Clear Light of Day Summary
by Anita Desai

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Clear Light of Day 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 as backdrop, the Das children’s innocence ends. The loss of their chronically ill mother is followed by their father’s abrupt death. Raja (recently enrolled in the Hindu college and suspected by his fellow students as a Muslim sympathizer) is stricken with tuberculosis—and their aunt Mira’s alcoholism, which has quietly progressed for several years, enters its final terrible stages. Under the strain of nursing her brother and aunt, Bim is relieved to marry her younger sister off to Bakul, a young diplomat with a promising future. Before she realizes her position, Bim becomes head of the Das family.

Bim shoulders her burdens but not without great resentment. After their aunt dies, Raja recovers—but he soon leaves, marries their landlord’s daughter, and inherits his father-in-law’s property. Engaged in running his father-in-law’s business, Raja’s adolescent passion for poetry is quickly lost.

Bim’s professed disappointment in Raja’s intellectual and artistic compromises masks deeper resentments provoked by his abrupt desertion of her, and the subsequent condescending treatment she receives as his tenant. She is left in a home full of painful memories, with only the childlike Baba for companionship, and her deliberate estrangement from Raja is a small, self-righteous consolation for apparently futile sacrifices: The family members whom she always thought of before herself have abandoned her.

As Bim ruminates upon her past choices, Tara is compelled to remember the circumstances which formed her. Tara recalls farther back than Bim, to the earliest memories of childhood, where small incidents in family life assume profound psychological dimensions. Returning to the scene of painful symbolic events, Tara finally reconciles the ghosts of a shy, sheltered childhood with an adult facade of self-assurance. Although Bim ultimately resolves not to attend their niece’s wedding, the sisters’ private self-appraisal enables them to attain a finer understanding of their own, and each other’s, limitations. Reconciling with the past, Tara and Bim understand the difference between their lives in the present.


(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...

(The entire section is 1,973 words.)