find a job. The cook missed his son and wished he were there to stand with him....
(The entire section is 492 words.)
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Chapters 3-5 Summary
Biju, the cook's son, was living in New York City, working at various restaurants and cafes. He often wrote home to his father, the news in his letters basically the same except for the names of the restaurants. After work, the other Indian men with whom Biju was employed often sought out prostitutes. Biju always made excuses for not joining them. He would tell them the weather was too hot. Other times, he told them it was too cold. He also warned the men that the prostitutes were dirty and could give them diseases. The men, much older than Biju, who was only nineteen, told him that they did not care. One day, the manager where Biju worked told him and the other men that he had to let them go. He had been warned that there was to be a crackdown on illegal immigrants. The loss of this job was little different from any of the others that Biju had witnessed through the year.
Biju's father answered his son's letters, making the correspondence simple and short, not wanting to betray his lack of education. The cook warned his son not to lend anyone money and to be careful whom he chose for friends. If the boy had any questions, he should ask Nandu, another man from their village who had emigrated to New York.
The cook and Sai explored the world on an inflatable globe that they had sent for from an ad they found in a National Geographic magazine. They marked where Biju lived and compared it to where they were. Sai explained to the cook why, when it was morning in India, it was night in New York. The cook thought it was strange that the sun should shine first on India and then America each day, making India appear too much more important than the States for an hour that India did not deserve.
Sai's attachment to the cook had begun the first day she arrived at her grandfather's home. She had previously been living at the boarding school, St. Augustine's, in Dehra Dun. The day she arrived by taxi at the house, it was the cook who came out to greet her. She noticed at once that the cook had grown old due to poverty. Everything about the man was old: his clothes, his manner, his kitchen, and his voice.
The day the police came to the house, they ransacked the cook's hut, a small, badly constructed room behind the main house. Sai was indignant when she went inside and saw how the police had thrown the cook's few possessions on the floor, overturned the thin mattress that he slept on, and scattered all the...
(The entire section is 561 words.)
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Chapters 6-8 Summary
When Sai first arrived at her grandfather's house, the cook asked if she had come from England. When Sai said no, the cook then asked if she had been previously living in the United States. Again Sai said no, which disappointed the cook. Sai had been living in India, she told the cook. When the cook asked where her parents were, Sai said that they were dead.
Sai's father had been training to become a Russian astronaut. After being accepted into the program, her father had moved with his wife to Russia so he could further his training. When Sai was six, her parents sent her to the convent school, the same one at which her mother had been educated. Sai had not seen her parents for two years when she learned of their death. They were run over by a bus on a Russian street. Shortly afterward, Sai was sent away to her only remaining living relative, her maternal grandfather. Sai had never before met the man.
The judge was not happy about the appearance of Sai. He had no room in his heart for her. He had trouble falling asleep that first night and instead lay awake reminiscing about his own journey as a young boy. In 1939, the judge, at age twenty and married for one month, left behind his hometown of Piphit and his fourteen-year-old wife. Jemu Patel, as he was called as a young man, was on his way to Cambridge, where he would attend school in a cold, foreign land. On his voyage to England, Jemu was humiliated by his cabinmate, a fellow Indian, but one who scoffed and teased Jemu about the odor emanating from the lunch Jemu's mother had packed. Disgraced by the other young man, Jemu, as the ship entered the Indian Ocean, tossed the food over the ship's railing.
England greeted Jemu with strange-looking cows, so different from Indian cattle, and gray houses that for the first time made Jemu realize that India was not the only country that suffered from poverty. Once in Cambridge, Jemu had trouble finding a room to rent. No one wanted a dark-skinned Indian man living in their house. After visiting twenty-two different homes, he finally found Mrs. Rice. She needed the money desperately enough to overlook the color of Jemu's skin. However, not very many other people in England welcomed him, and Jemu began his inward journey, burying his sense of self deep within—a journey that would last a lifetime.
The morning after Sai's arrival, the judge decided that Sai needed an education. He arranged for the woman he...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
As Sai tells the sisters about the group of men who robbed her grandfather's house, the sisters become concerned about their own welfare. They are elderly women living alone with only a night guard to watch over them and their possessions. The guard, named Budhoo, is a retired Nepali military man. He has been very loyal over the years, and in the past, the women have felt safe under his protection. However, if there should be a revolution of the Nepali people, would this man remain faithful to them?
