Chapters 1-2 Summary
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel Sister of My Heart (1999) relates the emotional story of two young Calcutta girls—Anju, who is from a high caste in India, and Sudha, who is more beautiful. The girls were born on the same night after their mothers learned that both the girls’ fathers had died. The fathers had been cousins, so Anju’s and Sudha’s mothers remained living together, allowing the girls to grow up almost as sisters. Over the years, they nurtured a relationship that was so strong their relatives had trouble understanding it. The story of these two young women has been described by Anderson Tepper, writing for The New York Times Book Review, as a “bittersweet fairy tale.”
When the book opens, the narrator, Sudha, is listening while her aunt Pishi tells an old myth that says the Bidhata Purush (a god) comes to the birth of each child to foretell the baby’s fate. Knowing the god is coming, parents leave sweets at the side of the baby’s crib. If the food has been consumed by morning, the child will grow up lucky. However, another portion of this story proclaims that after the Bidhata Purush has visited, a demon might also appear. So throughout the night a lamp is left lighted or a holy priest is asked to protect the doorway to the nursery.
When Anju hears this story, she teases about how untrue the myth is. She says it is not the Bidhata Purush who eats the food left at the side of the baby’s bed; rather, the family’s servants eat the food. Anju also tells Sudha that she does not believe in demons.
Sudha relates that she and Anju have three mothers, and this is probably to make up for the fact that they have no fathers. Their mothers, as she refers to them, include Pishi, a widowed aunt, who lost her husband at age eighteen. Pishi takes care of the Sudha and Anju while their real mothers are out of the house. Anju’s mother is called Gouri Ma; she comes from a long lineage of well-respected Indian families. Sudha thinks Gouri Ma is noble and brave, and she wants to be just like her. Sudha’s mother is Nalini, whose skin is golden and whose laughter sounds like “jeweled ankle bells.”
After Pishi is finished with her story about the Bidhata Purush, Sudha gathers her courage and asks if, in the morning after her birth, her mother found that the god of fate had eaten the food. After pausing as if reluctant to convey the truth, Pishi tells Sudha that...
(The entire section is 635 words.)
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Chapters 3-4 Summary
Sudha is more interested than Anju is in learning details concerning their fathers’ histories and deaths. Anju believes that if Sudha is always looking backward, she will never go anywhere in life. Although Sudha senses there might be some truth in Anju’s belief, she still craves to know more about her father. Since the girls’ Aunt Pishi is the most reliable source for information, Sudha turns to the older woman and asks her to tell her about her father.
Pishi tells Sudha that she is reluctant to relate the story. She says that she is afraid the information might ruin part of Sudha’s childhood and destroy great portions of her love. If this happens, Pishi tells her, Sudha might resent Pishi for telling her what she thinks she wants to hear. But Sudha insists and finally Pishi relents.
Sudha’s father, Gopal, came to Pishi’s family estate in the middle of a drought. All the crops on the estate and all around the country were dying. The day Gopal arrived, the rain began to fall. This was why Bijoy, Anju’s father (and Pishi’s older brother), invited Gopal and his new bride to live with them: Bijoy believed Gopal father brought good luck. The longer Gopal stayed with the family, the more Bijoy learned about Gopal’s unique character, which was just the opposite of Bijoy’s. While Bijoy was cautious and conservative, Gopal was not afraid of taking risks.
As Gopal’s stay at Bijoy’s house lengthened, Bijoy lost more and more money. Gopal was good at coming up with schemes on how to create wealth, but he always had to borrow money from Bijoy to make these dreams come true. Unfortunately, the dreams never unfolded as Gopal wanted them to. Then one day, Gopal returned home with a small ruby in his hand. He had met a man who promised to show him where a cave full of rubies was. Gopal convinced Bijoy to lend him more money so he could travel into the jungle to find this cave. Bijoy agreed but insisted on going with Gopal. This was the perfect adventure Bijoy had been waiting for.
The day before the journey was to begin, Bijoy received a letter that he shared with his sister, Pishi. The letter informed Bijoy that Gopal was not his cousin, as Gopal had claimed. Gopal was an imposter, completely unrelated to Bijoy’s family. Pishi was angered by this news and begged her brother not to venture into the jungle with Gopal. But Bijoy was not as concerned as his sister was. He told her he would...
(The entire section is 711 words.)
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Chapters 5-6 Summary
Sudha and Anju are now sixteen and feel tired of being treated like children. They have also grown bored of their traditionally styled clothing. On top of this, a new romantic movie has come to town, and its massive advertising campaign has the girls longing to go to the theater. They cannot ask permission to see the new film because their mothers would not allow them to go. According to Anju, their only choice is to skip their afternoon classes to see the film, which they do. Not only do they sneak out of school, they also go shopping for new dresses and makeup.
Once inside the theater, the girls go to the bathroom to change their clothes and apply the lipstick they have purchased. The transformation they see in the mirror is astonishing. They are becoming women, they realize. The new outfits show off their womanly figures and the makeup highlights their maturing features.
They walk into the crowded movie hall and find their seats. After the film has begun, Sudha hears a male voice inquire if the seat next to her is taken. Sudha picks up the school bag she has placed in the vacant seat, and she notes how handsome the young man is. For the remaining hour of the movie, Sudha has trouble focusing on the plot and the characters who are portrayed on the screen. All she wants to do is look at the man sitting next to her.
