To estrange oneself from aspects of their history is a means of self-protection. In the case of Mala Ramchandin, it’s that her older coping self, Mala, acts explicitly as a guardian and protector to her imaginary, estranged self, and disassociating her emotional selves allows both her traumatic self to be comforted by a sisterly figure, and for her in the present day to avoid the subject. To Mala, coping is being afforded moments of levity in which she, and her history, can exist without the context of her traumas and simultaneously continue to navigate a reality (her home) in which the context is ever relevant. Through this, she is able to compartmentalize (literally—her father was placed in a compartment), and she is rendered stiff and withdrawn when the compartment is forced open, so that nobody can attempt to pry it open further.
Yet, another example of estrangement in the novel is the narrator’s concealment of their own true gender and named identity by the point of its conclusion: we aren’t afforded the knowledge of what it is that lies beneath the veil of “Tyler,” or “Ty,” but we learn that something is there. Closeting, and estrangement from the public underneath a gender-compliant face acts as a means of protection so that the true, queer identity can exist without the context of transphobia (that context being someone like Toby, for example). To quote:
“Lately restraint and I have been hostile strangers to one another. I find myself defying caution.” (246)
Restraint, and caution, here, is the “putting on” of Tyler, the gendered face which protects the narrator from having to navigate dangerous contexts. Mala, being aware of disassociation and the estrangement of the self, is the first to nurture a different context in their moments alone together (a place where nobody is asking any questions, and a place where they are given a reason or an excuse to wear the women’s nursing outfit). The narrator’s defining moment in part V is when they finally declares, and formally accepts Otoh’s presence as an environment where they can declare themself without Tyler’s protection.