Great change is accompanied by drumbeats in Rukmani’s life. Drummers first appear to call laborers into the village, and Rukmani loses her first two sons to Ceylon. Ira has a drummer and a fiddler for her wedding before she leaves her mother’s home. Drumbeats announce the widespread devastation of the flood that destroys their crops. Drummers emphasize the passion and joy of Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, which marks a highlight for Rukmani as well as the conception of her last child. When Raja is killed by the tannery guards, Rukmani listens to the drumbeats at his funeral pyre until they die away. Just before Nathan dies, Rukmani buys Puli a dum-dum cart that plays a drum as it is pulled along. With their insistent rhythm, drumbeats announce and predict each change of circumstance.
Again and again, Rukmani confronts those who are different and learns from her encounters. From the Muslim wife of a tannery official she learns that possessions are less important than freedom. From the tannery official who visits after Raja’s death, she learns that a cold and mercenary heart creates a chasm between people that cannot be crossed. From Kenny she learns that some strangers care enough about the suffering of others to contribute funds for a hospital. From Das, the servant in the city, she learns the value of kindness to the destitute. From a helpful stranger, she learns there is food for the poor at the temple. From Puli she learns that family can be created through generosity. Rukmani’s life is enriched by the strangers who enter it.