At the end of the movie, the man, who is obviously attracted to Sudha, hears Anju tell her that they must leave if they want to get back to the school without being found missing. Once the young man hears Sudha’s name, he repeats it. Then he tells Sudha his name, Ashok Ghosh. Hearing his last name, Sudha realizes he belongs to a lower caste than the one with which Sudha is privileged to be associated. This does not bother Sudha, though she knows if anything should happen to develop between them, her family would not be comfortable with this young man due to his social standing. Anju pulls on Sudha, demanding that Sudha not tell the man her last name when he asks for it. However, Sudha does not listen to Anju. Sudha also tells the man where she lives.
When the girls return to the bathroom to change back into their school uniforms, Anju admonishes Sudha for being so forward. She reminds Sudha how much trouble they could find waiting for them at home if their mothers ever found out where they have been and to whom they have talked. Unbeknownst to the girls, one of their mothers’ friends...
(The entire section is 588 words.)
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Chapters 7-8 Summary
Sudha has trouble sleeping that night. She tosses and turns, entangled in sheets that feel too hot. The heat begins to make her very thirsty, so she wanders into the hallway to find the pitcher of water that is kept there. She thinks she might also go into Anju’s room and lie down with her. Anju always has a way of soothing Sudha’s troubled mind. However, on her way down the hall, Sudha notices that her mother’s bedroom door is slightly ajar. Light pours out through the crack. Sudha walks up to the door as silently as she can and looks inside her mother’s room. She sees her mother standing at the far window, staring at the moon. This reminds Sudha of a nursery rhyme her mother used to sing for her. The lyrics tell of how a young mother puts all her hopes in her beautiful daughter. Then Sudha hears her mother crying out in a soft, sad voice. She is repeating Sudha’s name as if it is causing her pain. After hearing her mother’s voice, Sudha turns around and goes back to bed, determined that she will not be the source of any more suffering her mother must endure.
The next day, when Anju tries to convince Sudha to fight against Nalini’s harsh punishment, Anju is disappointed that Sudha does not appear to have any desire to do so. Anju says Sudha cannot just sit back and let her mother ruin her life. Sudha must go to college as the two girls have planned for most of their young lives.
Sudha tells Anju that she has been up all night, evaluating what her mother plans for her. Sudha says she has no real interest in going to college. She will still learn things. When Anju teases Sudha that all she will learn is how to make dinner and take care of a house, Sudha says that would be all right for her. Anju then recalls all the times she and Sudha used to draw pictures of what they wanted their futures to look like. While Anju created pictures of adventurous travel and exotic jobs, Sudha only drew the same picture over and over again. All Sudha wanted was a husband and several children. Anju asks whether there is nothing else Sudha might want for herself besides a family. To Anju’s surprise, Sudha tells her she wants to be a clothes designer.
Although Anju thinks Sudha would be very happy in this profession, she worries that Nalini will not like the idea. The role of tailor in Indian culture does not bring with it a high position. However, if designing clothes is what would make Sudha happy, Anju wonders what...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
As another year passes, Sudha realizes that what remains of her freedom is quickly coming to an end. She will soon be finished with high school. From then on, she will be confined to the house or to her mother’s company. In contrast, Anju will be released into the adult world as she goes on to college and explores life beyond her family. Sudha is saddened by the knowledge that she and Anju will soon travel down separate paths. Sudha wonders if their lives will become so different that Anju will find her boring.
Sudha’s spirits are only kept elevated by thoughts of Ashok. She has seen him briefly a few times on the way to school. Ashok appears on the street when the car in which Sudha and Anju are riding passes by. Sudha believes Ashok must be purposefully waiting for her. She cannot even wave to him because this would give her away to Ramur Ma, who constantly chaperones the girls wherever they go.
One time Sudha sees him, Ashok pulls an envelope out of his shirt and motions with it as if he wants to give it to her. Sudha subtly signals for him to stop. Ashok then presses the letter to his heart. To her own surprise for being so forward, Sudha reflects Ashok’s sentiment by placing her hand on her heart. Then she sees Ashok put the envelope to his lips. She longs to read what the young man has written, but she fears she will never have the chance.
On the day of the girls’ graduation, their mothers are distracted as they prepare for a dinner celebration they are holding that evening. The mothers are so busy they enlist Ramur Ma to help them. For this one day, Sudha and Anju will ride in the car without their chaperone.
As Singhji, their driver, takes them to school, Sudha sees Ashok standing next to a bookstall. He is watching the cars drive by so as not to miss Sudha. Without thinking of the consequences, Sudha suddenly asks Singhji to pull over to the sidewalk. Anju holds her breath. Singhji could turn the car around and take them back home to inform their mothers about Sudha’s request. If their mothers ever found out that Singhji stopped the car to allow Sudha to talk to the young man, Singhji could lose his job. Although Singhji hesitates and drives past the young man, he eventually stops the car at the curb. The only thing he says to the girls is for Sudha to be quick.
Before the car even stops, Sudha rolls down the window. Ashok hurries to the car. Anju is surprised by how...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
All the family members as well as some of the oldest servants crowd into Gouri Ma’s bedroom as they wait for the doctor to arrive. Gouri Ma is lying on her side, clutching the bedsheets as if she is in great pain. When Singhji brings the doctor to the room, the doctor suggests that most of the people leave. Gouri Ma needs privacy and silence. No one wants to move, so Singhji escorts everyone out into the hallway.