The sisters had accumulated wealth over the years. They had precious objects they had bought from England. Their garden was the only one in the area that grew such delicacies as broccoli and pears. Their food storage was overflowing, a safeguard against the village's tendency to have food shortages, especially in times of unrest. If word should get out of all that the sisters' house contained, they would be a very desirable target for burglars.
It did not help that the sisters' connection to England was so strong. Not only did their food storage reflect special treats from London, but Lola's daughter, Pixie, lived in London. She was a news correspondent for the BBC and spoke in a perfect English accent. The locals, after hearing Pixie on the radio, often made fun of her. Lola visited her daughter often and returned with stories about the pleasures she had enjoyed, as if these pleasures could be found only on English soil. Even Noni criticized her sister for putting on such airs.
Biju had been in the States for two years and was working at an Italian restaurant. However, the owner's wife complained that Biju smelled. Biju's employers bought him soap and deodorant, but that did not make any difference. The owner's wife wished they could hire European immigrants, as they would have more in common with them. They would share the same religion. Their physical appearances would be similar, too, especially skin color. Eventually Biju was let go.
Biju spent several months looking for a new job, but no one seemed to be hiring. Finally, he went to a Chinese restaurant, where the owner asked Biju whether he could ride a bike. Biju could, but not fast enough. The customers who ordered dinner to be delivered complained that by the time the food arrived, it was cold. And then winter came. The winds were brutal. The Hudson River froze. Not only was Biju chafed by the cruel weather, but he felt terribly lonesome. He was...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
After dropping Sai at Noni's house, the cook traveled on to the village, where he sold his homemade liquor to a local businessman. This was how the cook supplemented his income, which had not changed in several years. Sai's grandfather saw no need to increase the cook's wages. Wanting to buy things for his son and for himself, the cook had begun making his homemade brew out of fermented millet, using the extra money to buy his son clothes. What the cook really wanted was to buy the shiny things that he had heard of, ovens and television sets, for instance.
Other servants in the village had no need of supplementing their wages. They were well taken care of and took enormous pride in this fact. The cook, not wanting to be outdone, was forced to tell lies about how well he was paid and how well his employer was doing financially. The cook could not lie about his present circumstances, as he eventually would be found out. He could, however, make up stories about past extravagances that he and his employer enjoyed. The cook even shared these with Sai, telling her fantastic stories about her grandfather's history. Sai's grandfather, the cook told the girl and everyone else who would listen, once was a great statesman, a wealthy landowner, and a freedom fighter who was brought down by uncommon circumstances, mostly due to his wife's death. The cook assured Sai that there was a time when her grandfather was quite a different man. Her grandfather had been born into wealth and had lived in a house as big as a palace, the cook said.
In reality, Jemu Patel, Sai's grandfather, had been born to a family in the peasant caste, in a small structure with a roof made of palm fronds. Jemu's father owned a small country business and advised his fellow villagers on how to stand up for their rights and deal with the local magistrates. How pleased he was, later, when Jemu did so well in school that he could consider that his son might one day become a judge.
As a young man, after returning from England, Jemu was given a position in the Indian court system and was sent far from his home to the state of Uttar Pradesh. There, according to the cook's stories, Sai's grandfather had many servants. The cook began working for Sai's grandfather at age ten. He told Sai that they were always traveling from one town to another, living in luxurious tents, enjoying feasts, and earning great respect.
Sai continued to be taught by Lola and...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapters 13-15 Summary
Sai reluctantly met her math and science tutor, a college student named Gyan. In the beginning, she tried to ignore him. The cook, not wanting to intrude but desiring to keep an eye on them, sat on a stool outside the dining room. The cook approved of the tutor and his careful tone of voice as he explained the mathematical problems and helped with the answers. What the cook could not see, or did not notice, was the chemistry that was building between Sai and Gyan. The tutor left quickly each day because of the powerful effect that Sai had on him. Sai stared in the mirror afterward, wondering how she appeared to Gyan. Meanwhile, the cook made declarations about Gyan that Sai found silly. The cook thought it strange that Gyan was Nepali, rather than Bengali, as the servant thought Bengalis were more intelligent than people from Nepal. Sai told the cook that Gyan was very smart, despite his being Nepali. She also noted to herself that Gyan had very serious eyes, a deep voice, and curiously curly hair.
Sitting so close to Gyan for those two hours of her lessons made Sai feel very self-conscious. She felt his gaze on her, but strangely, every time she looked up at him, she found that he was looking elsewhere. She had, up until meeting Gyan, thought she was pretty. However, when she caught a glimpse of herself at the pond's edge, she questioned her looks. Whenever she saw her image, whether in the misty mirror, the stainless steel pots in the kitchen, or the polished lamps in the living room, she strived to see herself as Gyan might see her.
