It is the middle of the night, and the electricity has faltered. Uma fetches Mali, their elderly groundskeeper, who emerges from his small shack and goes into town to fix it. Before his return, another figure is seen coming in the darkness: a man with a telegram. Just as the electricity comes on and Mali returns, they open the telegram. It states simply: “Anamika is dead.” Soon after, they hear the full story: Anamika was found burned to death by kerosene, wearing only a cheap nylon sari, before dawn on the porch outside her in-laws home. Different versions of the story float around. The mother-in-law claims Anamika snuck out before the house awoke and lit herself on fire, while the neighbors say that the mother-in-law dragged Anamika out in the middle of the night, with help from the husband, and burned her alive. Anamika’s parents say whatever happened was destiny.
The story of Anamika’s death tragically symbolizes the final loss of female freedom—the loss of life. Whether it is suicide or murder is unclear; yet either way, it is the worst-case scenario, the final consequence of a traditional social system in which married women are treated as the property of their husbands. While marriage does not always bring a loss of freedom—Aruna and Mrs. Joshi are both examples to the contrary—it illustrates how much power husbands and in-laws can have if they choose to exercise it. Anamika’s parents could have saved her at any point, but they chose to deny the reality of the situation to save face until it was too late.
Lila Aunty and Bakul Uncle come to deposit Anamika’s ashes down the sacred river that runs alongside their town - the very one that Uma herself twice tried to jump into. Lila Aunty and Bakul Uncle do not speak, or eat; they only look down, while Mama and Papa try to cheer them up and to arrange everything. Uma cannot stop thinking about how Anamika is now only ashes, while she herself lives—and yet, she ‘feels like ashes’. The next day, the whole family boards a big wooden boat, and they float out into the river. Mama reaches for Uma’s hand, and Uma feels the solace that at least they have each other. She tells Mama that she has asked cook to make a special breakfast, and Mama is grateful for the little gesture, squeezing Uma’s hand.
Anamika’s death brings out the love in Uma’s parents, especially her mother. Witnessing the grief of Anamika’s parents makes Mama want to draw closer to Uma. For a little while, Uma isn’t alone—for her mother is cherishing her as she has seldom done. While it was Anamika who was supposed to have the best life, and Uma who once tried to die into the river, it is Anamika whose body will now be deposited there. Yet Uma raises the question—what is death? Is Anamika the one who is dead, or is it Uma, who does not feel alive?