ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
Chuyia is an eight-year-old girl with bright, sparkling eyes and a long, untidy braid that falls well below her waist. Her tiny wrists have two red bangles each and silver anklets encircle her bony ankles. Her family recently married her to a successful older man of their village with the prospect that when she came of age she would move to his home and become a proper wife. This plan is quickly thrown into disarray when the husband becomes ill and dies leaving Chuyia a widow. Tradition dictates that Chuyia be forced to move into a house for Hindu widows to spend the rest of her life in renunciation. As a widow, she is expected to atone for the past sins that resulted in the death of her husband.
Shakuntala is one of the 14 widows sharing the household into which Chuyia is forced to move. Perhaps the most enigmatic of the widows, she is good-looking enough, intelligent and educated. Quiet and reserved, Shakuntala is caught between the hopelessness of living out her remaining years as a widow and her devout adherence to the dictates of the Hindu scriptures.
Kalyani is breathtaking, and the only widow whose hair is not shorn as a nod to her profession which was forced upon her at an early age by the powerful head widow Madhumati. Uncomplicated and gentle, she radiates a child-like innocence. Kalyani spends her day either playing with her puppy Kaalu, or talking to the small statue of the God Krishna she has in her room. Her nights though are surreal. Gulabi, ferries her across the waters to the mansions of the rich gentry in Rawalpur. This she accepts with a quiet equanimity; it's her karma. Besides, she feels, perhaps this is a test that the God Krishna is putting her through and as the holy books dictate “she should live as the beautiful lotus flower untouched by the dirty water in which it resides. The rest of the widows ostracize her as they feel that close contact will result in a sullying of their purity. When she meets Narayan the spiritual acceptance of her fate begins to disassemble and she becomes resistant to Madhumati’s will.