In America, Biju continued to enjoy his employment at the bakery. The longer he worked there, the more he began to question the prejudices he had been taught at home in India. For instance, he had been told that he should hate all Pakistanis, and yet he had met people from Pakistan living in the States and found no reason not to like them. He had also been told to hate Muslims, and yet Saeed, the man he worked with at the bakery, was a Muslim, and Biju found Saeed very comfortable to be around.
Saeed, Biju discovered, had come to America at an earlier time, had been deported for lack of proper papers, but had taken on a new name, forged a visa, and returned. Saeed told Biju that if someone was very clever and had access to a good copy machine, he could fool the immigration authorities and come to the States whenever he wanted to.
Biju sent many letters to his father...
(The entire section is 516 words.)
Chapters 16-17 Summary
Sai asked the cook to tell her about her grandmother. Her first question was whether her grandparents had been in love. The cook told her that it was the death of Sai's grandmother that made her grandfather such a seemingly coldhearted man. Sai's grandmother was a great lady, the cook said. She never spoke an angry word to the servants. Sai's grandfather loved his wife dearly. He loved her so much that it was hard for others around them to understand their passion.
Sai had trouble believing the cook. She asked whether he was sure of what he was saying. The cook reiterated his opinions. He said that her grandfather loved her grandmother so much that he could not even show it. The cook believed that it was the greatest love of all. However, when Sai asked how the cook would know that her grandfather loved his wife if he never demonstrated it, the cook could only respond that it was what he believed. He had no other proof than that he believed it to be true.
However, at another time, the cook told Sai that her grandfather did not like her grandmother at all. Sai's grandmother, the cook told her, was a "very mad lady." When Sai approached her grandfather and asked him directly about her grandmother, he told Sai to leave him alone. He was in the middle of playing a game of chess. Then the judge rose from his chair and walked outside. The judge did not want to think about his wife.
When Jemu was a young man, the judge's family had wanted to send him to England so that he could go to school. They did not, however, have enough money to do so. Their only option was to marry their son into a rich family. Many families were interested in Jemu, as he would be the first person from their village to go to England for an education. If Jemu were successful, he could easily become one of the more powerful men in India, they thought. Therefore, offers of marriage poured in.
A man by the name of Bomanbhai, whose family had money by aligning itself with the British Army when it had occupied India, had an eligible daughter who was fourteen years old. Bomanbhai was an ambitious man. But no matter how much money he accumulated, he could not rise beyond his caste. He needed to find another way to elevate himself. Marrying off his daughter to a man who might one day be a judge was one path toward his goal. As a marriage proposal, Bomanbhai offered Jemu's family many gifts, one of which was the necessary ticket that would...
(The entire section is 651 words.)
Chapters 18-19 Summary
The monsoon season came to India, causing the judge's house to badly leak. The monsoon season in this part of the country meant up to four or even five months of heavy downpours, sometimes in the form of hail. The rain halted the budding revolution, which had transformed into strikes. There was no sense protesting against the government or businesses when neither was open. Everyone was staying home. Roads were washed out by the rains, so passage from one place to the next was all but impossible. Only foolish people went out in the storms, as Gyan did.
Gyan told himself that he was worried about his tuition and did not want to miss one of his tutoring sessions. He also did not want Sai to fall behind in her studies. At least, this is how he convinced himself that it was imperative that he make it to her home. In truth, he could no longer stand the feeling of anticipation that he felt as the time for the scheduled lessons drew nearer. He had no choice but to go out and fight the natural elements that met him along the way.
When he reached her house, Gyan found Sai dressed in a Japanese kimono that Uncle Potty, a friendly neighbor, had given to her as a present. Gyan was stunned by Sai's beauty. Through the long hours of studies, the emotional tension between Gyan and Sai intensified. When Gyan finally stood and announced that he must go, both Sai and the cook insisted that he not leave. The rain was too heavy. There was also the threat of lightning. Gyan must eat dinner with them and then spend the night if necessary. Of course, Sai's grandfather found this quite absurd. Why was the boy there? Why had he come in the storm in the first place? What were his intentions?
