Homeless Bird Summaries

  BookRags Literature Study Guide
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Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Setting

This novel is set in India in modern times. Although the times are modern, the 
luxuries that those of Western culture take for granted are missing in Koly's 
world. Most homes do not have electricity, the schools do not have computers, 
and phones are never mentioned throughout the novel. 

Plot Summary

Homeless Bird is the story of Koly, a young Indian girl forced into a tragic 
marriage with a terminally ill boy who, through the experiences of widowhood, 
discovers the truth about who she is and what love really means.  Koly is a 
thirteen-year-old girl whose parents have decided to marry her off so that the 
financial burden will be lessened on their family. Koly's parents believe they 
have made a good match for their daughter and they struggle to come up with 
the demanded dowry in time for the wedding. However, the day before the 
wedding, Koly's parents discover that the bridegroom's parents lied to them 
about the age and health of Koly's husband to be. It is too late to do 
anything about it now, so Koly's parents agree to go on with the wedding.
After the ceremony is over, Koly learns that her husband has tuberculosis and 
that his parents had him marry so that the dowry would pay for his medical 
care and a trip to the Ganges River. Koly's in-laws hope that the waters of 
the magical river will heal their son. However, the trip weakens the boy, and 
he dies soon after bathing in the river.
A widow now, Koly is condemned to a life of loneliness and servitude to her 
mother-in-law and father-in-law, her sass and sassur. Koly's sassur is a kind 
man, however, and he teaches Koly to read. Koly finds solitude in the books 
her sassur allows her to borrow and in the friendship she has forged with her 
young sister-in-law. Soon, though, her sister-in-law reaches marrying age and 
a husband is found for her. The young girl leaves her home in hopes of a good 
marriage and leaves Koly alone with her grieving sass and sassur.
Koly's sassur gets very depressed after both his children leave him and soon 
he dies. Koly is now left alone with her emotionally abusive sass. One day, 
Koly's sass receives a letter from her brother in Delhi. Koly and Sass are to 
travel to Delhi to live with Sass's brother. On the way there, Sass suggests 
they stop at Vrindavan, a city full of holy shrines. While there, Sass 
abandons Koly. Koly turns to the only person she knows, the rickshaw driver 
who transported she and Sass to a shrine. This kind boy, Raji, takes Koly to a 
home for widows where she is fed and given a job.
Soon Koly is working for her own money and saving up for a home of her own. 
When her talent at embroidery is discovered, Koly is given a high-paying job 
embroidering cloth for an expensive sari shop. Everything is going so well for 
Koly that she is shocked when it gets even better. Raji wants to marry her. 
Koly is afraid, afraid of losing her independence and afraid of being forced 
back into the life she lived with her sass. However, Koly finally realizes 
that this time is different; this time it is for love.

Chapter 1 Summary
Koly's parents tell her she is to be married. Money is tight in the household 
and Koly's marriage would make it possible for the family to have more food 
for all its members. Koly's father is a scribe and her mother embroiders saris 
to sell in the market place.

Koly has two brothers who attend school in town. Koly does not go to school 
even though she would like to, because it is impractical for a family to pay 
for the education of a girl. 

When a husband is finally found, Koly wants to run away but she is worried 
about the shame this will bring on her family. Koly's parents are worried 
about coming up with enough money for Koly's dowry. Koly is told that her 
perspective husband's family is from a good caste and that his father is a 
school teacher.

Koly, her mother, and her father leave to go to the groom's home. Koly is sad 
that she will not see her home again for a long time and that her brothers 
cannot go along. When they arrive, the groom's father asks for the dowry 
before he escorts them to a wagon that will take them to his home. Koly is 
surprised by this because the man did not seem to care what she looks like or 
what her personality is like.
Koly's mother dresses her the next morning in the traditional wedding attire. 
The ceremony takes place in the courtyard of the Mehta's home. Koly finally 
manages to sneak a look at her new husband and discovers that he is not much 
older than she and that he is very frail looking.
Koly has worn a pair of silver earrings (these are important) her mother gave 
her at the wedding. Her sass insists that she hand them over for safe keeping. 
Koly refuses and when Chandra is out of the room, Koly hides them behind a 
loose brick in the wall.


Chapter 2 Summary

Koly rises early and joins her new sass in the kitchen. Sass makes it quite 
clear that she would be the only person to take care of Hari when Koly offers 
to take him some breakfast. Sass keeps Koly busy all day with housework. When 
Koly hears Hari cough, she thinks, as a good wife, she should go see to his 
needs. Hari seems pleased to see her. Koly asks about his illness and Hari 
says that he heard the doctor say he will die. Hari then says that his parents 
are going to take him to Varanasi to the Ganges River. They believe this river 
will heal him. Hari expects to die there, which would be good because Varanasi 
is a holy place and if his ashes are spread over the river his spirit will be 
free.

