Clear Light of Day

Published in 1980 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Clear Light of Day is one of celebrated Indian writer Anita Desai's best-known works. The novel tells the story of the Das family, four siblings who have grown apart in adulthood. Divided into four parts, Clear Light of Day begins in Delhi in 1980 and moves back in time to detail the Dases' adolescence and childhood before returning to the novel's present day.

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Table of contents

    Clear Light of Day is Desai's most autobiographical novel. It is set in the neighborhood she grew up in, and the Das children grew up during the partition of India and Pakistan, just as Desai did. This historical context is crucial to the novel, and the conflicts within the Das family mirror the social change and unrest unfolding around them.

    Overview: Clear Light of Day
    Author of Clear Light of DayAnita Desai
    GenreLiterary fiction, historical fiction
    Summary of Clear Light of DayThe story centers around the Das family, particularly the relationship between the two sisters, Bimla (Bim) and Tara. The narrative shifts between the present and past, painting a picture of the siblings' childhood and their lives as adults.
    List of main charactersBimla (Bim) Das, Tara Das, Rja Das, Baba Das.
    ThemesFamily, the passage of time, separation, independence and dependence
    SettingOld Delhi, India in the time of Partition (1947)
    AnalysisThe novel explores the lingering effects of India's Partition. Desai's attention to the intricacies of family relationships and the personal growth of her characters is a critical aspect of the novel. Through Bim's character, Desai portrays the potential for self-discovery and forgiveness, which ultimately leads to peace and acceptance.

    Clear Light of Day: Summary

    Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day is divided into four parts.

    Part One

    Clear Light of Day begins in Delhi in 1980. Tara has recently arrived from Washington, D.C., and is staying with her sister, Bim, who lives in the family home with the sisters' intellectually disabled brother, Baba. The daughter of their eldest brother Raja is getting married, and Tara, along with her husband Bakul and their two teenage daughters, is on her way to Hyderabad for the wedding. Bim, however, does not speak to Raja and will not be attending.

    Clear Light of Day, Delhi, India, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Clear Light of Day takes place in Delhi.

    Bim is a schoolteacher and resents Raja and Tara for what she sees as their more exciting lives. She feels trapped as the caretaker of the house and of their brother Baba. However, Bim is particularly angry with Raja after receiving a letter from him. When the Dases' landlord, Hyder Ali, died, Raja sent Bim a letter explaining that he was now her landlord and would charge her the same rent to allow her and Baba to continue living there. Bim felt that the letter implied she was nothing more than Raja's tenant, well beneath him on the social ladder.

    Part Two

    Part two begins in 1947, just after India's independence and partition and during a time of great social unrest. The Das children are in their adolescence and young adulthood. Bim and Raja are quite close. Raja greatly admires the Dases' landlord and neighbor, Hyder Ali, and begins spending a great deal of time at his house. He chooses to study Urdu in school instead of Hindi, and he alarms his family when he announces that he wants to attend a primary Muslim college and specialize in Islamic studies.

    On August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan won independence from British rule after nearly thirty years of nationalistic struggle. The independence agreement divided colonial India into two independent nations: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

    The partition and the British withdrawal triggered one of human history's largest and most brutal forced migrations. Tensions that had been simmering for years finally boiled over. Hindus and Muslims who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the new borders were in danger. It is estimated that 1-2 million people died in the violence between 1947 and 1950.1

    Both of the Dases' parents die in quick succession, but the family isn't close. Their aunt, Mira, is the most affected by their deaths. Raja becomes sick with tuberculosis and is devastated when Hyder Ali and his family flee the city without telling him. When he recovers, he refuses to take over his father's business and travels instead to Hyderabad in search of Hyder Ali.

    Tara, meanwhile, falls in love with Bakul and marries him, leaving Baba and Bim alone in the house.

    Part Three

    Part three goes back to the childhood of Tara, Bim, and Raja. The three siblings are awaiting the birth of Baba, their baby brother. When Baba is born, however, he consistently fails to meet developmental milestones, and the family calls Aunt Mira to care for him.

    Aunt Mira is the Dases' mother's cousin, a widowed woman at fifteen and had since aged prematurely as a maid for the husband's family. She gradually develops a close relationship with all the Das children, becoming like a mother to them.

    The Das sisters, Tara and Bim, are close, but they are very different, and this begins to drive them apart even in childhood. Tara hates school while her sister excels and becomes the head girl.

    Tara also becomes friends with the Dases' neighbors, the Misras. The two Misra sisters get married instead of completing their education, something that Tara approves of. Bim, however, looks down on this. She announces that she doesn't plan to marry and wants to remain independent.

    Part Four

    Part four returns to the novel's present. Tara tries to convince Bim to come with her to the wedding. Bim refuses, but over the course of their conversation, her resentment towards Raja begins to fade. She and Baba no longer leave the house, she says, but she hopes that Raja will come to visit with his family.