After the cook went to his hut to read the two letters he had received from Biju, and after Sai's grandfather had gone to bed, Sai and Gyan were alone together for the first time. To break the tension, Gyan began to ask silly but personal questions. What kind of shampoo did Sai use? What brand of soap? What size shoe did she wear? Then he reached for her hand and compared its small size to his long fingers. With a boldness of which Gyan was not formerly aware, he raised his finger to Sai's face and outlined its contours. When his finger reached her lips, Sai jumped out of her chair, as if she had been frightened by a mouse, and announced that she needed to go to bed.
The story then returns to the judge's earlier life, to a period when he...
(The entire section is 643 words.)
Chapters 20-22 Summary
Sai and Gyan's relationship was growing more personal. They compared their bodies to one another: They measured their collar bones, checked the length of their eyelashes, noted who had the longer neck. In this way, they played at courtship, teasing each other. One day, Gyan asked Sai to kiss him. Sai attempted to hold out, but she was not strong enough to forbid his kiss for long. Finally they matched one another's lips. A week later, they had lost all bashfulness and spent much of their scheduled lesson time kissing.
Gyan and Sai were so involved in their budding relationship that they paid little notice to what was happening around them. The fever of the Nepali rebels was again rising. Militant slogans were posted along the road. The Nepali militants demanded that their land be returned from the Bengali people. The Nepali people wanted freedom, the signs claimed. Most people paid little attention to the signs until the day that fifty Nepali boys gathered to swear an oath to fight to the death for the return of their land. The boys called themselves the Liberation Army. Shortly afterward, the news of this oath spread around the village. Everyone was talking about the impending insurgency.
At Noni and Lola's house, a political discussion was taking place. Noni thought she understood the Nepalis' demands. However, her sister Lola was worried that if the rebels had their way, they would demand that all outsiders, including them, would be asked to leave. If the rebels' demands were not met, all kinds of atrocities would take place, as happened in all revolutions, Lola thought.
While the sisters discussed local politics, Sai sat near them, daydreaming about Gyan. She thought of Gyan's touch and how it turned her skin to butter. When his fingers ran up and down her skin, the sensation stirred her to the point that she could no longer determine where Gyan's touch ended and her skin began.
Mrs. Sen, a neighbor, wandered into the sisters' house and attempted to join their conversation. However, she was much more worried about Muslims and Pakistani people than she was about Nepalis. Mrs. Sen blamed everything that went wrong in the village or in India on the Muslims and Pakistanis. The conversation then turned to Americans. Mrs. Sen's daughter lived and worked in the States. She was proud of her daughter and flaunted her daughter's accomplishments whenever she was given a chance. Mrs. Sen began making...
(The entire section is 551 words.)
Chapters 23-25 Summary
After Sai had told Gyan a little of her family's history, Gyan also opened up about his past. In the 1800s, Gyan's family left Nepal and arrived in India to work on a tea plantation. His family had owned a buffalo that was noted for giving very nourishing milk. A general in the English Army, admiring the build of Gyan's great-grandfather, who had grown strong on the buffalo milk, had offered the muscular man a position. From then on, generation after generation of Gyan's ancestors pledged allegiance to the British forces. This remained true up to Gyan's father, who had chosen education over military service. Like his father, Gyan had also been educated. When Sai pressured Gyan to tell her more, especially of his father, Gyan became silent. Sai understood his reluctance, as she, too, kept secrets.
In America, Biju was still employed at the Gandhi Cafe, owned by Harish-Harry. On Sundays, Harish-Harry's wife, Malini, came to the cafe to do the accounting. It was Malini who had suggested to her husband that the kitchen staff they employed should sleep in the cafe at night. In this way, the kitchen help did not have to pay the high New York City rents. Also in this way, Harish-Harry and his wife did not have to pay their employees the full minimum wage. They would make more profits as well as ensure that the staff would be at the cafe on time when it opened.
Biju moved into the cafe shortly after being hired. He and the other men had their own bedding, which they spread out at night wherever there was room. They washed in the kitchen sink. Similar to other places Biju had lived, the cafe had rats. These were very robust rats, as they found their way into the healthy foods that were served there. When a rat chewed on Biju's hair one night, he was told by one of the other men that the rat must be a pregnant female looking for material with which to build a nest.
While Biju worked, he observed the Indian students who came in to eat. Many of them brought American dates. Biju found it interesting how the Indians talked very American to their dates, but to fellow Indians, they allowed their Indian accents to affect their language. Some of them tried to show off to their American friends, ordering the spiciest versions of the entrees. Sometimes Biju would add extra pepper to the meals and then watch as the Indians' faces turned red.
Biju also noticed Harish-Harry's daughter, who had become very Americanized....
(The entire section is 473 words.)
