Gita Mehta situates her novel on the banks of the river Narmada, a symbol of diverse religious faiths and beliefs. The principal narrator, a bureaucrat on the verge of retirement, undertakes a spiritual journey that does not end where he wishes.
The six stories are symbolic of a quest for love. The narrative is made up of disparate tales of passion, enchantment, love, and loss. Each tale depicts the tragic realities of life and the struggle of imperfect humans to rise above themselves.
The river Narmada, the central character, is symbolic of life and creation. She also symbolizes impermanence, change, renunciation, purity, and sacrifice. She highlights the fact that life moves on, and we are alive when we go with the flow of our passions and ambitions.
Mehta uses mythology as a tool to connect the past with the present. The novel demonstrates that science and mysticism, discipline and passion, and desire and renunciation are not opposites. They are different dimensions of life.
A River Sutra symbolizes the Hindu reverence for nature. The tribes worship the river as a goddess and have deep faith in her cleansing and healing powers. The novel includes the theme of ecofeminism by demonstrating the intrinsic relationship between the exploitation of nature and the exploitation of women.