While waiting, Sudha hears a flapping sound outside. She fears it is the ghost of Gouri Ma’s husband. Legend tells that when someone is ill, those who were closest to the sick person return to earth to guide the dying person to the other side. The flapping sounds continue, so Sudha stands up, opens the window, and tells the ghosts to go away.
When the doctor comes out of Gouri Ma’s room, he tells everyone that the woman is very ill. Although it goes against his instructions for complete silence, Gouri Ma has insisted on seeing her daughter, Anju. Nalini orders Sudha to go to bed. However, when Nalini falls asleep in her own bedroom, Sudha sneaks out to Anju’s room to wait for her. An hour or so later, Anju finally returns. She is laughing almost hysterically but refuses to tell Sudha what is so funny. Anju is too tired now to talk; she will tell Sudha in the morning. The news that has roused Anju is that her mother is insisting on marrying her off—without giving her time to attend college.
In the morning, this news spreads throughout the house. Both Sudha and Anju will begin preparations for marriage. They are forced to take lessons in cooking, preserving their looks, and ways to keep their husbands happy.
Meanwhile, as Gouri Ma’s health improves, she joins Sudha’s mother and Pishi in selecting husbands for the girls. They have hired a matchmaker who supplies proposals from families who have marriageable sons. The women discuss which offer is best and which match best might suit their daughters. The girls are not told which families have applied. Over time, the women only tell them whether a good match has been found.
As Anju notices the sadness reflected Sudha’s face, she tells Sudha that she is going to go to her mother and tell her about Sudha’s attraction to Ashok. However, Sudha tells Anju that she does not want her to interfere. Sudha reminds Anju of one of the many fairy tales Pishi told them when they were children. The prince, Sudha tells Anju, must...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
Sudha discovers that her mother has accepted a potential proposal for her marriage. The young man comes from a distinguished and wealthy family, but he has suffered the loss of his father, much like Sudha. Although the prospective groom is not very handsome, he is a hard worker and has a good job. The groom’s mother reports that a dowry is not important because her son has enough money of his own. The reason the mother is proposing this marriage is, she says quite frankly, that she wants a beautiful daughter-in-law so she will have beautiful grandsons. This is enough to impress Sudha’s mother, so she arranges a meeting of the two families.
This news strains Sudha’s nerves. She barely gets any sleep and she drives Anju crazy with her constant pacing. Then one day Anju notices a change in Sudha’s behavior. Sudha, despite the arrangements her mother has made, is acting quite calm. Sudha even has an almost constant smile on her face, as if she were hiding a pleasant secret. When Anju asks Sudha to tell her what is going on, Sudha tells Anju that she must wait before she tells her the details. She does not want to jinx something she has planned.
What Sudha has done in secret is gone to Singhji, the driver servant, and asked him for a favor. The old man, who has been a father figure to Sudha most of her life, was swayed by Sudha’s tears. He promised her that he will come up with a plan.
In the meantime, to please her mother, Sudha meets with the family of the proposed groom and acts quite graciously. She answers the young man’s mother’s questions successfully and politely. The mother approves of Sudha’s answers and her good looks. Although the young man reportedly holds down a good job, he is not quite as impressive. Pishi even questions if they have made the right choice for Sudha. The man seems dull. His mother is very pushy.
Curiously, as Anju notes, Sudha does not seem affected by this visit. Not only has it not depressed her but Sudha seems to have an inner glow that could only be explained by a hidden source of happiness. Finally Sudha tells Anju what is going on. Singhji has found out where Ashok lives and has gone to visit the young man. Singhji told Ashok what is happening in Sudha’s family. Ashok told Singhji he had been waiting to hear from Sudha’s mother. His family had made an offer. On hearing about the recent developments, Ashok concluded that their offer had been turned...
(The entire section is 481 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
Sudha convinces her mother that she has promised the gods to pray at the Kalighat temple before she is married. Her mother agrees that Sudha has the right to do this and allows her daughter to go alone with Singhji. It is at the Kalighat temple that Sudha has arranged to meet Ashok. When they arrive, Singhji tells her that they must be home in one hour. So although Sudha feels very nervous about being alone with Ashok for the first time, she quickly overcomes her shyness.
When she walks into the temple, she sees Ashok standing in a corner waiting for her as he promised. Sudha immediately tells Ashok that her marriage has been arranged to take place in one month from this date. Whatever they can do, they must do it without wasting any more time. Ashok says that making another proposal to her mother is out of the question because her mother turned the first proposal down. They must approach this in a different way. With this, Ashok tells Sudha that their only option is to elope.
On hearing this word, Sudha shudders. She is quite aware of all the ramifications of this action. If she goes through with it, her family disowns her, which means she will never again be allowed inside the only house she has ever lived in. She may never again see her mother or her aunts. The hardest thing to accept is that she may have to give up Anju.
After Sudha returns home, she tells Anju what she and Ashok have decided. Anju is very fearful for Sudha. She worries that Ashok could merely want to go to bed with Sudha and then refuse to marry her. Sudha would be ruined for life. Another one of Anju’s worries is that although Ashok wants Sudha, his parents might not. She asks where Sudha will live while Ashok is still a student in college. Despite all Anju’s worries, Sudha is convinced that love will take care of everything. She completely trusts Ashok and plans to go ahead with the elopement. Anju promises to help all she can.
