Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The story unfolds through the eyes of Lenny, a precocious Parsi girl. Lenny's disability keeps her from attending school and gives her more time to be around adults—to listen to their conversations, observe human behavior, and make her feisty interpretations. The constant company of her Ayah allows her to move beyond the boundaries of her affluent society and foray into the world of cooks, gardeners, masseurs, and ice-cream sellers. The reader witnesses the chaos of India's Partition and the violence of religious hatred through Lenny's perspective.
Ayah, Lenny's nanny, is a beautiful young woman. She is the cynosure of all men. She uses her sensuality to control a circle of religiously diverse suitors. The violence of the Partition shatters the illusion of her amicable life, exposing an ugly cauldron of lust. Eventually, she discovers her potential for self-reliance.
Mrs. Sethi is Lenny's mother. She runs the household efficiently and controls an entourage of servants. A woman of the privileged upper class, she keeps herself busy with her social obligations. Behind her elegant persona exists a woman who nurses the pain of infidelity and an abusive marriage.
Papoo is the sweeper's daughter who lives in the servants' quarters behind the Sethi bungalow. Despite her mother's ill-treatment, she displays admirable courage and resilience. Her family destroys her rebellious spirit and marries her off to a much older man with a roving eye. Papoo's coercion into marriage reflects a social mindset that legitimizes sexual slavery and subservience.
Roda is Lenny’s godmother. The family's matriarch, she is the pillar of strength in Lenny's life. She refuses to be a mute spectator to events and dares to challenge the pervasive presence of sexual violence in society.
The Ice-Candy-Man is an intelligent and glib raconteur who tries to woo Shanta. The Ayah flirts with him but chooses to reciprocate the love of the masseur instead. The spurned suitor is then overcome with a maddening desire to possess her. The holocaust that follows the Partition fills him with a vengeance and transforms him into a beast.