Clear Light of Day Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In early summer, Tara, now a mature wife and mother, returns with her husband to the childhood home in Old Delhi where her sister Bim and brother Baba still live. Tara’s triannual visit to India is punctuated by a special event: the wedding of brother Raja’s oldest daughter. Tara has become an adult woman, happily engaged in her official duties as the spouse of a foreign diplomat and the anxieties of rearing children in an alien culture. Despite Bim’s active teaching career, the elder sister is preoccupied with the family’s past. Obsessively recalling prior injuries, Bim is preoccupied with her role as family martyr. Like Baba, who is mindlessly engrossed in his 1947 record collection, Bim is trapped in the past.

As their niece’s wedding draws closer, the two sisters’ initial uneasiness with each other develops into a tension marked by awkward conversations and equally uncomfortable silences. Bim, for reasons Tara cannot at first understand, refuses to attend the family celebration; the psychologically disabled Baba is absorbed in his world of old phonograph records and solitary games, and the wedding exists in a reality beyond his comprehension. Urging Bim to explain the tremendous anger she feels toward Raja, who was once her closest intimate, Tara elicits Bim’s, and her own, reminiscences of youth.

Their reminiscence takes them back to the violent summer of 1947, when, with the Indian independence and the founding of Pakistan...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

Clear Light of Day Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, Bim Das, an unmarried teacher, lives in her longtime family home in Old Delhi, India, with her autistic brother, Baba. Their sister Tara and her husband, Bakul, a diplomat, live in Washington, D.C. They come to Delhi for a brief visit on their way to their niece’s wedding. As soon as their two teenage daughters join them, Tara and Bakul plan to go to Hyderabad to attend the wedding. The bride is a daughter of Raja, the oldest of the four Das children.

Bim insists that she will not attend the wedding; she no longer has anything to do with Raja. Bim expresses her resentment at being saddled with the house and with Baba while Tara and Raja live exciting lives. As they talk, the women hear the sound of Baba’s phonograph, which he plays constantly. Bakul emerges from his room, eager to go into New Delhi to visit friends and family, and urges Tara to accompany him. However, though she no longer feels the same joy at being home as she did before Bim started to complain, Tara stays with her sister.

After Bim has finished teaching her class, she shows Tara a letter that Raja wrote to her after the death of his father-in-law, Hyder Ali, who left his property to Raja. Bim is still angry because in the letter Raja made it clear that he was now her landlord, thus implying that he ranked above Bim. That night, Bim, Tara, and Bakul visit the Das family’s longtime neighbors the Misras, but they leave after Mulk Misra, one of the grown sons of the family, gets drunk and becomes obnoxious.

In 1947, the Partition of India has resulted in sectarian strife. Hindu radicals at Raja’s school pressure him to join their movement, but after he contracts tuberculosis and is confined to his home they leave him alone. In fact, although they are Hindus, the members of the Das family have always been friendly with their Muslim neighbor Hyder Ali, and he has taken a special interest in Raja. Hearing of his interest in Islamic culture, the scholarly Muslim has given Raja access to his library and has included him in his circle of...

(The entire section is 851 words.)

Clear Light of Day Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Clear Light of Day is known for its unmatched power of conveying the atmosphere of decadence. It takes place in Delhi, in the summer of 1947—the year of India’s independence and partition. Through the interplay of memory and introspection, the novel re-creates the dull, stagnant lives of a middle-class Bengali family—the Das household. Desai describes the novel as “a four-dimensional piece on how a family moves backwards and forwards in a period of time.” Accordingly, the novel is divided into four parts.

The first part of the novel is set in the present. The second part deals with the past immediately preceding the present. The third part delves into an earlier past, and the fourth part brings the time sequence back to the present again, with an eye toward the future. Desai’s control of the narrative, as characters slip into their subconscious and examine the past, shows her mastery of the stream-of-consciousness technique.

The novel begins when Tara returns from the United States with her diplomat husband to visit her childhood home in Delhi. Bim, her unmarried older sister, still lives in the house with her youngest brother, Baba, who is mentally retarded. Their parents are dead, and their older brother, Raja, has abandoned the family to live in another city as the rich heir of his Muslim father-in-law’s estate. As a result, Bim is left alone to take care of the house, her retarded brother, and her father’s...

(The entire section is 552 words.)