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When the chapter begins, we're back in the past – it's a "skyblue day in December sixty-nine (the nineteen silent)" (2.1). A skyblue Plymouth car is speeding on its way to Cochin. The narrator notes that the landscape is similar to that of a small country further east where "enough bombs were being dropped to cover all of it in six inches of steel" (2.2). The war is happening in Vietnam; in India it's peacetime.
Estha and Rahel are in the car with Ammu, Chacko, and Baby Kochamma on their way to see The Sound of Music for the third time. The twins love the movie and know all of the songs. They're going to stay in a hotel, and the next morning they will go to the Cochin Airport to pick up Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma.
We learn that Joe, Margaret Kochamma's second husband, was killed in a car accident several months before. Sophie Mol and Margaret are coming to Ayemenem for the holidays because Chacko says he couldn't bear to think of them being alone with their sad memories during the holidays.
Ammu thinks that Chacko never stopped loving Margaret Kochamma. Mammachi doesn't like this idea; she would prefer to imagine that Chacko never loved her at all.
None of them have ever met Sophie Mol. The entire week before her arrival becomes the "What Will Sophie Mol Think?" week (2.6). Baby Kochamma starts giving the twins real grief, making them write a hundred lines of "I will always speak in English" every time she catches them speaking Malayalam.
We learn that Estha and Rahel don't have a last name because Ammu can't decide whether or not to revert to her maiden name.
The narrator paints a picture of the twins. Estha loves Elvis. He is wearing his "beige and pointy shoes and his Elvis puff. His Special Outing Puff" (2.9). Rahel is wearing her hair on the top of her head like a fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo, which is "two beads on a rubber band, nothing to do with Love or Tokyo" (2.11). Rahel also wears a toy wristwatch with the time painted on it – it's always ten to two (see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more on this).
We learn that Chacko is a learned guy with a lot of books. Once upon a time, Chacko was a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford University.
Ammu is riding next to Chacko, who is her older brother. She is now 27 years old and feels as though life has already been lived. Her big mistake? She married the wrong man.
We learn Ammu's back story: her father, Pappachi, had decided it was unnecessary to spend money to send a woman to college, so she lived with her parents and waited for a marriage proposal.
One summer, Pappachi allowed Ammu to go to Calcutta. She met Baba at a wedding reception, and five days later he proposed. She figured this was as good as things were going to get, so she accepted.
Baba turned out to be an alcoholic and an outrageous liar.
In October 1962, Ammu was eight months pregnant. War broke out with China and people were being evacuated, but Ammu was too pregnant to travel.
When the twins were two years old, Baba was drunk most of the time. His English boss, Mr. Hollick, told him his job was in trouble but that they could work something out if Baba went out of town and let Mr. Hollick sleep with Ammu.
When Ammu didn't like this idea, Baba punched her and then passed out from being tired and drunk. Ammu took the heaviest book she could find (the Reader's Digest World Atlas) and beat the smack out of him. This scenario repeated itself a few times, and finally Ammu took the kids and left.
Pappachi didn't believe Ammu's story because he couldn't believe any true English gentleman would ever behave in such a way.
We find out that Ammu's relationship with Estha and Rahel is complicated. She is quick to punish them but even quicker to defend them.
Ammu regards her younger self as foolish and silly. She has a goldsmith melt down her wedding ring into a thin bangle bracelet for Rahel.
We find out that Ammu lives a secret private life – she goes out by herself, listening to music and carrying "magic secrets in her eyes" (2.50). The narrator calls this side of Ammu her "Unsafe Edge" that "led her to love by night the man her children loved by day. To use by night the boat that her children used by day" (2.51). (Don't worry – the narrator will give us more info on those escapades in future chapters.)
Now we're back in the car with the family. Baby Kochamma sits between the twins, whom she dislikes. She thinks that they're "doomed, fatherless waifs" and "Half-Hindu Hybrids whom no self-respecting Syrian Christian would ever marry" (2.55).
Baby Kochamma makes it her mission in life to steal away happiness from Estha and Rahel so they know their place in the world.
