Chapters 1-2 Summary
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel Sister of My Heart (1999) relates the emotional story of two young Calcutta girls—Anju, who is from a high caste in India, and Sudha, who is more beautiful. The girls were born on the same night after their mothers learned that both the girls’ fathers had died. The fathers had been cousins, so Anju’s and Sudha’s mothers remained living together, allowing the girls to grow up almost as sisters. Over the years, they nurtured a relationship that was so strong their relatives had trouble understanding it. The story of these two young women has been described by Anderson Tepper, writing for The New York Times Book Review, as a “bittersweet fairy tale.”
When the book opens, the narrator, Sudha, is listening while her aunt Pishi tells an old myth that says the Bidhata Purush (a god) comes to the birth of each child to foretell the baby’s fate. Knowing the god is coming, parents leave sweets at the side of the baby’s crib. If the food has been consumed by morning, the child will grow up lucky. However, another portion of this story proclaims that after the Bidhata Purush has visited, a demon might also appear. So throughout the night a lamp is left lighted or a holy priest is asked to protect the doorway to the nursery.
When Anju hears this story, she teases about how untrue the myth is. She says it is not the Bidhata Purush who eats the food left at the side of the baby’s bed; rather, the family’s servants eat the food. Anju also tells Sudha that she does not believe in demons.
Sudha relates that she and Anju have three mothers, and this is probably to make up for the fact that they have no fathers. Their mothers, as she refers to them, include Pishi, a widowed aunt, who lost her husband at age eighteen. Pishi takes care of the Sudha and Anju while their real mothers are out of the house. Anju’s mother is called Gouri Ma; she comes from a long lineage of well-respected Indian families. Sudha thinks Gouri Ma is noble and brave, and she wants to be just like her. Sudha’s mother is Nalini, whose skin is golden and whose laughter sounds like “jeweled ankle bells.”
After Pishi is finished with her story about the Bidhata Purush, Sudha gathers her courage and asks if, in the morning after her birth, her mother found that the god of fate had eaten the food. After pausing as if reluctant to convey the truth, Pishi tells Sudha that unfortunately, she was not so lucky. To soften this news, Pishi says that maybe the Bidhata Purush does not come for baby girls. However, Sudha has already heard this sentiment as well as the words that often follow—the god of fate did not come the night of Sudha’s and Anju’s births because the baby girls were so unlucky that they caused the deaths of their fathers even before they were born. Anju balks at the depressing retelling. She states, for Sudha’s sake, that just like the fake demons, there probably is no Bidhata Purush.
One day, as their mothers are having tea with friends, Nalini (Sudha’s mother) tells the story of how Anju saved Sudha’s life. Anju had been delivered first on the night the girls were born. But Sudha’s delivery lasted much longer. To ease Nalini’s pain, Gouri Ma rose from her bed and placed her newborn, Anju, on Nalini’s bulging middle. Sudha was delivered shortly after. Later, the mothers claimed that Anju had called to Sudha to come out of her mother to face the world. The girls’ relationship since then has only grown stronger.
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Sudha is more interested than Anju is in learning details concerning their fathers’ histories and deaths. Anju believes that if Sudha is always looking backward, she will never go anywhere in life. Although Sudha senses there might be some truth in Anju’s belief, she still craves to know more about her father. Since the girls’ Aunt Pishi is the most reliable source for information, Sudha turns to the older woman and asks her to tell her about her father.
Pishi tells Sudha that she is...
(The entire section is 11,769 words.)