Later, the family receives news that their bookstore has been sold. Since her illness, Gouri Ma has insisted that they can no longer keep the store. They also are in need of cash to pay for the girls’ weddings. Although Anju had argued with her mother about the store and promised to take over the business for her ailing mother, Gouri Ma insisted that the store must go. So the announcement of the sale, in general, is good news.
While at the bookstore, helping the new owner inventory all...
(The entire section is 546 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
Anju’s prospective in-laws come to visit the family. The mother apologizes for her son, Sunil, who acted too boldly in introducing himself to Anju at the bookstore rather than waiting for the official meeting between the families. Sunil, the mother believes, has been influenced by the Americans; he has been living in California for the past couple of years. Sunil’s father is not impressed with his son’s independence either, though he is thankful Sunil did not bring an American wife back to India.
Sudha observes the members of this family that will soon claim Anju. She realizes immediately that the father, Mr. Majumdar, rules the clan and that he is very closed minded. Although he is Indian, the man refuses to eat most of the Indian food Sudha’s family has prepared. She is thankful that once Anju receives her visa after the marriage, she will not have to live with Sunil’s family.
As the conversation continues between the two families, Sudha also observes that Mr. Majumdar seems very uncomfortable when the people around him are not focusing on him. He demands the spotlight even to the point of telling Sunil to be quiet when he ventures to express his thoughts. But what bothers Sudha the most is Mr. Majumdar’s statement about not wanting to have anything to do with family scandal. If he were to find out that a prospective bride or her family had in their history a secret relationship, unmarried pregnancy, or any woman who had run away from her family to marry a man of her own choice, he would break off the engagement. If he discovered these scandals after his son’s wedding, he would dissolve the marriage immediately.
This statement horrifies Sudha. She is now torn between choosing Anju’s happiness or her own. She looks at Anju, who has obviously fallen in love with Sunil. Although Sudha’s heart is breaking at the thought of it, she knows she must tell Ashok they cannot elope. If they did, Mr. Majumdar would not allow Sunil to marry Anju. This means Sudha must go ahead with the wedding her mother has planned for her.
As Sudha ponders her fate, she wonders why she has been punished. Why is she the one who is being forced to live an unhappy life? Then she realizes that it is not her bad karma that is making her suffer but the karma of her father, who lied his way into this family and who was responsible for the circumstances that led to the death of Anju’s father. Sudha must pay for the...
(The entire section is 620 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
As Anju and Sudha prepare for their wedding, Anju reflects on how much her life is going to change. She will not have Sudha to turn to any more. Anju tells Sudha that no one can replace her. No one will ever know her as well as Sudha does. Sudha tells Anju that she now has Sunil to talk to and to love. However, this does not alter Anju’s sentiments. She tells Sudha that her love for her is different.
After Anju leaves and Sudha is in her room alone, Singhji knocks on the door and enters with his arms full of letters and packages. For the past several days, these deliveries have become commonplace as friends of the family have sent their congratulations for the wedding that is to take place the next day. However, as Sudha sorts through the mail without any enthusiasm for her pending marriage, she notices one packet that has no return address. She grows curious and decides to open it. When she does, she gasps in shock. The package is filled with money. So much money spills out from the package that Singhji, who is still promoting Sudha’s elopement, tells her it is enough money to support her and Ashok for several years. Sudha pushes her hand through the money until she finds a small note. It states that the sender wishes her all the happiness she can attain. It is signed, “Your Father.”
Sudha rushes to Pishi’s room to tell her aunt what has just happened. Neither of them can believe Sudha’s father is alive. Once this news settles in their thoughts, they are horrified by what this must mean. They wonder, if Sudha’s father is alive, how did Anju’s father die? Could Sudha’s father have been the murderer? With these thoughts, Sudha pushes the cash-stuffed envelope at Pishi. She tells her aunt to take the money to the temple and distribute it to the poor. Sudha wants nothing to do with this blood-stained gift. They vow to keep the note and the package a secret. If this news were to get out, Anju would not be allowed to marry Sunil.
The heat is stifling the next day. Both Anju and Sudha are suffering under heavy makeup and jewels and costumes as they endure the traditional wedding rituals. Both of the girls are very distracted. Anju cannot stop worrying about Sudha, who looks lost, as if she were living in a different place than all the rest of them. Sudha looks neither happy nor sad, as if she has removed herself from her own emotions. On top of this, Anju cannot help but notice how Sunil continues to...
(The entire section is 602 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
As Sudha sits on her new bed, the one her husband’s parents used to share, Sudha reflects on her wedding day. She knows that she was in a daze through much of the ceremony and the party afterward. She was marrying a stranger, and she had thrown away the only man she loved. Then with Anju’s attack on her and assumption that Sudha was guilty of luring Sunil, Sudha feels that there is nothing left to keep her from full despair.
As Sudha waits for her new husband to come to the bedroom, she shivers and shakes. After hearing what her aunties had to tell her about the wedding night, Sudha is not looking forward to going to bed with Ramesh. She hears his footsteps coming up the stairs. He is with a group of his male friends, who tease him before he opens the door. When he comes over and sits on the side of the bed, he reaches for Sudha’s hand. She pulls away from him. Ramesh asks if he is so ugly that she does not want to touch him. With this, Sudha suddenly feels warmth for her husband. She is sorry he feels so humbled. She tells him that it is not his fault. She is just very nervous. Ramesh tells her they do not have to consummate their marriage that night. They can wait until they learn to be friends.