    Clear Light of Day, light coming through window, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Bim finally sees her family relationships with clarity.

    Bim comes to understand that she and her siblings will forever share a deep connection and will always come back to one another.

    Clear Light of Day: Characters

    Clear Light of Day mostly centers on the members of the Das family and those close to them. The members of the Das family are Tara, Bim, Raja, and Baba.


    Tara is the third Das child. She is kind and beautiful but sometimes treated as rather simple by her more intellectual elder siblings. As a child, she hated school, causing distance between herself and the more bookish Bim. Tara married Bakul when she was still young and devoted herself to becoming a mother.


    Bim is the eldest of the Das children. She never married, focusing instead on her education and becoming a school teacher. She continues to live in the family home, maintaining it and caring for Baba. At times, however, she feels saddled with these responsibilities and resents Tara and Raja for their freedom.


    Raja is the second of the Das children. As a young man, he develops a passion for Urdu poetry and a close friendship with the Dases' landlord and Muslim neighbor, Hyder Ali. Raja alarms his family when he announces that he wants to pursue Islamic studies in college, and he eventually marries Hyder Ali's daughter.


    Baba is the youngest Das child. He has an intellectual disability that makes communicating or caring for himself difficult. He spends most of his time listening to music on a gramophone and becomes very distressed when it malfunctions.

    Aunt Mira

    Aunt Mira is a cousin of Mrs. Das. She is married as a child, but her husband dies when she is fifteen. When Baba is a child and his intellectual disability becomes apparent, Aunt Mira comes to the Dases' home to help care for him. She develops a close relationship with the Das children, who aren't close with their own mother. However, when Mrs. Das dies, Aunt Mira starts drinking, falling so deeply into alcoholism that Bim has to care for her.

    Hyder Ali

    Hyder Ali is the Dases' neighbor and landlord. Raja greatly admires Hyder Ali for his wealth and his large home. He frequently visits to peruse the landlord's collection of Urdu poetry. After the partition of India and Pakistan, Hyder Ali, a Muslim, and his family flee Delhi.


    Bakul is Tara's husband. He is a diplomat, which causes the family to travel and live abroad.

    Clear Light of Day: Themes

    Three key themes in Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day are family, change and the passage of time, and separation.


    Clear Light of Day offers an in-depth look at the Das family and their relationships with one another. Mr. and Mrs. Das are not particularly close to their children, and their deaths have little impact on the children.

    By moving backward in time, Desai shows how the Dases' family ties have changed and fluctuated over time. Bim and Raja, for example, were very close in childhood, but they grow apart as they age. Bim and Tara struggle to relate to one another as children but find more common ground as adults.

    At the end of the novel, Bim decides to forgive Raja and realizes that she and her siblings are connected no matter what, speaking to the unbreakable nature of family bonds.

    The novel's title, Clear Light of Day, refers to the clarity that Bim experiences when she realizes the importance of her family bonds.

    Change and the Passage of Time

    Clear Light of Day contrasts things that change over time with those that stubbornly stay the same. In many ways, the Dases' family home is like a time capsule. Bim and Baba live there alone, and it remains largely unchanged from their childhood. When Tara returns, she is instantly flooded with memories triggered by the house. Like Old Delhi itself, the Das home, Bim, and Baba are aging but not changing.

    Clear Light of Day, pocket watch in sand, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Clear Light of Day begins in 1980 and then moves backward in time.

    On the other hand, the world outside the house has changed dramatically. This change is most clearly illustrated in the partition of India and Pakistan, which leads to sweeping changes for all the inhabitants of the two countries.

    How does the reverse chronological order of Clear Light of Day relate to the theme of change and the passage of time?


    In Clear Light of Day, separation is a key theme that is represented in both the Das family and the historical context in which they live. The dissolution of the Das family parallels the partition of India. In the summer of 1947, the year of Partition, Mr. Das dies, Raja becomes sick, and Hyder Ali flees Delhi.

    That summer, Tara also gets married and moves away. The next year, Aunt Mira dies, and Raja follows Hyder Ali to Hyderabad, leaving Baba and Bim alone in the house.

    Analysis of Symbolism in Clear Light of Day

    As an author, Anita Desai is well known for her use of symbolism. Some important symbols in Clear Light of Day are the Dases' garden and music.

    The title "Clear Light of Day" suggests a moment of understanding or revelation. In the context of the novel, it signifies the moments of clarity that the characters experience as they reflect on their pasts and make peace with their shared history. It underscores the novel's exploration of time, memory, and the process of coming to terms with one's identity and past.

    The Garden

    The setting is a key element in Anita Desai's work, and in Clear Light of Day, the garden is significant to the Das family, symbolizing the decay of both the family and Old Delhi. As children, the Das siblings spend hours playing outside in the garden, where they can find freedom and escape the sometimes stifling interior of the house.

    Clear Light of Day, roses, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The rose walk is an important symbol in Clear Light of Day.