Chapters 26-28 Summary
Gyan was in the village, buying rice, when he was swept up in a crowd of young men, some of them student-friends of his. The men were protesting. They were of Nepali descent and were tired of and frustrated with being treated like third-class citizens. They claimed that they had fought for India and for England for several generations, but they had not been compensated for their sacrifices and hard work. They were continually denied jobs and positions in the government merely because of their Nepali blood. Because of this, they no longer wanted to beg for help. Instead, they wanted their own territory, their own part of India.
As Gyan was drawn into their midst, he first questioned whether the young men were serious about their demands. He wondered whether they were only posturing, expressing themselves in solidarity but not committed to fighting for what was due to them. However, the longer he stayed in their company and listened to what the young men were saying, the more Gyan empathized with their concerns and their demands. He reflected on how long he had tried to find a job without any success. He thought about the male members of his family who had sacrificed their lives in the wars, first in support of British forces and later in their fight for India's freedom from colonial rule. None of his relatives were rewarded for their efforts. When he talked to his father and uncles about the wrongs that had been committed against them, they had no reaction other than to accept their fate without complaining. As he listened to the young men in the protest, Gyan began to change. What the young men were saying made more sense to him. He no longer wanted to stay on the sidelines, accepting the unfair treatment that all Nepali descendants suffered through. They were treated like slaves in their own country, and Gyan decided that he had had enough.
The next time that Gyan went to Sai's house to tutor her, his attitude had changed. He looked at Sai through different eyes, seeing how silly she was, so influenced by Western ways. He asked her why she celebrated Christmas, since it was not an Indian holiday. He was sickened by her complaints that seemed trivial, considering how much real suffering was going on in India at the homes of Nepali-Indian people. Many of Gyan's relatives went hungry because they did not make enough money to buy decent food. Gyan had an argument with Sai, calling her a silly copycat and stating that it made...
(The entire section is 623 words.)
Chapters 29-30 Summary
Though Sai and Gyan saw each other again, and kissed and made up, their relationship had changed. Sai could not understand Gyan's anger nor his criticism of her manners and customs. Gyan was angry at himself for being tempted by Sai's charms. Eventually, Gyan decided that Sai was a pleasure enjoyed but a thing of the past. It was time for him to grow up. He would have to let her go. It was while he was in this state of mind that he, one night while drinking with some of his male friends, told them of the guns at Sai's house. It was from Gyan's description of the foods stored at the house that the young men decided to go to the judge's place and rob it of all the things they could use for their revolution. Gyan had lost all hope for his relationship with Sai by then. Despite her Indian heritage, in Gyan's mind, Sai acted too British. She had a fake British accent that Gyan despised. She ate only British vegetables and turned away from locally popular foods. He and she would always be worlds apart. Gyan also had learned from his experience with Sai that love was not a concrete thing. It was as fluid as water, he convinced himself, something that could be poured from one vessel into another.
The cook reflected on Biju's attempts to get a visa so he could go to the United States. The first opportunity came when a cruise ship company offered to hire Indian boys to work on its luxury ships. The boys would be assistants in the ship's kitchen as well as janitors who would clean the bathrooms and guest quarters. In order to obtain the job, the cook had tutored Biju, telling him the names of fancy desserts that were often offered on such luxury ships. Biju did as his father had told him, telling the interviewer that he knew how to make Baked Alaska and other exotic sweets, though Biju had no skills in the kitchen. The interviewer believed him and offered Biju a job. However, Biju would have to pay for his training expenses. The cook, so overjoyed at his son's success, found the money to pay for the fees and sent Biju off on his journey. A couple of weeks later, Biju returned, having to tell his father that the job offer had been a fraud.
Biju's second attempt to gain a visa was more successful. Though hundreds of people stood with him at the American embassy in long lines of applicants, Biju was one of the few who gained the prized visa. Though all of Biju's papers, including a medical statement, a bank book, and several personal...
(The entire section is 624 words.)
Chapters 31-32 Summary
The tension in the village and surrounding area is mounting. The rebels are orchestrating work stoppages and blocking roads to control who could go in and out of the area. All national celebrations are forbidden. Boycotts of elections are ordered. In addition, the rebels refuse to pay taxes or repay loans. Even the Indo-Nepali treaty, which had been signed in 1950, is burned as a symbolic gesture of the Nepali rebels who believe that the treaty has done them no good.