Meanwhile Anju, in another part of the city, is falling more in love with Sunil. He absolutely delights her. He takes time to show her sights of the city she has never seen before. He is attentive to her needs. She has no doubt that he loves her. She is even able to rise to the level of his passion in bed. The only mar on her wedding is her new father-in-law. The man is worse than anything Anju could have imagined a man could be.
Although Anju has become friends with Sunil’s mother, who dotes on her, Sunil’s mother completely changes when Sunil’s father comes home. Sunil’s mother keeps her head bowed at all times in her husband’s presence. She talks in a meek voice and constantly works to please the man. But Sunil’s father seems to go out of his way to find reasons to criticize his wife. At one point, during a dinner, Sunil’s father even throws a dish of food at his wife, complaining that he told her before never to fix such rubbish. Even though Sunil’s mother says she fixed in for Sunil, her husband tells her that he cannot stand the smell of it. When the dish was tossed at her, the sauce spilled all over her sari.
Sunil stands up to his father and says he is tired of seeing his...
(The entire section is 621 words.)
Chapters 23-24 Summary
Sudha has found a pleasant harmony in her new life as a wife. Although she has many new responsibilities, she feels comfortable, as if she belongs to her new family. Ramesh is gentle with her and his mother trusts her. Sudha works harder than she ever did as a girl, but she finds satisfaction in her chores. Even her relationship with her mother-in-law comes as a surprise. Sudha had often listened to her mother’s friends tell cynical tales of how horrible mothers-in-law could be toward their new daughters, but Sudha finds none of this. Ramesh’s mother has turned over all responsibilities, except the financial ones, to Sudha. Sudha cooks for and watches over Ramesh’s teenaged brothers. She makes sure the daily household routine is carried out, and this leaves time for Ramesh’s mother to relax.
Although Sudha continues to think of Ashok, his memory is fading. Sudha knows she will never have the same passion for her new husband that she once had for Ashok, but she is enjoying their developing—though still platonic—friendship. The only thing missing in Sudha’s life is Anju.
Anju has moved back to her family’s home as she waits for her visa to arrive, which will allow her to travel to the United States to be with Sunil. When Sudha visits or phones to ask how Anju is doing, their conversations remain unnaturally strained. They must talk about general topics such as the weather or share brief stories about their new lives. They feel they must always be on guard to not mention Sunil. Anju’s criticism of Sudha in relationship to Sunil remains at the back of their minds, clouding everything they say. So far Anju has also refused to visit Sudha’s new home. Then, one day, when she finally receives her visa and must begin preparations to leave India, Anju gives in and accepts Sudha’s invitation.
All the way there, as Anju sits on the stuffy train to reach Bardhaman, Anju berates herself for having accepted Sudha’s suggestion to visit her. But when she finally sees Sudha at the train station, all the warm memories of their childhood overtake her. Anju realizes that she is very happy to see Sudha. Not until they reach Sudha’s new home does Anju’s mood change.
As Anju observes Sudha’s new life, she questions how subservient Sudha has become. Sudha works as hard as a maid, allowing Ramesh’s mother to order her about. Sudha rarely has a moment to herself. Even in the middle of a...
(The entire section is 607 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary
Sudha has now been married for more than three years. Her relationship with Ramesh, although no longer platonic, is friendly but still lacks passion. However, Sudha has embraced her new life. She enjoys playing the role of dutiful wife and daughter-in-law. Although she cannot say that she is happy, she admits that she feels content. She is confident that Ramesh and his family like her, and she has learned to return their affections.
Anju is living in America and often sends letters to Sudha, telling her of this new country and all its strange customs. Anju is enrolled in school and is learning the more relaxed lifestyle of the American young people. Sudha relishes Anju’s letters and jealously guards them from the peering eyes of both Ramesh and his mother. When one of Anju’s letters arrives, Sudha carries it around with her, tucked into her blouse, until she has time to lock herself in the bathroom and read it in privacy. When Sudha is finished reading the letter, she burns it so no one else will know of Anju’s experiences. The knowledge contained in the letters will be kept safe in Sudha’s memories, where they are hers alone.
In contrast to Anju’s exciting letters, Sudha believes her letters are very bland. Her daily routine is rather monotonous, with no titillating secrets. Sudha’s life has become dedicated to usefulness; that is where she now finds happiness. The only regret Sudha has time to consider is that she has not become pregnant. She had hoped she would have a child by now, giving her something in which to pour her longing and passion. However, she has not yet been so blessed and being pressured by her mother-in-law to produce a grandchild.
In the United States, Anju is not as happy as her letters suggest. Although her days are full, she is exhausted by her schedule. She barely has time to think and has discovered that she hates to cook. She and Sunil are not getting along very well either. First there is Sunil’s attraction to Sudha. This makes Anju attempt to completely avoid any conversations that include Sudha’s name. However, the absence of Sudha’s name only makes Sudha’s presence more potent. Anju can feel Sudha sitting between herself and Sunil on the couch or sleeping between them in the bed. Finally, she begins sharing stories with Sunil about her childhood memories of Sudha. When she does, Sunil pays very close attention. This irritates Anju, but she continues her stories...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
The longer Sudha lives with her mother-in-law, the more she realizes the angry, bitter undercurrents that control the woman. When her mother-in-law was a young bride, she was scorned by her own in-laws for not being worthy of their son because she did not come from a rich family. That scorn has shaped much of her life. When her husband died, her female friends talked behind her back, gossiping that her husband died young because she constantly berated him. Now, as the women make fun of her because Sudha has not yet borne her a grandchild, Sudha’s mother-in-law takes out her pain on Sudha. Sudha has already gone to one doctor to find out what was wrong with her. The doctor had pronounced Sudha not only healthy but very capable of producing a child. This is not enough for Sudha’s mother-in-law. She insists that Sudha go to a specialist in Calcutta.
