The plot goes back and forth in time. We get to know another character, Savitri, who in 1921 is six. Savitri is the daughter of the cook in a wealthy household. Her parents work for the Lindsays, an English family, and Savitri is allowed to play with the son, David. The girl says she loves him, and everybody can see it, but they don’t pay any attention as she is too young. One day she and David scurry away to the sea, and when they are together and frolic about, they start talking about the time when they are grown up. David becomes serious, hold her hands, and tells her that he will only marry her and asks her to promise the same. Even at that young age Savitri knows that she can’t promise that as they come from too different backgrounds. Yet, David’s passion in his words makes her swear she will marry him when they grow up.
Savitri’s brother Mani catches them holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes, and he knows that it is bad news. So he grabs his sister and drags her back to the house, fearing that David might spoil his sister’s prospects for a husband. Actually, that same afternoon the aunt of a prospective match is in the house and that is why he went to fetch his sister. As Mani starts ranting about Savitri and what happened on the beach, the aunt is never heard from again. After that, Savitri’s parents forbid her from seeing David again. Yet, that night Savitri sneaks out of her room in the middle of the night, wakes up David and tells her what has happened. David just smiles and that night he kisses her, still promising that he will marry her one day.
The book then returns to Nat, who two years later has settled with the man who has adopted him. The man, who so far remains unnamed, is now his father, and we learn that he is a doctor in the village, so he is revered as if he were a divinity. From Nat we learn that the doctor has a portrait of his wife, who was Indian but died. Then one morning when Nat is about to leave for school, a man appears, greeting his father warmly, and the doctor introduces him as his uncle Gopal, who we know was another brother of Savitri’s. Does this mean that the doctor is David and he eventually married Savitri? And what about Nat? So far he thinks that he has been adopted by the kind doctor, but is he just his adopted father or his real father? If Nat is his and his wife’s son, why was he in an orphanage? I am intrigued.
In the following chapter we return to Saroj, and she is now thirteen. Before her birthday party, her father announces that he has chosen the boy who she will marry, someone called Keedernat, who is a relative of his partner in the law firm. Saroj is disgusted, thinking about marrying a stranger. Later at her birthday party she can see all her relatives whispering about the engagement. Then her brother Ganesh tells her that he has something to tell her, so they sneak into the tower, a room in their massive house. Ganesh says that the boy his father has chosen for her is fifteen but he is pathetic. Saroj is passionate about not wanting to marry anybody and is desperate. Ganesh tells her that she should talk to their mother, but Saroj thinks that her mother won’t be of any help as she certainly supports her husband in her decisions. Despite the sweet relationship Saroj had with her mother when she was a child, she seems to have drift away, and she seems to despise her mother, who she sees as a subservient, docile wife and mother. So Saroj thinks that her mother will want her to be the same as she is. Her brother Ganesh tells her that it was their mother who advised him about his engagement to a girl he doesn’t want. What she told him was to wait and then when he goes to England to study, he should stay there and everybody will forget about the engagement. Saroj is surprised to hear that, but she still thinks that with Ganesh it is different because he is a boy, but she is pretty sure that her mother will never support her determination not to marry. So in the last lines of the chapter she decides that she will have to break with everything: her family, her background, and her culture.