The narration is by an eleven year old girl Nithya who has come from Bangalore to stay for six months through summer with her unmarried uncle (mother's brother) and widowed aunt (mother's sister) at their house in this village. Given her city unbringing she is easily bored by the slow life in the village. The strange behavior of her uncle and aunt and the general dark atmosphere in the house makes her uncomfortable. Her widowed aunt Janaki doesn't talk much and seems very sad all the time while her uncle Sundar is unreachable and patriarchal in his views. Also intriguing and irritating to her is how the Brahmins on the street limit their interactions and perambulations to the street. Charry's description of the alienated Raghu, born out of wedlock to a Brahmin man and a woman of "lower caste", definitely captures the ethos of the Brahmins.
Charry portrays the about-to-be teen as a brooding, quiet, arrogant yet curious, and thoughtful girl who prefers to "find things out for herself" than ask others for answers. Nitya watches a drama unfold in this seemingly quiet house that reaches a cresendo when a poor brahmin priest's daughter Sudha, hired as a servant in the house, commits suicide. While there may be readers who find Nithya a little too precocious I found it perfectly normal that there exist young Indian girls capable of understanding subtle social issues without knowing what condoms look like or what purpose they serve!
The book starts slowly and makes the reader wish some of the characters would stop feeling sorry for themselves and take matter into their hands. The boredom that haunts the early parts of the book, at least for this reader, is as palpable as Nithya's own as she finds herself alone most of the time cooped up in the quiet, dark house watching people and "doing her sums" until she strikes a friendship with Sudha. Sudha's appearance and personality and sunny disposition adds a whole new dimension to the story only to leave the reader saddened by Sudha's suicide. The book however ends on a more positive note. All along the reader is gently reminded of the heat which of course is anything but gentle.
The book without making overt judgements shows why there are many people who wished life was different but are afraid to change and question and challenge the system. It is clear that the author has greatly relished writing about the apparently simple yet complex lives of story's characters so intertwined with that of their neighbors and community members that makes changing their lives or questioning social mores impossible for fear of being outcast. It takes a suicide to put things in perspective.
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