Clear Light of Day

by Anita Desai

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How is time treated in Clear Light of Day?

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In Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day, time is intricately woven into the narrative structure and character development. The story uses time as a lens to explore personal and national history, with characters like Tara, Bim, and Baba each engaging with time differently—Baba through nostalgia, Bim through caretaking responsibilities, and Tara through her escape via marriage. The plot revolves around a family wedding, prompting reflections on past changes and the passage of time.

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Time is a central preoccupation of the characters and serves as a structural element through the author’s use of a frame. By presenting Tara as an adult who is displaced both spatially and temporally from her original Indian home, Anita Desai connects India with the past. The novel begins with an upcoming important ceremony, a family wedding, which pushes all the relatives to consider the changes within their family and in their country.

Tara Das, her sister Bim, and her brother Baba are preoccupied with time, but in different ways. Baba seems irretrievably mired down in nostalgia, as he whiles away the hours listening to music from the 1940s, an era associated with Partition, which brought the end of British rule. The date of 1947 is more than a political watershed, however: it marked the end of childhood for the siblings, as both their parents died. The two sisters took different paths from that time forward, with Bim assuming a maternal role caring for their eldest brother, Raja, who contracted tuberculosis, and an alcoholic aunt.

While Tara was able to leave both her home and the war-torn country, her escape was limited as it was contingent on an arranged marriage. When Raja recovers his health and leaves as well, Bim is the only one left behind, dwelling on her bitter memories. Now, twenty years later, the sisters find a way to reconcile, at least long enough to allow their niece a joyful wedding day.

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