We learn that the Plymouth has the Paradise Pickles and Preserves logo on it, which Ammu thinks makes them look ridiculous.
We get another flashback: the narrator tells us about how Mammachi started making pickles when Pappachi retired from government service. She started making them for a fair, but soon they became all the rage.
Pappachi wouldn't help Mammachi make the pickles and jams because he thought it was beneath him. He was also super jealous of all the sudden attention and fame that Mammachi was getting. In fact, he beat her every night with a brass flower vase to keep her in her place. One day Chacko came home from Oxford and discovered what was going on. Pappachi never touched or spoke to Mammachi again after that.
Pappachi would go out of his way to make Mammachi look bad. He would try to make it look like she neglected him, which helped sway everyone's opinion of working wives.
We learn that under British rule, Pappachi had been appointed Imperial Entomologist. (Entomology is the study of bugs.) When India gained independence he became the Joint Director of Entomology.
We learn about the greatest setback in Pappachi's life. He discovered what he thought was a new breed of moth, but it turned out to be just a slightly unusual specimen of a known species. Then, twelve years later, some lepidopterists (people who study butterflies and moths) decided it was in fact a unique species. They named it after someone else whom Pappachi had never liked.
Pappachi's moth becomes responsible for his bad temper for the rest of the life and affects all of his kids and grandkids.
Pappachi also couldn't put up with the successes of other people. When Mammachi's violin teacher told him Mammachi was an amazing violinist, Pappachi smashed the instrument.
We hear about Pappachi's death and different people's views and reactions.
Chacko tells Rahel and Estha that Pappachi was an Anglophile and makes them look it up in a dictionary. (An Anglophile is someone who greatly admires the British or Great Britain.) He tells them that everyone in their whole family is Anglophile.
Chacko makes an analogy in which he compares history to an old house. Rahel and Estha take this literally and think he's talking about Kari Saipu's house. Kari Saipu is an Englishman who has "gone native" (2.92).
Chacko starts explaining what the history house is. It's a house they can't enter, and when they try to listen to what's happening inside they can't hear more than a whisper because their minds are invaded by war. This war makes them love their conquerors and despise themselves. Ammu makes a crack that they don't just love their conquerors – they marry them. (The narrator gives us the impression that this is meant to be confusing – Rahel and Estha have no idea what he means. Check out the History House under "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for clarification.)
Chacko makes another analogy: if the Earth were a woman, she'd be about 46 right now. In her lifetime, human civilization only began two hours ago. Chacko says we're all just a blink of her eye.
It's not the Earth Woman, but the History House that fascinates Estha and Rahel. The narrator gives us some foreshadowing: they don't know that soon they'll be there and history will be revealed to them.
Chacko tells Estha and Rahel that loving The Sound of Music is an example of Anglophilia.
We hear more about how Chacko studied at Oxford. Ammu says that doesn't necessarily make him clever.
We get another flashback about how Chacko came back to Ayemenem after Pappachi died and took over the pickle factory. Ammu has no rights to the company.
The narrative returns to the car ride. They have to stop for a train, and Rahel gets nervous that they're going to miss the beginning of the movie. She reads the stop sign backwards.
We learn that Estha and Rahel are skilled readers, well-versed in Kipling and Shakespeare. Once, when Miss Mitten bought them a kids' book called The Adventures of Susie Squirrel, they were totally offended and read it to her backwards. Miss Mitten then told Baby Kochamma that she saw Satan in their eyes.
We learn that when they fight, Estha calls Rahel a Refugee Stick Insect and Rahel calls him Elvis the Pelvis. (These names will pop up a lot throughout the book.)
Estha sees Murlidharan, a lunatic who lost both of his arms in Singapore in 1942 in his first week of fighting in the war.
All of a sudden, there's a growing hum in the air, and they hear police whistles blowing. A crowd of men appears marching in a column with red flags and banners. Chacko tells everyone to roll up their windows and that everything is going to be OK.
We learn that Chacko identifies as a Marxist.
The swarm of thousands of communists overtakes the road. Nobody has a complete explanation for why the Communist Party is so successful in Kerala, but they give us a few potential theories.
