READING GROUP GUIDE - CONCEPTS & QUESTIONS

CENTER vs. PERIPHERY

The bungalow atop Malabar Hill can be seen as a metaphor for the nation as “the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.” Who belongs in the bungalow and who does not?  And what does this say about who has power within the Indian nation?

What is Pinky’s position in the Mittal household?  How do her interactions with the supernatural transform her place within the bungalow?

What are the geographic centers in the novel?  And what are the peripheries?  What happens when those who dwell in the peripheries reach into the center?  What happens when those in the center are pushed to the peripheries

SILENCE INTO VOICE

What compels Pinky to reach out to the ghost?  What finally connects them across the divide of death?  On page 116, Pinky asks Nimish, “How do you talk to someone if you are afraid?”  And he answers, “A story, you begin with a story.” What are some examples in the novel of how stories are used to forge connections?

How do Pinky and the ghost eventually betray each other?  Why does Pinky at first refuse to hear the truth about the drowning, and what makes her finally understand that she must hear it?

What happens when the silenced members of the Mittal household – the ghost, Avni, and Gulu – begin to speak the truth of the drowning?  And why is this so terrifying?  How do their ‘voices’ reimagine the story that had been told of the baby’s death?

Aside from language and utterance, what are the other modalities of communication amongst the characters in the novel?

VESSELS OF POWER

The baby’s death seemingly begins with Savita’s barren breasts and Jaginder calling for the milk-production cereal.  What is the role of milk in the novel and what power does it have over life and death?

What are the roles of various forms of water in the novel and their relation to life, death, and power?

How does the midwife’s prophesy that young Avni draws “dark powers from impure blood, blood of any kind from that region – birth blood, menstrual blood, virgin blood” play out with her possession of Lovely and Pinky?

TRUTH & DECEPTION

The novel begins with the midwife telling the girl, “What you desire will become your truth.” Who is the girl and what is her desire?  Is she able to fulfill it?  Lovely’s desire is “to be free.”  What does this mean to her, and does she find it?

On page 67, Dheer says “I believe that all things change but the truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.”  Who shares this understanding of truth and who resists it?

Everyone in the Mittal household, including the servants, have secrets.  How do these secrets affect their view of the baby’s death and their feelings toward Avni?  Which secrets are eventually revealed?

Savita is very superstitious while Maji is extremely religious.  How do these views coexist and conflict within the bungalow?  What roles do superstition, religion, and spirituality play in the novel?

How did the baby die?  Was it an act of love, or one of shame?