Author: Anita Desai
First published: 1980
Locale: the suburbs of Old Delhi
Plot: Psychological realism
Time: Summer, 1947, and fifteen years before and after
Bim Das, a history teacher. The unmarried, eldest Das daughter, now over forty, still lives in the decaying family home situated on the outskirts of Old Delhi. Slightly heavy and turning gray, Bim is not particularly attractive and makes little effort to be so. Her energy and capability, along with her keen understanding, compensate for whatever she lacks physically. Shown through flashbacks in her younger years, Bim has always been at peace with herself and managed to convey that quality to others. She represents the old India: spiritual, peaceful, unselfish, unhurried, and sure of life. In some ways, though, she has not come to grips with the present and melded it with the past, and therein lies her flaw.
Tara, Bim's sister, an Indian diplomat's wife. Altogether the opposite of her older sister, Tara is attractive, sophisticated, and worldly, having accompanied her husband to various overseas posts. To an extent, her poise is merely an exterior quality, in spite of her seemingly successful marriage, her two teenage daughters, and her role as hostess and wife in diplomatic circles. Representing the new India that was created after independence in 1947, Tara finds herself torn between the past and the present, especially when she visits Bim at the family home and dredges up memories of another time, when life seemed surer and more settled.
Baba Das, Bim and Tara's retarded brother. Although he is in his thirties, Baba is like a child, innocent and unaffected by events around him. He is fat, lethargic, and dependent on Bim, who caters to his every wish. For most of the day, he plays English-language records from the late 1940's. Like his sisters, he is caught in the web of the past, even in his mindless state.
Bakul, Tara's husband and a diplomat in the Indian foreign service. Handsome, successful, and aggressive, Bakul considers the family's obsession with the past foolish and tedious. He has left the old India behind and entered the larger world, even though he gives lip service to the idea of Mother India as home.
Raja Das, the eldest son of the Das family. During the flashbacks to the gaining of independence in 1947 and the partition riots, Raja appears as a kind of romantic hero. He reads and writes poetry, dreams of heroics, and possesses the total devotion of his sister Bim, who nurses him to health during a long illness. Coming from a traditional Hindu family, he breaks tradition by marrying a Muslim woman, then leaves Delhi for Hyderabad, where he becomes a rich businessman. Although he does not appear in later sections of the novel, he is described by Bim as having become excessively fat, arrogant, and pretentious.
Mira-masi, the aunt of the Das children. A traditional Indian woman, she served as their nurse during childhood.