Estha, short for Esthappen Yako, is the other half of our dynamic twin duo. He was born eighteen minutes before his twin, Rahel, which is sort of fitting since in many ways he seems like he's her older brother. Even as a child, Estha is almost painfully earnest and sincere. He loves his mother and Velutha, and he's protective of Rahel. Because he's such a sweet boy, it can be hard to watch what happens to him throughout the novel.
First, a look at Estha in 1969. He is a seven-year-old who loves Elvis Presley (he wears his hair in a puffed-up style to imitate him) and has a very childlike view of the world. He loves The Sound of Music, and one of the book's most heartwarming moments is when he sings so happily from the top of his lungs that he has to leave the movie theater.
Of course, if you've read this part already, you know that things go badly for Estha very quickly. His singing wakes up the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man, who is asleep behind the refreshment counter. The Orangedrink Lemondrink Man gets Estha to come behind the counter and molests him. After this experience, Estha's view of the world completely changes. No longer is it a happy and innocent place for him. We see this especially when Estha goes into the factory and thinks his Two Thoughts: "Anything can happen to anyone and It's best to be prepared" (10.28-30). All of a sudden, he realizes that the world can be a scary and unpredictable place.
In fact, this realization is one of the major ways the narrator shows us how Estha and Rahel are different. Estha sees the sinister aspects of the world that Rahel is not familiar with yet. Estha tries to protect Rahel, too, which shows us yet another dimension of his character. Just because he had to lose his innocence doesn't mean Rahel should have to.
That one bad event in Estha's life triggers the next, almost like a domino effect of bad experiences. When Estha fears that the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man might come to Ayemenem to repeat what happened at the movie theater, he reacts in what we might consider a pretty rational way: he thinks about it and makes a plan. Unfortunately, this plan – to row across the river and live at the History House – goes awry. Estha brings Rahel and Sophie Mol with him, and in the process the boat capsizes and Sophie Mol dies.
As if losing his cousin weren't a scary enough experience for Estha, the domino effect continues: Baby Kochamma blames Velutha for "abducting" the kids, and when the police come for Velutha, it just so happens that Estha and Rahel are there to see him beaten to a bloody pulp. To make matters worse, Baby Kochamma tricks Estha into thinking that Ammu will die in prison unless he speaks against Velutha. This moment is the straw that breaks the camel's back: "Estha's mouth said Yes. Childhood tiptoed out. Silence slid in like a bolt" (19.81-83). The cherry on top for Estha is that he is forced to leave Rahel and Ammu behind to go live with the father he hasn't seen since he was a toddler. Estha's childhood, as portrayed in the novel, is rough and scarring.
Let's fast forward to June 1993. Estha has been re-Returned to Ayemenem, and the man we meet is introspective, brooding, and somewhat lost. We learn that Estha has stopped speaking entirely. A shadow of his former self, he spends his days going for long walks and doing the household chores, which mostly involve washing his clothes with crumbling blue soap. When Rahel comes back, however, something changes:
It had been quiet in Estha's head until Rahel came. But with her she had brought the sound of passing trains, and the light and shade and light and shade that falls on you if you have a window seat. The world, locked out for years, suddenly flooded in, and now Estha couldn't hear himself for the noise. (1.92)
Estha's reunion with Rahel brings back a number of painful memories that up until this moment he has kept packed away. Estha and Rahel end up delving through many memories of their childhood, and he notices how much she looks like their mother. At the end of the novel, he and Rahel have sex – though it happens so quickly and quietly that we barely notice it – and grieve together for all that they've lost.