    As the Das family ages and disperses, the garden falls into decay. However, the decay isn't necessarily obvious. When Tara returns to her childhood home, she is at first delighted to see the garden, just as she remembered it. The rose walk where she walked with her mother and played with her brothers and sisters still exists, but on closer inspection, there are fewer roses than Tara remembered, and the ones there are smaller, sickly, and less brilliant.


    Music is often associated with Baba, who spends his time listening to his gramophone and playing the same 1940s records repeatedly. Baba is one of the things in the novel that has not changed with time, and the symbol of his repeated music encapsulates the idea of being stuck in time. However, one of the songs he plays most frequently is Bing Crosby's version of "Don't Fence Me In," an old Western song about the freedom of cowboys. Although Baba rarely leaves his home, music gives him a form of escape where he can find his own kind of freedom.

    Clear Light of Day, record player, StudySmarter

    Fig. 5 - Baba spends his days listening to records from the 1940s.

    Music is also important for other characters in the novel, including Tara's teenage daughters. Tara mentions that they listen to music constantly, but she believes this is something they will grow out of, unlike her brother Baba.

    Finally, music is associated with the Dases' neighbors, the Misras. At the end of the novel, Bim and Baba visit their neighbors where one of the Misras sings with his guru. This music provides the backdrop for Bim's realization that her family bonds are unbreakable.

    Clear Light of Day includes examples of both Western and Indian music. What could the significance of this contrast be?

    Clear Light of Day: Quotes

    These key quotes in Clear Light of Day highlight the novel's themes.

    'Old Delhi does not change. It only decays. My students tell me it is a great cemetery, every house a tomb. Nothing but sleeping graves. Now New Delhi, they say is different. That is where things happen. The way they describe it, it sounds like a nest of fleas. So much happens there, it must be a jumping place. I never go. Baba never goes. And here, here nothing happens at all.'" -Part One

    When Tara comes to visit, Bim tells her that Old Delhi is decaying because it is unable to change. It is frozen in time as the world moves on without it. She also includes herself and Baba in this assessment. They are also part of Old Delhi and, therefore, in decay.

    A part of her was sinking languidly down into the passive pleasure of having returned to the familiar—like a pebble, she had been picked up and hurled back into the pond, and sunk down through the layer of green scum, through the secret cool depths to the soft rich mud at the bottom, sending up a line of bubbles of relief and joy. A part of her twitched, stirred like a fin in resentment: why was the pond so muddy and stagnant? Why had nothing changed? She had changed—why did it not keep up with her?" - Part One

    In this quote, Tara describes her reaction to returning to her family home. On the one hand, she is relieved and finds comfort in the familiar surroundings. However, she also feels that too much is unchanged, to the point of stagnation. Tara knows that she has changed, but she is alarmed and frustrated that her home has not changed alongside her.

    With her inner eye she saw how her own house and its particular history linked and contained her as well as her whole family with all their separate histories and experiences—not binding them within some dead and airless cell but giving them the soil in which to send down their roots, and food to make them grow and spread, reach out to new experiences and new lives, but always drawing from the same soil, the same secret darkness. That soil contained all time, past and future, in it." -Part Four

    The quote comes from the end of the novel, as Bim contemplates her relationship with her siblings. She realizes that their shared history is what drives all of them, creating a bond and connection that will never be truly broken. No matter how different they become or how much their experiences pull them in opposite directions, they will always draw on their shared history as a core cornerstone of their respective identities.

    Clear Light of Day - Key takeaways

    • Clear Light of Day is a novel by Indian writer Anita Desai published in 1980.
    • The novel tells the story of the Das family, four siblings who have grown apart as they aged.
    • Some key themes in Clear Light of Day are family, change and the passage of time, and separation.
    • Some key symbols in Clear Light of Day are the Dases' garden and music.
    • Clear Light of Day was shortlisted for the 1980 Booker Prize.

    1Blakemore, Erin. "Why the Partition of India and Pakistan Still Casts a Long Shadow Over the Region." National Geographic. 2022.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Clear Light of Day

    What does the title Clear Light of Day mean?

    The title, Clear Light of Day, refers to the clarity with which Bim comes to see the importance of her family relationships.

    What is the rose walk in Clear Light of Day?

    The rose walk is a grass path between two rows of roses in the Dases’ garden. It is a place that holds many childhood memories for the Das children, and Tara is touched to see that it is still there when she returns to visit.

    What is the role of Baba in the novel Clear Light of Day?

    Baba is the intellectually disabled youngest child of the Das family. He remains largely unchanged over time and lives in his family home with his older sister, Bim.

    Who is the protagonist in Clear Light of Day?

    Bim is generally considered the protagonist of Clear Light of Day.

    Who wrote the novel Clear Light of Day?

    Clear Light of Day was written by Indian author Anita Desai.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which is NOT a theme in Clear Light of Day?

    Which is NOT a symbol in Clear Light of Day?

    True or false? Bim and Raja are very close as adults.


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