Again, a physician declares that the problem does not lie with Sudha’s body; he suggests it might have something to do with Ramesh. At this news, Sudha’s mother-in-law becomes very upset. The Calcutta doctor gives Sudha the name of a physician who will examine Ramesh and possibly find a cure. Once outside the doctor’s office, Sudha’s mother-in-law demands that Sudha not say anything to Ramesh.
In planning this trip to Calcutta, Sudha and Ramesh accepted an invitation to stay at Sudha’s family home for a few days. Sudha and Ramesh are excited about the mini-vacation away from Ramesh’s mother. Sudha even plans to seduce Ramesh once they go to bed. Afterward, she tells Ramesh what the doctor had told her. Ramesh agrees to have a physical and makes an appointment the following day.
Anju takes advantage of the opportunity of talking to Sudha without Sudha’s mother-in-law eavesdropping on the conversation. Anju telephones the old family home while Sudha is visiting there. Although their conversation is a little more animated than usual, the two young brides are still unable to completely connect on a deeper level. Sudha finally begins to open up and tells Anju a secret. Sudha confesses that she thought she caught a glimpse of Ashok as she was riding to the house. However, Sunil comes into the bedroom while Anju is on the phone. Anju breaks off the conversation to tell him to get out and allow her some privacy. When she attempts to continue her talk with Sudha, her cousin has once again closed Anju out of her life. When Anju hangs up, she cannot control her...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapters 29-30 Summary
Sudha is about to leave her mother’s house. She has enjoyed her visit and is not looking forward to returning to her husband’s home. Before she leaves, she slips out to find Singhji. The old man is happy to see her. He has a letter for her from Ashok. Singhji confirms that Ashok was standing on the corner when Sudha drove past. Singhji often visits with Ashok, sharing with him what he knows of Sudha’s life. Ashok has never married. He has told Singhji that he is still waiting for Sudha.
Sudha is embarrassed by her feelings for Singhji. Her heart is torn when she thinks about how much she would still love being with him. She thinks maybe the baby she has been craving is not Ramesh’s future child but Ashok’s. If she went to Ashok now, it would not interfere with Anju’s marriage because Sunil is no longer even speaking to his father. Sudha takes the letter. Despite her strong desire to be with Ashok, Sudha asks Singhji to tell Ashok to forget her. On the way home, Sudha reads Ashok’s letter, which contains only three words: “Come with me.”
When Sudha arrives at her mother-in-law’s house, the woman is waiting for her and demands that Sudha come with her. They drive to a distant shrine. Sudha’s mother-in-law orders her to go in and pray for fertility. Sudha obeys and enters the shrine alone. Once inside she sees several women lying on the ground. One young girl is crying. She tells Sudha the goddess has spoken to her but she does not understand the message. The girl says the goddess has told her she must choose between the two lovers. Although the girl is confused, Sudha immediately comprehends the message.
In California, meanwhile, Anju is not feeling well. She cannot keep any food down and feels more irritable than usual. Sunil blames her irritability on her menstrual cycle, but Anju states that is exactly the opposite of her problem. She has missed her period and fears she is pregnant. She feels bad for two reasons. The first is that Sunil has told her they cannot afford a child, so she is afraid he will not allow her to keep the baby. The other reason she does not feel well about the possibility of a pregnancy is that she would have to tell Sudha about it. She does not want Sudha to feel unhappy because she cannot get pregnant.
Anju waits as long as she can before she tells Sunil. When she does, she is surprised that her husband is excited about it. He helps Anju adjust her diet...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
Chapters 31-32 Summary
Since Sudha has become pregnant, her mother-in-law has been very gentle with her, encouraging her to sleep in and insisting on helping her with the house chores. Ramesh has also been extra nice, but Sudha has begun to challenge both her mother-in-law’s and her husband’s affections. She wonders if they are being nice to her for herself or for the fact that she has finally produced a grandchild; she worries that their affections are inauthentic.
Sudha’s relationship with Anju, on the other hand, is improving. In the most recent letter from her cousin, Sudha learns that Sunil has changed during Anju’s pregnancy. He is now more attentive to his wife and is very active in helping her through the pregnancy. With this turn in events, Sudha feels that Anju has relaxed. Sudha hopes that with the baby coming, Anju will take her mind off her concerns about Sunil’s having an attraction toward Sudha. With this out of the way, Sudha hopes her relationship with Anju will be rejuvenated.
Anju has sent pictures of herself to Sudha and complains that Sudha has not done the same. Whereas Sunil is more prone to American customs and allows his pregnant wife to have her picture taken, Sudha’s mother-in-law believes it is bad luck to photograph a pregnant woman. So Sudha cannot visually share the shape of her transformed body with Anju.
