The book is split into four sections covering the Das family from the children’s perspective in this order: adulthood, adolescence, childhood, and the time perspective returns to adulthood.
The book centers on the Das family, who have grown apart with adulthood. It starts with Tara, the wife of Bakul, India’s ambassador to America, greeting her sister Bimla (Bim), who is a history teacher living in Old Delhi as well as their autistic brother Baba’s caretaker. Their conversation eventually comes to Raja, their brother who lives in Hyderabad. Bim doesn’t want to go to the wedding of Raja’s daughter, showing Tara an old letter from when Raja became her landlord, unintentionally insulting her after the death of his father in law.
In part two the setting switches to partition era India, when the characters are adolescents in what is now Bim’s house. Raja is severely ill with tuberculosis and is left to Bim’s ministrations. Aunt Mira (Mira masi), their supposed caretaker after the death of the children’s often absent parents, becomes alcoholic and dies of alcoholism. Earlier Raja’s fascination with Urdu attracts the attention of the family’s Muslim landlord, Hyder Ali, whom Raja Idolizes. When he heals, Raja follows Hyder Ali to Hyderabad. Tara escapes from the situation through marriage to Bakul. Bim is then left to provide for Baba alone, in the midst of the partition and the death of Gandhi.
In part three Bim, Raja and Tara are represented in pre-partition India awaiting the birth of their brother Baba. Aunt Mira, widowed by her husband and mistreated by her in-laws, is brought in to help with Baba, who is autistic, and to raise the children.
Raja is fascinated with poetry. He shares a close bond with Bim, the head girl at school, although they often exclude Tara. Tara wants to be a mother although this fact brings ridicule from Raja and Bim, who want to be a hero and a heroine, respectively.
The final section returns to modern India and showcases Tara confronting Bim over the Raja’s daughter’s wedding and Bim’s broken relationship with Raja. This climaxes when Bim explodes at Baba. After her anger fades she comes to the conclusion that the love of family is irreplaceable and can cover all wrongs. After Tara leaves she decides to go to her neighbors the Misras for a concert and she then decides that she will go to the wedding.
Clear Light of Day is divided into four sections; the first and fourth sections are located in the present novelistic moment, and the two middle chapters are memories of the summer of 1948, when political and personal events came to a head in the Das family. By building the two central chapters up to a dramatic pitch, Anita Desai weaves together the political and personal past of the Das sisters, Bim and Tara, whose reminiscences and reconciliation constitute the plot. The main theme of the novel concerns a reinterpretation of past events that have cast...