It is a story of two children – fraternal twins - a boy and
a girl and their quest for love. Set in a small village of
a coastal Indian state, Kerala, the story also captures the
caste politics and the initial phase of communist movement,
lead by the affluent upper caste people. The children live
with their mother at her maternal home, an anglicized
Syrian Christian family, but were regarded as social
outcasts by them.
Ammu their spirited mother had defied her family and
married a Bengali Hindu, but was unable to continue with
the relationship. Rahel and Estha the products of the
marriage, live in their own world and derive their
happiness from nature. Within the family, the religious
hybrids were treated with special scorn by their spinster
grandaunt, Baby Kochamma.
Deprived of paternal love, the children look up to their
maternal uncle Chacko, a Rhodes scholar and worship him
like a father. However Chacko himself a divorcee has
reserved all his love for his absentee half-British
daughter and fails to reciprocate their feelings.
Twins find love from Velutha, an untouchable young
carpenter, whose family had worked under them for
generations and hence treated as lowly serfs. Velutha
incidentally has amorous relationship with Ammu. The
spinster aunt Kochamma, who could not achieve her dream
hero, a Catholic holy man, feels jealous of Ammu and was
determined to deny her the happiness of love. .
In this context enters Sophie Mol on a short vacation from
London. Sophie Mol, the rightful owner of Chacko’s
affection and the darling of the entire family feels
attracted to the twins. But the family spares no efforts to
make the twins feel insignificant by showering overt
appreciations to the newcomer. At this crucial juncture
when the twins were going through an emotional crisis, Ammu
was caught with Velutha the lowly untochable, in a romantic
Revengeful aunt gets Velutha arrested on rape charge and
embarrassed Ammu goes on isolation. When the lonely twins
went to seek emotional shelter from mother, she refuses to
open the door and brushes them away with harsh words.
Dejected they take up an expedition to their favorite
refuge, a deserted bungalow to the other side of the river
in an old boat repaired for them by Velutha at that night.
Sophie tags along and the inexperienced girl drowns in the
river in the darkness.
Opportunists, to achieve own objectives uses the tragedy.
Baby Kochamma accuses Velutha for everything and the low
caste party worker, was betrayed by his communist leader
too. The children who knew that Velutha was innocent were
blackmailed to silence. Believing that their confession
will bring danger to Ammu, Estha agreed to betray the only
man who provided them unconditional love.
In an emotion charged climax, the twins were led to the
dying Velutha, tortured brutally by police to confirm the
accusation of rape. Ironically, in spite of his extreme
physical pain Velutha greets the children with a smile.
The touching gesture leaves an indelible scar, and later
Estha grows into an introvert. The revengeful aunt manages
to separate the twins and Estha was sent Calcutta. Finally,
defiant Ammu slowly succumbs to her weariness.
The story opens up decades later with a divorced and
dejected Rahel coming back to kerala to find her brother,
with whom she had shared a dreaded secret, grown into an
unapproachable loner. To pierce his wall of loneliness,
Rahel made forbidden love to him , the way Ammu had done
once to Velutha. The novel deals with the clashes of human
emotions with that of forbidden social love laws.