Despite all these actions, Noni and Lola and Sai decide to travel to Darjeeling, a city in the Indian state of West Bengal. They are going there to return their books to the library. Traveling with them are two local men, Father Booty, a Catholic priest, and Uncle Potty, the priest’s friend who is known locally as a friendly alcoholic. Through the discussions among these five people, the reader is provided with a political and cultural understanding of what is happening in India at the time. They discuss the different religious beliefs, ranging from Christianity to Buddhism to Hinduism, the most predominant religion in the area. Most Hindus are vegetarians, so this leads to a discussion of diets. Noni has noticed that many of the soldiers are becoming vegetarians. It is their way of reclaiming their own heritage rather than following the more British diet, which includes meat. However, to Noni this seemed in contradiction to the soldiers’ employment. Noni believes that in order to kill, one must eat meat. One needs the taste of blood to be aggressive enough to kill. When they pass a group of monks, Noni states that she finds it ludicrous that soldiers are becoming vegetarians while monks are beginning to eat meat.
They arrive in Darjeeling, and there is a description of the contents of the library. The books in the library are very frail. Some of them have not been touched for more than fifty years. Their pages break from their spines when opened; some pages flake into tiny pieces when handled. There are several books written by English authors who told stories of India. However, Noni, Sai, and Lola prefer to avoid these books. English authors have only an outsider’s view of the country, which tends toward the stereotypical. If they are to read British writers, these women prefer stories about England. They particularly like the picturesque stories told by Agatha Christie. When they read her books, it feels as if they are watching a movie.
(The entire section is 626 words.)
Chapters 33-35 Summary
The narrator reports that six months after Sai, Lola, Noni, Uncle Potty, and Father Booty take their trip to the library in Darjeeling, the National Liberation Front takes over the building. Many years later, in 1988, these same soldiers surrendered all their weapons in this very building. However, on the day Sai is in Darjeeling, the revolution has yet to start, though young men march by several times, shouting their campaign slogans and demanding that the country be given back to the Nepalis. While outside the library on her way back to the car, Sai sees Gyan in the crowd of protesting men. She recognizes him and is about to call out to him when Gyan sees her. Just as Sai is about to shout out to him, Gyan looks at her indignantly and makes a gesture with his head that she should remain quiet. Then he angrily turns away from her.
This upsets Sai, though she does not want to acknowledge her emotions to the others when they ask if she is all right. They later inaccurately ascribe her upset feelings to carsickness when, on their way down the mountain, Sai becomes nauseous. They stop the car to allow Sai a chance to get some fresh air to stabilize her stomach. While they wait for Sai to feel better, Uncle Potty asks Father Booty to take a picture of some of the beautiful butterflies that are floating about them. They are near a police checkpoint, and an officer comes over to investigate when he sees Father Booty with a camera in his hand. Taking pictures of the bridge they are about to cross is illegal. Father Booty had forgotten about this law. However, when he tries to explain that the photograph is of the butterflies, the officer does not believe him. It does not help that Father Booty is not Indian. The police are now suspicious of the group and take away all the library books Sai and her friends had borrowed.
A couple of weeks later, the library books are found innocent and returned. However, the photograph Father Booty had taken turned out to be focused on the bridge, with the butterfly appearing blurry in the foreground. Father Booty tries to explain that he had been aware of his error and was about to take a second photograph when the police had taken his camera away. This story does not hold much validity in the officials’ minds, and they ask for Father Booty’s papers. Father Booty has lived in India for more than forty years. He has developed a dairy cattle farm and is well known in Sai’s village. He had not...
(The entire section is 536 words.)
Chapters 36-38 Summary
The political pressure on the village continues, stretching into longer and longer lasting strikes. The news of the strife is carried to Biju in America via a newspaper, the India Abroad. When he reads of the trouble, Biju worries about his father. He wonders if his father is still alive. He wonders if the rebels could have killed him. The strikes have caused a disruption in the mail, and Biju has not heard from his father in months. By the next day, Biju can no longer stand not knowing his father’s condition, so he telephones his old village in India. Fortunately, he calls a few weeks before the rebels cut all the telephone lines.
There is no phone where the cook lives and works, so Biju calls a place called the MetalBox. He tells the servant who answers to notify his father that he will call again in two hours. The servant runs to the judge’s house and delivers Biju’s message. The cook quickly leaves the kitchen, hurries to the village, and waits for the phone to ring. When it does, the cook has trouble hearing his son’s voice. The connection is weak. Father and son have little to say to one another. Biju realizes that they are becoming strangers to one another; their lives are so different. This is what happens when sons move away from their families, Biju thinks: They go to America, find a job, and send money home when they can. Years pass and they do not realize how many have gone. Then one day they receive word that their father or mother has passed away. The telephone call confirms that the cook is still alive, but Biju knows that if he continues on this path, he might never see his father again.
