Bombay, India, in the summer of 1960 is a city crowded with color, politics, and ritual; it’s hot and humid, on the cusp of the monsoon season, lending an air of feverish expectancy to the atmosphere. There’s also a lot of fear: between individuals, families, castes, neighborhoods, and because of the Partition of 1947, between countries.
Pinky Mittal lost her mother during Partition, and was taken in by her grandmother Maji, matriarch of one of Bombay’s powerful families. Pinky dearly loves her grandmother, but chafes against the anger and bitterness of her Aunt Savita, who lost a baby at the same time Maji took in the infant Pinky. Added to this intergenerational strife is the undercurrent of fear that pervades the Mittal house itself: the family believes Savita’s baby was drowned in the children’s bathroom by Avni, the baby’s nurse, and for the last thirteen years the door to that room has been bolted at sundown, out of fear that the baby’s ghost will escape that room and wreak havoc. In a rage one night, Pinky unbolts the door, and immediately she, and the family, can sense the difference and feel the growing strength of an evil presence. Everyone in the house, from the servants to Maji, try to free themselves from this evil spirit, through rituals both religious and profane.
Whether the ghost is intent on destroying the Mittal family or simply trying to expose the truth, the readers learn much about Indian society and culture of the time through this unnerving tale. Although the characters are well-drawn, there’s a dearth of redeeming qualities among them, making it difficult for readers to sympathize with their plight. Keeping one’s distance from a ghost may be the proper course of action in any case!