We get a flashback that gives us a crash course on communism in Kerala:
The Communist Party came to power in 1957. In 1967, they won reelection, but by that time they were divided into two factions: the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
During the CPI's second term in power, the Chinese Communist Party denounced the CPI because they found that the "peaceful transition" was getting in the way of the Revolution.
The Chinese Communist party started supporting the CPI(M) – also known as the Naxalites. The Naxalites started organizing peasants into factions that terrorized the middle class.
Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the leader of the CPI, expelled all the Naxalites from the CPI and "went on with the business of harnessing anger for parliamentary purposes" (2.223).
We learn that the people involved in the march that's taking over the roads are on their way to present a set of demands to Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad. One of these demands is that the Untouchables no longer be referred to by their caste name. (For more on caste, see the theme discussion of "Society and Class.")
The marchers start hitting the Plymouth with their fist as they pass.
All of a sudden, Rahel sees Velutha. When she rolls down the window and calls out to him, he freezes in his tracks. She continues trying to get his attention, but he disappears into the crowd. Meanwhile, Ammu slaps Rahel's legs to get her to sit down.
We flash forward to a day many years later. Rahel is on a train in New York and has a flashback of Ammu's anger at that moment. Larry tries to make a joke and wonders why she doesn't laugh.
Just as quickly as we flashed forward, we flash back to learn more about Velutha.
We learn that Velutha's dad, Vellya Paapen, would bring him to the Ayemenem House to deliver coconuts. Pappachi wouldn't let them in the house – nobody would because of their caste. Velutha and Vellya Paapen are Paravans, part of the Untouchable caste (lowest on the totem pole).
We also find out that when the British came to Malabar, Velutha's grandfather converted to Christianity (Anglicanism, or the English Church) so his family could escape the discrimination they faced under the Hindu caste system.
This move sort of shot the family in the foot; after Independence, the family wasn't entitled to any benefits from the government.
We learn that when Velutha was eleven, Mammachi noticed that he was really good with his hands. He would make little toys for Ammu, three years his senior. Mammachi encouraged Vellya Paapen to send Velutha to school, and he was trained in carpentry. When he got back from school, he helped Mammachi with the machinery in the factory.
Vellya Paapen wasn't too jazzed that Velutha seemed to disregard his place in the social scheme of things. He tried to warn Velutha about his behavior but he realized that he was not exactly sure what to warn him of.
One day Velutha disappeared and didn't show up again for four years. While he was gone, his mother Chella died of tuberculosis and his brother Kuttapen broke his back and was paralyzed.
Now (in December 1969, that is) Velutha has been back in Ayemenem for about five months, and Mammachi has put him in charge of maintenance of the factory. The other factory workers aren't thrilled because of his class status – they don't think a Paravan should be a carpenter.
We find out that at some point Vellya Paapen is going to discover some sort of romantic meetings involving Velutha and is going to run crying to Mammachi about it.
Ever since Velutha has come back to Ayemenem, Rahel and Estha have thought of him as their best friend.
The narrator tells us that it was Velutha that Rahel saw marching through the streets.
We snap back to the scene in the car. A man opens the door and taunts Rahel. Then he makes Baby Kochamma hold his red flag and asks her to wave it and repeat the words he tells her to say.
Chacko asks Rahel if she's sure it was really Velutha. She stalls because she thinks Estha might be warning her not to say anything. She says she's almost sure. Then she says she's almost not sure.
We briefly flash forward to the days following the scene in the car. Baby Kochamma tries to make life as hard as possible for Velutha because of the humiliation she suffered that day.
Now we're back in the car. Rahel blows a spit bubble and thinks about how certain types behavior are thought to belong to certain classes of people.
Ammu yells at Rahel for blowing spit bubbles (they remind her of her ex-husband). Chacko tells her not to dictate what Rahel can do with her own spit. Ammu yells at Chacko for acting like he's the kids' savior.
The train passes by. Baby Kochamma sings from The Sound of Music to lighten the mood. Everyone else is silent and annoyed.