Harsha, the protagonist of the novel, is given in marriage at the age of nineteen against her wish, at the desire and insistence of her grandfather, who was an orthodox Brahmin of Puri. She was a very good student and dreamed of becoming an I.A.S or so, after completing her post-graduation. Her colourful dreams and aspirations are shattered to pieces with her marriage to a doctor who is thoroughly addicted to drinking. She is totally disillusioned by the man’s ill treatment, his unbearable possessiveness as if the wife is an instrument for the gratification of the wild passion. The man is a very good surgeon but too brutal to touch the heart of a young girl. When her torture, physical and mental, becomes intolerable, she deserts her husband and comes back to her parents, determined never to go back. She joins a course in Journalism in Delhi University. During her stay in Delhi, she develops an association with a visiting professor in Philosophy named Alberto whom she meets at the Car Festival in Puri. Alberto is a Portuguese and has immense respect and interest for Indian philosophy, her ancient history and heritage. At the beginning he suggests to Harsha to play the game of questions-and-answers, a common game in Portugal, to know each other and come closer. This game provides a greater scope and also a powerful medium to the novelist to bring in myths, stories and anecdotes from the Bhagabat, the Mahabharat and also eminent personalities of the East and the West. The questions-and-answers reveal the personal likes and dislikes of both Harsha and Alberto, throwing adequate light on their characters. Eventually, they are drawn to each other and tied in the bond of love. Harsha is glad for the revival of a new life, a fresh urge to live with the foreigner friend and lover. The woman for whom all the doors were apparently closed from all quarters finds the new found love reinvigorating and life-sustaining. She unhesitatingly accompanies Alberto to Rishikesh and they are lost in the amazing beauty and splendour of nature, there they are physically united. It is for her a fulfilment and consummation. But Alberto claiming himself to be a Buddhist and believing in abstinence does not take this physical relationship normally.
In the meantime the husband of Harsha reaches Delhi in search of her, forcibly takes her to a hotel with the exclusive right of an owner and assaults her sexually, regardless of her mind and heart. After she is raped in the hotel room, she somehow escapes from her monstrous husband when he lay unconscious. She tries her best to hide from him moving here and there, and finally she goes to Alberto’s place with the hope of finding a safe shelter. She has a strong faith in his love, but is disappointed. When Alberto describes his meeting with another girl in Benares who impresses him with her knowledge of the old city and Indian philosophy and when he calls the new girl ‘wonderful’, jealousy as it were, Harsha cannot bear this candid admiration of the Benares girl. His interest, as it seems, is acquisition of knowledge about India, his relationship with Harsha is only an escapade during his stay here. A realization dawns upon her that there is absolutely no difference between that man and Alberto: “For that man Harsha was a plate of rice which he would devour like a cow and for Alberto, she was a book which he would underline every page of it. Both would use Harsha in their own ways. The truth remains that she is used. The man would go leaving out the plate after eating and Alberto would throw away the book. But why should they?”
The protest of Harsha is loud and clear. She leaves the place of Alberto in total distrust of the so called love. On the way she thinks of going back to Alberto but reaches her own room. When she opens the room, she was awe-struck to find that beast in red rolling eyes sitting tightly on the cot to exert his ownership over her. The novel ends here with an existential choice: whether she is bound to go with the man or she would take an extreme step. However, when the question of deleting the mobile number of Alberto arises in her mind, the novel concludes with the line, “Let it be there.”
The novel raises a number of pertinent questions, the issues discussed are really perplexing. Is a woman an individual with her own will and freedom of choice? Is the ‘second sex’ destined to be used and exploited? Can she maintain a separate and independent existence without any social taboos, scandals and character assassination? Can she not sever her marital relationship in the wake of discord and disharmony? Can she unlock her heart freely? All such questions have varied answers depending on space and time and also attitudes and mindsets of people. Thinking minds and feeling hearts have dwelt upon them assiduously. However, Dr. Sahoo envisages a world order celebrating equality of both the sexes, despite the biological differences between the two which she considers quite natural and marginal. She boldly affirms that a woman is free to express her sexuality with no ambiguity and inhibition. There should be no gender bias, no discrimination, she advocates. For her, she is a beautiful creation of God with equal potentialities like her male counterpart, an integral part of the whole. Her sufferings and torture are unwarranted and unfortunate. She cannot ordinarily carve out a separate identity extricating herself from the soul-killing society. Can she make her life meaningful, and the world livable by embracing her will and choice?
The woman represents ‘Shakti’, the dynamic source of energy and creation, but in the present scenario, she is engulfed by sorrow and depression. The protagonist is a sad replica of the divine feminine, in perpetual depression. The title bears testimony to it. In addition to the rich content, the novel adopts a new technique of narration, truly innovative. The plot unfolds through the game of questions-and-answers making a brilliant exposition of Indian myths, puranas and legends; various allusions to the East and the West are illuminating. Sarojini’s range of mythology, history and culture is superb and provides an interesting study of the feminine psyche.