Construction begins on a tannery (where animal hides are cured for other uses) in Rukmani’s village. The building of the tannery is quite a spectacle. Lots of men from the outside world come in with carts and bricks. The colonial structure is in place here, too: there is an Indian boss oversees the builders; a white man oversees the entire operation.
The tannery changes how people work in the village: the building workmen are paid well, and the village people are occupied in supplying their mounting needs, from rope and bricks to fruit and sweetmeats. The workmen bring in their families and live in little huts with them, mostly isolated from villagers.
In two months, the tannery is completed, and the workmen suddenly disappear. Everything is quiet in the village for a while, which gives people time to reflect on the influence of the workmen. While Rukmani resented the noise brought with them, she, like many others, benefited economically from being able to sell to the workers.
Rukmani regrets that the tannery has come to her village. Nathan assures her that they will be back, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Sure enough, Nathan is right: new men replace the men who left. They bring their wives and families, but they also bring pollution, the stink of liquor brewing, their noisy habits, and all-around calamity.
The tannery also results in new parental restrictions for Ira. Up until this time, Ira had been allowed to roam freely, but neighbors notice that suddenly the men are paying attention to the young girl. She is beautiful, if only thirteen. Rukmani and Nathan suddenly curtail her freedom to protect her from the workmen, and to protect the family from gossip. Though Ira resents the new limitations, she is obedient.