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(Bapsi Sidhwa)

Banned in India and nominated for the Oscars-2007, Deepa Mehta?s film Water is made into a book of the same title by Bapsi Sidhwa. The readers should keep in mind that the story is set in the late 1930s and the conditions depicted, even in those days, were limited to only a small pocket of the vast subcontinent of India.The book starts with a prologue, which presumably is the pre-title scene in the film. It shows a serene village in Bihar of India. A little girl Chuyia ? meaning little mouse ?playing with her ragged doll wanders off into the adjacent forest in search of gooseberries. There she rescues a lovable pup and brings it home. Chuyia?s is a poor, orthodox Brahmin Hindu family where male children get all attention and care and girls are brought up to become, as early as possible, good wives and respectful daughter-in-laws. Chuyia?s mother has hard days doing daily tasks,praying and reading Holy books. One day her husband tells her that he has agreed to get Chuyia married to one Hira Lal. But Chuyia is only six and Hira Lal already a grandfather. Hira Lal is only forty-four and much younger than him, Chuyia?s mother says nothing more but her heart is filled with deep affection and foreboding for her little daughter?s future. The wedding takes place. For the naive Chuyia it is nothing but wearing colourful clothes and eating lots of sweets at the feast laid out for the entire village. The groom?s party leaves and Chuyia stays back with her parents to grow up and be ready for a marital life. She remains in her own world of childhood curiosities and the serenity of nature all around. Nothing has changed for her except the red streak of sindoor in her hair and head always remaining covered with her attire, Two years thus pass when Chuyia?s father brings news that her husband Hira Lal is dying. As per the custom Chuyia must be with him on the banks of holy river Ganga. With not even an inkling of what is happening Chuyia accompanies her father. They travel by a bullock cart with Chuyia sitting beside the dying Hiral Lal. All along Chuyia is immersed in her own world of naivety and insatiable curiosity. In Rawalpur on the banks of river Ganga Hira Lal dies. As per the custom Chuyia?s colourful clothes are harshly removed and the red streak of sindoor in her hair wiped leaving her perplexed. Furthermore her head is shaved. A horrified Chuyia understands nothing; she just wants to go back to her mother. Hira Lal?s mother leaves Chuyia with a cluster of widows living in an ancient dilapidated ashram. Chuyia is confident that her father would come the next day and take her home. The daily routine of the poor, discarded widows in the ashram is starkly portrayed in the book. To earn their meals they have to sing in temples and beg for a handful of grains. All of them are cast away by their relatives. With shaved heads and wearing white saris they all look like apparitions. Many don?t even remember their weddings or their dead husbands. The arrival of little Chuyia is an unexpected change in their hard life.The naive Chuyia, with her innocence and forever questioning curiosity, is liked by some, loved by some others and hated by a few. The widows? attempts to tame her and make her follow a proper widow?s path fail miserably. Unknown to her there is yet another dark side to the life in the ashram.Some of the prettier and young widows are patronised by the rich Seths of Rawalpur. The prettiest of the lot Kalyani is even allowed to retain her long tresses. Chuyia and Kalyani come across a handsome rich young man Narayan. He instantly falls in love with Kalyani. Chuyia gladly and also unknowingly helps their love blossom. Narayan knows that his mother and the society would never allow him to marry a widow. But in the country, especially with the appearing of Mohandas Gandhi on the scene, changes were taking place fast. And Narayan saw nothing wrong in marrying a widow whom he loved. Naively Chuyia blurts out that Kalyani was going to get married. The widows of the ashram are aghast. The Head of the ashram scolds and abuses Kalyani. Then cutting off her beautiful tresses she shuts her in a room. However, with the help of a kind hearted widow and, of course, Chuyia, Kalyani escapes and flees out into the unfriendly and dangerous streets. She has faith in her love. Narayan, true to his love, takes her to his palatial home. Mid way Kalyani learns that Narayan?s father Seth Dwarakanath had earlier patronised her. Disgusted and crestfallen Kalyani leaves Narayan and returns to the ashram as she has nowhere else to go. But the Head of the ashram, unable to tolerate this defiance, refuses to let her in. There is no other go for Kalyani but to seek the arms of river Ganga.With Kalyani gone, the Head of the ashram has now to have another source of income. Eunuch Gulabi, also a pimp, offers little Chuyia to satiate Seth Dwarakanath?s lust. The kind hearted widow tries to save her from her certain future when, dramatically, the abused Chuyia falls into the care of kind Narayan.

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