The last part of Anju’s letter, however, concerns Sudha. A female relative of theirs has given birth to a child with brain damage. Other women in the family have been warned that this could have been caused by a genetic defect. A doctor has proclaimed that any other female relatives who are pregnant should have a special test to determine if their babies are all right. Although Anju is worried about the results of this test, she agrees to have it done. What concerns Sudha, however, is another issue. Neither Anju nor Anju’s mother have suggested that Sudha have the test. This means that they both know that Sudha is not really related to them. They both know Sudha’s father had fraudulently presented himself as a long-lost cousin. Sudha’s mother, on the other hand, insists that Sudha have the same test. She not only tells Sudha to do this but also tells Sudha’s mother-in-law.
Both Sudha and Anju are examined. Both babies are declared healthy. In the process of completing the tests, they are also told the sex of the babies. Anju is to have a son. Sudha is carrying a girl....
(The entire section is 626 words.)
Chapters 33-34 Summary
Sudha’s mother is shocked when she finds her daughter standing at the front door. She should not be traveling alone, especially in her condition, Nalini tells her daughter. When Sudha tells her mother about the abortion, Nalini advises her daughter to return to her husband. She says it is better to go through with the abortion than to face the disgrace and shame of being divorced.
When Pishi hears what is happening, she disagrees with Nalini. Pishi comforts Sudha and encourages her to stay. So does Anju’s mother, Gouri Ma. Later that night, the three older women have a heated discussion, the faint sounds of which Sudha can hear through the bedroom walls. In the end, however, it is decided that Sudha should stay with her mother and her aunts.
It does not take long for Sudha’s mother-in-law to serve Sudha with divorce papers. Sudha is surprised at how much comfort she feels in signing the papers, knowing her marriage is over. Now her life will be focused solely on her daughter. To have enough money to help raise Sudha’s daughter as well as take care of themselves, Gouri Ma and Pishi decide to sell the family home. The large ancient home is crumbling but the land on which the house sits has become quite valuable. They will make enough money for all of them to live well if they move to an apartment.
In California, Anju is again angry with Sunil. He has told her that she made a mistake in suggesting that Sudha go to her mother’s place. Sunil has also suggested that having an abortion is not such a bad idea or a big sacrifice. Sunil’s lack of sensitivity shocks Anju. In time, they make up, which gives Anju a chance to think more deeply about Sudha’s predicament. Anju wonders about the possibility of her bringing Sudha to America.
Over the next couple of days, Anju thinks through all the details of such an arrangement. She makes a list of everything that would have to be done and then calculates how much money it would take. Anju decides she will not ask her husband for the money; instead, she will find a job. She will do all of this in secret. She will work during the day while Sunil is gone and save her money in a special bank account. When she has saved enough to pay for Sudha’s visa and airline tickets, she will tell them both of her plans. Anju imagines Sudha living down the street from them, close enough for their children to be raised together. Anju remembers how creative and skilled...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapters 35-36 Summary
One day, after the house has been sold and Sudha is packing, Sudha is called to the front room. As she recognizes the man who is standing there, her knees weaken. Ashok has come to see her. At first Sudha is angry with him. She berates him for coming to visit her while she is in a condition of social shame. When Sudha is finished expressing herself, Ashok asks her to marry him. He says he has always loved her. Even though his parents tried to marry him off to other women, he never had any interest. He had promised himself that he would wait for Sudha, no matter how long it might take.
Both families are pleased with this arrangement. Ashok’s parents are delighted that their son will finally have a wife. Sudha’s mother and aunts are happy that Sudha’s reputation will be at least partially salvaged.
Over the next few months, Sudha cannot believe how happy she is. She not only will be able to keep her baby, she will also be married to the man who has always been in her heart. They plan their wedding. One night as Sudha is about to get out of the car, Ashok asks Sudha to wait. He has something important to say. He begins by asking her if she believes in honesty between two lovers. Sudha nods. She cannot imagine what he is about to say, but whatever Ashok wants, she is willing to give it to him.
Ashok tells Sudha he is not sure he can love her baby because it is not his. He has talked to Sudha’s mother and aunts and has come up with an alternative plan. Because Ashok and Sudha will need some time to get to know one another, he suggests that after the baby girl is born that they leave her with Sudha’s relatives. In this way, they will have time to set up a house and have a baby of their own. Then, when they have a secure relationship, they might invite Sudha’s daughter to come live with them, as a cousin.
Sudha says she will think over the proposition. Then she leaves Ashok in shock. She cannot believe he has asked her to do this. As she walks into her house, she feels as if a tornado were sweeping through her, tearing up her insides.
Across the ocean, Anju has found a job. She loves her plan and is saving money. Her doctor warns her, though, that she is working too hard. With going to school, studying, and working, she is on her feet too long. She must get more rest and eat better or the doctor will insist that she spend the next few months in bed to protect her pregnancy.
(The entire section is 467 words.)
Chapters 37-38 Summary
Sudha now spends much of her time designing baby clothes for both her daughter and Anju’s son. She believes it is bad luck to sew the clothing before the babies are born, but Sudha’s mother tells her that drawing images of the clothes is all right. As she draws, Sudha thinks of Ashok. Her mother believes Sudha should marry him in spite of the condition he has placed on his proposal. Nalini agrees with Ashok that they will need time to get to know one another without having a baby to care for. Sudha listens to her mother and her aunts as they devise reasons for her to marry Ashok, and she feels herself weakening. However, she cannot imagine giving up her daughter. No matter how caring her mother and aunts might be toward her child, she wonders how she could ever face her daughter’s questions concerning why she gave her away.