Back in the village, Lola senses that things are growing more desperate. There are food shortages because of the strikes and the traffic blockades. People fight over the few supplies remaining in the grocery store. She also sees that more and more men arrive in the village every day. These are angry men who often gather in front of the police station and throw bricks and stones. Back at her house, there is no more gas or kerosene, so Noni and Lola must cook by burning wood. Water is also gone. Noni and Lola place buckets in the yard to catch the rain.
Things only get worse. One day, several boys show up at Lola and Noni’s door. The boys tell them they need the women’s support. They are selling calendars and cassette tapes. Lola tells them to go away. Noni, on the other hand, feels more...
(The entire section is 658 words.)
Chapters 39-41 Summary
After seeing Sai in Darjeeling and pretending not to know her, Gyan comes to the judge’s house one more time. When Sai looks at Gyan, she thinks he seems as if he were chained to the table. Gyan makes Sai feel disgusted with herself for ever loving him. He has become despicable in her eyes. When she asks him why he acted as he did in Darjeeling, Gyan tells Sai he was confused. He uses the excuse that he is only human and sometimes makes mistakes. This does not endear him to her. Instead, it unleashes a torrent of anger. Gyan leaves the house, and Sai feels a sense of incompleteness. She had enjoyed feeling wanted and desired. Now there is nothing but emptiness.
After a few days, she wishes Gyan would come back and cannot stop thinking about him, even when she comes down with a bitter cold. Lola and Noni attempt to lift her spirits, but they have not the slightest idea of Sai’s relationship with Gyan. Even the cook, who had seen their flirting with one another, did not know for sure that it was Gyan’s abrupt departure that affected Sai’s disposition. Instead, the cook blames Sai’s illness for her bad temper. Then, after both the local curfew and Sai’s illness are lifted, Sai relinquishes any remaining dignity and starts out on a journey to find Gyan.
Everywhere she looks—in the market, at the school, in the music shop—Gyan is not there. So she walks to the other side of the mountain along the Relli River, where he had told her he lived. As she undertakes this journey, she senses that Gyan would not want her to come to his neighborhood. He had purposefully refused to talk about his family and how they lived. However, she can not stop herself. She has to see Gyan at least once more.
When she sees the cluster of shacks, her first reaction is that they did not look so bad in the sunlight. No matter how poorly constructed, each little hut is surrounded by gardens planted with marigolds and pumpkins. At nightfall, however, Sai knows the poverty would show. The large families would crowd into the small rooms to eat their meager meals by candlelight. Rats and snakes would crawl around the rafters in competition for morsels of food.
As she nears the huts, Sai asks a young woman to point out Gyan’s house. The woman does so reluctantly. Gyan appears; as expected, he is not happy to see Sai. This makes Sai’s anger reappear. She begins to blame Gyan for everything that is going wrong in her...
(The entire section is 770 words.)
Chapters 42-44 Summary
When the revolutionaries come to Gyan’s house the next day to take him to the planned demonstration, Gyan’s grandmother forces Gyan to stay inside the hut. Gyan had pleaded with her to not tell the young men that she had forbidden Gyan any further association with the group; he begged his grandmother to tell the men that he was sick, which is exactly what she did. Although the men demanded that every family be represented in the demonstration with at least one member attending, they leave Gyan alone. Not everyone is so lucky.
At the judge’s house, the cook announces that someone must go to the demonstration or there will be trouble for the family. The judge tells the cook that he must go. Believing that the forced march would be no more than a holiday parade, the cook packs a lunch and meets one of his friends on the way into town. The demonstration will end with the burning of the treaty that had been signed years before between India and Nepal. The Nepali revolutionaries want the symbolic gesture to show their displeasure with their status. After the burning, the cook imagines he and his friend will enjoy a picnic. This will not happen.
What begins as a peaceful march soon erupts in turmoil. First there are rocks thrown into the crowd and then blasted at the police station. Then there are rumors and fears that the marchers have guns. The police grow more and more nervous and eventually begin to randomly shoot into the crowd. As the blood begins to flow, the revolutionists retaliate with knives. Bloodshed is everywhere. Decapitated heads are hoisted on top of poles. Wounded villagers lie in ditches along the streets.