When Hari begins to cough again, Koly goes and makes him a remedy of honey and 
ginger root. This seems to help Hari. They are still talking when Sass returns 
from her errand. Sass is very angry to find Koly on Hari's bed and even 
angrier when she learns that Koly got into the expensive honey. However, Hari 
calms her anger by saying how much better he feels and how much he enjoyed his 
talk with Koly.

Sass tells Koly that Hari wants her to accompany them to Varanasi. Then Sass 
allows Koly to go sit with Hari. Koly tells Hari stories of her home and her 
parents. Hari laughs until he begins to cough again. Later the doctor comes 
and says that Hari has tuberculosis and a trip to Varanasi will only weaken 
him and make his condition worse. Hari's father argues with his wife, telling 
her the doctor is right and they should save their money to buy medicine. 
However, Sass is determined that only the river can heal her son. That night 
the local healer comes to help build Hari's strength for their trip, the next 
morning.

Chapter 3 Summary

As they leave the next morning, Chandra asks Koly to make sure Hari has a 
marigold garland from her should he die in Varanasi. Koly promises. Hari has a 
hard time on the trip. Before the train leaves, Koly sees many urns being 
place in the baggage car. Koly sees this as a prediction of this ill-fated 
trip.

When they take Hari to the river, begins to splash in the water with Koly 
until a look from his father makes him stop. Soon, though, Hari becomes weak 
again and must be helped from the water.

That night, Hari's coughing becomes very bad and a doctor is called. The 
doctor says there is nothing to be done. Finally Sassur comes and tells Koly 
of Hari's death. Sassur says they never should have made her marry their son, 
but that she is like a daughter to them now.

The next morning Hari's body is wrapped in cloth and covered in garlands of 
marigolds. Koly makes sure there is one from Chandra. Then Hari is carried to 
the Ganges, the family following behind and chanting. The men escort the body 
to the cremation while the women wait. Hari's ashes are then spread over the 
Ganges so his soul will be free. Before leaving Varanasi, Sass buys Koly a 
white cotton sari because this is what widows wear.

Chapter 4 Summary

Things are more quiet and tense at the Mehta home after Hari's death. Koly is 
grateful for Chandra's presence since the two girls have become quite good 
friends. A week after Hari's death, Sass takes Koly into the village. They go 
to a government office and tell a man that she is a widow. The man has them 
sign some papers that Koly cannot read. Sass will not tell Koly what the 
papers are for. However, after this an envelope comes for Koly every month 
that Sass takes away.

Sass grows very bitter toward Koly, resentful that they now have another mouth 
to feed. Nothing Koly ever does is good enough for her sass. Koly tries to be 
grateful and never insolent, however it is difficult. Koly begins a new quilt 
to remember Hari by and to soothe her own soul, but Sass will only let her 
work on it late at night. The quilt is very beautiful and even Sass is 
impressed with it.

There is a schoolbook in Hari's room and Koly finally draws up the courage to 
ask her sassur if she can have it. Sassur wants to know why she wants it since 
she cannot read. Koly says that she wants to look at the pages and imagine 
what they say. Sassur agrees to give her the book and says he will teach her 
to read it as well. Soon Koly begins to enjoy her time at the river washing 
the clothes because if she gets done quickly enough she can take a book and 
read for a few minutes.

Koly also daydreams as Chandra is often caught doing. Koly imagines running 
away and going back home to her family although she knows she cannot do this. 
If Koly goes back home she will bring shame on her family, not to mention the 
financial burden since her brothers have surely married by now.

When the rains came that year, Sass, Koly, and Chandra play out in it for a 
little while. Everything comes to life again. At the end of summer is 
Krishna's birthday. Sass takes Chandra and Koly into town for the celebration. 
However, Sass is still cruel and bitter toward Koly. Koly cannot turn to 
Sassur because he is sad a lot of the time since his students do not treat him 
with respect. However, Koly and Sassur can share their reading. Sassur has a 
book of poetry by Tagore that is signed by the author. The book has been 
handed down from father to son for generations. Two years pass and then it is 
time for Chandra to be married.


Chapter 5 Summary

Chandra's wedding is scheduled and the preparations begin. Chandra's husband 
has attended mission school and is going to get a job working with computers. 
Chandra is very impressed by this even though her father is suspicious of 
computers. Koly is concerned that Chandra's husband will not be a good match 
for her, but Chandra believes that he will be if she is a good wife.

Sass tells Koly that they have no money for a sari for Chandra and will have 
to use Koly's wedding sari. Koly is not happy with this but for Chandra's sake 
she agrees. Sass then demands that Koly give Chandra her silver earrings. Koly 
lies and says she has lost them. Koly hopes to one day use the earrings to run 
away from Sass.