There is, however, another option. Sudha has recently received Anju’s letter in which her friend has suggested that she come to America. If Sudha were to take up her cousin’s invitation, she would not be a burden on her mother and her aunts. She wonders, though, if she would merely be taking the burden off her mother and aunts and placing it on Anju’s shoulders. Sudha has difficulty making a decision. For the time being, though, she is enjoying the attention and love she is receiving in her Calcutta home.
Sudha’s mother and aunts appear rejuvenated. Not only have they relinquished the ancestral home that had grown too large and inconvenient for them, but they seem to have given up their old-fashioned style of life. Their lives are fuller now. The apartment seems always filled with guests. The women travel more and enjoy a life outside of the confines of their home. Best of all, Sudha’s mother and aunts act as if they are not as concerned about social customs, especially those that say Sudha’s divorce has disgraced the family. However, Sudha remains concerned for her daughter’s reputation. She wonders how she will protect her daughter from the mean things people might say to her when she grows up.
Anju has a different set of problems in her life at this time. She is exhausted from her routine. She must keep up her studies in spite of the increasing demands of her pregnancy as well as the work schedule she has set for herself. On top of this, Sunil came home early one day and heard a recorded telephone message from Anju’s supervisor at work. Because Anju had not told Sunil...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
Chapters 39-40 Summary
No one tells Sudha that Anju has lost her baby. Sudha becomes increasingly worried, though, when she does not hear from Anju for several weeks. Nalini and Gouri Ma suggest that maybe Anju has been too busy to write. Sudha waits another week before she decides to call Anju. No one answers the phone, so Sudha leaves a message. When several days pass and Anju does not return the call, Sudha becomes desperate. She senses that something is wrong and everyone is afraid to tell her what has happened.
One day when her mother and aunts have left the apartment, Sudha calls again. Sunil answers and tells her Anju is sleeping. So rather than asking what is wrong with Anju, Sudha only asks if Anju is feeling better. At this Sunil confirms what Sudha has feared: Anju has lost her baby. In addition, Sunil tells Sudha that Anju is extremely depressed. She stays in bed all day and rarely eats. She never speaks. Anju is wasting away, Sudha imagines, but she is too far away to help her.
When Sunil is finished telling her all the details, Sudha asks Sunil to put the phone receiver to Anju’s ear. Then Sudha commences to tell Anju a story. The tale involves a queen who is fearful that her husband will force her to have an abortion because a soothsayer has predicted that the unborn child is a girl. Sudha does not know where this story is coming from and is concerned that the topic is not helping Anju. However, when Sudha comes to the point where the queen must make a decision, she interrupts the story to ask what Anju thinks the queen should do. Sudha finally hears Anju, in a soft voice, complete the story. Then Sudha hears Anju cry. Anju tells Sudha that she needs her. When Anju tells Sudha that she had been trying hard to earn the money for her airline ticket, Sudha wonders fearfully if that was why Anju lost the baby. Anju begs Sudha to come. She makes Sudha promise that she will. Sudha promises Anju that she will come as soon as her daughter is born. Sunil tells them he will arrange for the tickets and the visas. A few weeks later, Sunil calls to tell Sudha that Anju’s transformation has been remarkable. She is regaining her health.
Sudha gives birth and is surprised at how much attention she and her baby receive from her mother and aunts and even Singhji. Everyone wants to take turns holding the baby. Sudha gets to have her daughter to nurse, but at all other times, the adults around her are fighting for their turn to take...
(The entire section is 548 words.)
Chapters 41-42 Summary
Sudha is at the airport on her way to California. Singhji hands her a carry-on bag filled with Dayita’s necessities as he says good-bye to her. Nalini gives Sudha a present but tells her not to open it until she is on the plane. Even Sunil’s mother has come to say good-bye. She tells Sudha to tell Sunil that it is not necessary to send money home anymore. They really do not need it, and Sunil can use it so much more. Ashok is also there. He gives Sudha a credit card and demands that she use it. He does not want her ever to be in a situation in which she does not have enough money, especially as she is traveling. The bills will be sent to him, and he will gladly pay them. He also tells her that she must use the card to pay for her airline tickets if she ever wants to come back to him.
Once she is seated on the plane, Sudha opens the box her mother gave her. The present is from Nalini, Pishi, and Gouri Ma. Inside is the ruby Sudha had once been shown—the ruby that set off the journey into the jungle that led to the death or disappearance of her father and Anju’s father. The stone has been set in a beautiful necklace. In the note, Nalini states that this is Sudha’s daughter’s inheritance. Then Sudha finds another letter in her bag. When she opens it, she is surprised that it begins “Dear Daughter.” Sudha cannot figure out how her father managed to put the envelope inside her carry-on bag. In the letter, her father reveals more details about his story.
He tells Sudha how he had journeyed into the jungle and found the cave with the rubies. As they were traveling back to civilization, their guide drugged him and Anju’s father, Bijoy. Then the man pushed them over the side of their boat. The cold water stimulated Gopal but not Bijoy. Gopal tried to find his cousin but was unsuccessful. He went back to the boat and assaulted the guide, who eventually died. However, there was a fire, and Gopal was badly injured, especially on his face.
When he finally returned to Calcutta, he read his own obituary and decided to change his identity. He took the name of Singhji and became employed as Sudha’s family driver. This allowed him to watch over his family without causing them any shame. His past was too difficult to explain, and he did not know how the police would react to his story. As to the charge of his having been fraudulent in claiming to be Anju’s father’s cousin, Gopal writes that this was half...
(The entire section is 501 words.)