The cook escapes the violence by running up the hill and hiding behind some bushes. Not everyone is so fortunate. Even the police have no place to hide. Some try to find refuge at Noni and Lola’s house. However, after receiving no help earlier from the officers in ridding their home and land of squatters, the women refuse to allow the police to come inside.
Even after the violence settles down, the village is not the same. Everyone grows more and more suspicious of everyone else. People are falsely accused of being spies for either the police or the revolutionists and are beaten. Non-Nepalis are treated as if they do not exist. Store owners are afraid to open their shops because they do not want to be accused of assisting anyone who might be considered an enemy.
(The entire section is 558 words.)
Chapters 45-48 Summary
Biju is on his way back to India. The flight is long and the plane is cramped, with barely any legroom or headroom. Unlike the European flights, airlines from third-world countries (including India is at this time) use terminals at the large airports that isolate passengers heading to the most uncommon locations. People from Biju’s flight, for instance, are ushered off the plane at London’s Heathrow Airport and forced to wait overnight in cramped quarters. Waiting for days for connections is a typical hardship for Indian travelers. There also are no food services available to them.
If this bothers Biju, he does not show it. In the tiny bathroom on the plane, he salutes himself in the mirror. He is starting his life anew. He will buy a taxicab and drive people over the mountain. He will build himself a strong house whose roof does not get blown off each monsoon season. When he thinks of his reunion with his father, Biju weeps. The idea fills him with so much happiness.
At about this time, the judge realizes his dog, Mutt, is missing. No matter how he calls for the animal, there is no response. The judge walks around the village asking everyone he meets if they have seen the dog. People laugh at the judge behind his back. They wonder what is wrong with him. Here in a time when people are being killed or are dying from starvation there is a man who worries only about a dog. As the judge continues his search, people who understand the affection one might have for a pet tell him stories about how some people in India eat dogs. Other people, the judge is told, are smart enough to realize they can make money from breeding stolen dogs. Some others might have just stolen the judge’s dog out of spite. His house has been burglarized before; maybe it has happened again.
Dejectedly, the judge finally goes home. No one will help him. No one cares. At best, they think he is crazy. He wonders why he had not taken better care of Mutt. Anything might have happened to the dog—there are wild jackals in the forests, snakes in the backyard, and poison plants that grew in the garden. There are so many different ways his dog might have been killed.
In the village, other things are changing too. The police department, for example, has been reinforced after the riots during the demonstrations. Wanted men are on the run or in hiding, taking up residence at rich people’s houses because they know the police will not...
(The entire section is 565 words.)
Chapters 49-53 Summary
The judge is lost in sorrow over the loss of his dog. He thinks about the other things and people he has lost. His thoughts flow to his wife and why he sent her away.
In a flashback, the judge recalls his innocent wife, Nimi. One day a distant friend took her to a political gathering. Nimi had no understanding of politics and was unaware of the consequences of her attending a rally that celebrated Nehru’s recent victory as the first prime minister after India won her independence. However, the judge’s supervisor was displeased when word arrived that the judge’s wife had been at the train station to meet Nehru. The supervisor threatened the judge that if anything like this ever happened again, it might cost him his job.
This enraged the judge, who called his wife stupid and beat her. He beat her so badly he was afraid that he might kill her. To save her from himself, the judge sent his wife to her father’s home. While she was there, Nimi gave birth to their daughter. When the child was born, Nimi’s father said it was time for her to return to her husband. However, the judge would not have her, so Nimi went to live with her sister. While in her sister’s house, Nimi was burned to death. Some claimed it was an accident. Her clothes had caught on fire as she was cooking. This happened often enough to make it look like an accident. However, the judge believes he pushed Nimi to commit suicide.
The story returns to Biju, who is struggling to make his way to his mountain village. No buses are traveling to the area because of the revolutionists, so Biju is forced to bribe a man to drive him home. Before they reach Biju’s village, the driver stopped and makes Biju leave all his possessions, including the clothes he is wearing. Biju hikes the rest of the way on foot.
While Biju is making his way through the mountains, the judge insists that the cook, Biju’s father, find the dog. The judge threatens to kill the cook if he is unsuccessful. Unbeknown to the judge, his dog has already been sold to another family in a distant village. This family is only interested in social status; owning a fancy dog makes them appear richer than they are. But they have no time to pamper the dog and quickly grow tired of it. Eventually they tie the dog to a tree and ignore it except for a few kicks they give it whenever they pass by.
In the meantime, the cook is in the village trying to find the dog....
(The entire section is 630 words.)