Clear Light of Day

by Anita Desai

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The Characters

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Last Updated May 17, 2024.


Tara lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband Bakul and their two daughters. She visits India every few years so as not to "lose touch" with her roots. Although she has grown into an intelligent, capable woman, she regresses in the presence of Bim, who frequently scolded and teased her when they were younger. While she is more beautiful than her sister, Tara is envious of Bim's confidence and strength. At one point, she realizes that even Bakul wishes to gain Bim's approval. 

One of Tara's central preoccupations in the novel is seeking forgiveness from Bim, whom she feels she had abandoned by marrying Bakul and leaving her to care for the rest of the family alone. She also wishes to mend the seemingly irreparable rift between Bim and Raja. Throughout her stay, Tara is forced to reassess her perceptions of the past—and how Bim may not be as strong and unassailable as she originally thought.


Bim is the second eldest of the Das siblings. Unlike Tara, she never had plans to marry; instead, she went to college and went on to become a history professor. She is also Baba's primary caretaker, supporting the household with her salary and the dividends from their deceased father's insurance firm. Education is very important to her, as evidenced in her insistence that Tara's daughters obtain a college degree before starting their own families.  

In her younger years, Bim looked up to Raja—even likening him to Lord Byron, the Romantic poet who had so heroically fought for Greek independence. However, this lofty image is eroded through the years until she no longer sees him as anything but a spoiled landlord with a bloated sense of self-worth. Although she would not openly admit to it, Bim is bitter and resentful towards her siblings, as she has labored for them all her life. However, upon reckoning with these feelings, she finds she has only love in her heart. 


As early as when he was a toddler, Baba displays signs of a developmental disorder. The disorder only worsened throughout his adulthood, as he rarely asserts himself or even talks; he is content to stay in his room and play old records on his gramophone all day. Because of his disability and the fact that he is the youngest in the family, Baba is rarely expected to take on any responsibility. 

Although there is pain between Baba's two sisters, they cannot bear to confront each other. As a result, he receives the brunt of their hurt and frustration. In separate instances, both Tara and Bim attempt to rouse Baba out of the stupor of his life, pushing him to take charge of their father's insurance business. Since Baba is too innocent to hold grudges, he forgives his sisters easily. 


As the eldest, Raja is a heroic, larger-than-life figure to his siblings. As a child, he takes an interest in Urdu literature, nurtured by their Muslim landlord Hyder Ali, who gives him access to his extensive book collection. Eventually, he moves on to English poets such as Tennyson, Swinburn, and Lord Byron. He readily shares his passion for poetry with Bim, who is more his intellectual equal than Tara.

Although Raja's presence looms large throughout the novel, his perspective is never explored. He is mainly seen through the eyes of his two sisters. One of the central ironies of the novel is that, despite their initial closeness, Raja and Bim drift apart in adulthood. Instead, it is Tara—who was often cast aside as a child—who keeps in touch with him. Whether or not Raja and Bim will be able to...

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mend their fractured relationship is a mystery the novel leaves open.       

Aunt Mira

Although the Das siblings refer to her as their aunt, Mira is but a distant cousin of their mother called upon to serve the household because of Baba's complex needs. She has had a tragic life, as she was widowed at fourteen and subsequently forced into servitude by her in-laws. However, her experiences have not hardened her. Upon arriving in Old Delhi, she wholeheartedly devotes her life to caring for the Das siblings. 

As the siblings outgrow their need for Mira, she develops a crippling dependence on alcohol, becoming a ghost of her former self. Often, she takes to screaming and running around the house while naked. Eventually, she dies from substance abuse distress. 




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