One night Koly goes out into the courtyard alone after bedtime and overhears 
Sass and Sassur talk about the dowry. Sassur says it is good that Koly is 
around because they have been able to use her widow's pension for the dowry. 
Koly becomes very angry about this. Koly wakes Chandra and asks if it is true. 
Chandra is surprised that Koly did not know. Now Koly does not feel guilty 
about keeping her earrings from Chandra. The next morning, Koly demands that 
the widow's pension come directly to her. However, Sass says that the money 
barely pays for her keep and if not for their son, Koly would not have it at 
all.

Koly wants to give Chandra something for her wedding, so she begins work on 
another quilt that has scenes from all the good times they spent together. 
Sass provides cloth scraps for the quilt, however she will not allow Koly to 
miss any of her chores to work on the quilt, therefore Koly must work very 
late at night and very early in the morning to have it done in time.

When the time for the wedding comes, Koly is not allowed to help Chandra dress 
since she is a widow and it is bad luck. Koly is very disappointed. Koly also 
is not allowed to partake in the festivities except as a common servant. When 
the ceremony is over, Koly watches Chandra leave with her new husband and sees 
all her happiness leaving with her.

Chapter 6 Summary

Life becomes even worse for Koly. Sass is deeply grieved by the loss of her 
last child and Sassur is so depressed he does not even read the Tagore 
anymore. Koly has lost her only friend and her pension. Koly tries to console 
her in-laws, but neither will allow her to do so. Sassur becomes very devoted 
to his chants, often forgetting to eat. Koly attempts to make friends with a 
stray dog and a bandicoot to soothe her loneliness. One day, when she is in 
the village, Koly goes to the government office to find out if she can pick up 
her pension there, but they will only mail it.

Koly makes plans to sell her earrings and run away, to find a job somewhere 
and then find a place to live. If she could do that, she could have her 
pension forwarded to her new residence. However, Koly is afraid she does not 
have the courage this will take. Then one day, Sassur comes home and lies down 
in his room. Sass goes to check on him and finds him dead. Now Sass and Koly 
are both widows.

Chapter 7 Summary

Chandra comes home for the funeral and tells Koly all about the wonderful 
things that marriage has brought her. Chandra's husband is very proficient 
with computers and makes good money. Her sass is sickly and does not interfere 
with the running of the house. Chandra is very happy with her new marriage. 
Koly tells Chandra she wants to run away and Chandra begs her not to since 
there will be no one to take care of her.

Chandra goes home and life returns to normal for Koly and Sass. Sass has 
trouble stretching what little money she has and she often sells her 
belongings to make up for the shortfall. One day, Sass attempts to sell the 
Tagore book. Koly stops her by giving her the silver earrings in exchange for 
the book. Now Koly's only hope of escaping is gone.

One day Sass gets a letter from her younger brother that she refuses to allow 
Koly to read to her. Sass goes into the village to have someone there read it 
to her and is very excited when she comes home. Sass's younger brother has 
agreed for the two of them to come live with him. Sass arranges to sell the 
house and the two of them pack up their few belongings to go. Koly is sad to 
say goodbye to the house since, although her time there was mostly unhappy, it 
was her home for many years.

The train is crowded and hot. Koly feels ill throughout the trip and Sass is 
kind, making sure she gets fresh air to help her sickness. Sass has suggested 
they stop in Vrindavan before they reach Delhi because it is a city of many 
temples and they could pray there. Once they arrive, Sass has them leave their 
bedrolls in storage and then hires a rickshaw to take them to a temple. On the 
way, Koly sees many, many widows on the streets and in the temples. The 
rickshaw driver says widows come here because they are taken care of here.

At the temple, Sass gives Koly fifty rupees to buy lunch for them. Koly is 
surprised Sass has entrusted her with so much money and is careful to be sure 
she has gotten all the change when she is finished making her purchase. Once 
back at the temple, Koly cannot find her sass. Koly waits, eating both lunches 
when Sass does not reappear within an hour. Finally, Koly thinks she might 
have been told to meet Sass at the train station. Koly goes back and collects 
her stuff. Then she sees the rickshaw driver again and asks him if he has seen 
her sass. The boy says he did. Sass got on a train hours ago.


Chapter 8 Summary

Koly had suspected that she had been abandoned, but had not wanted to believe 
it. Now she begins to cry. The rickshaw boy tells her that it happens all the 
time. If she will go and chant at the temples, the monks will give her food. 
Then a man jumps into the rickshaw and the boy must leave her there alone.

Koly walks through the streets of the city and watches the other widows find 
sleeping places on the street. An elderly woman calls to her from the steps of 
a house and tells her she will share the spot for the night. The people in the 
house are kind and do not make them leave, she says, and sometimes they hand 
out food. The old woman tells Koly that her husband's brothers brought her 
here, that widows are abandoned here every day, and that Koly's sass will not 
be coming back.

Koly has trouble sleeping, worried about her few rupees being stolen and about 
her situation. The next morning, the elderly woman is gone when Koly wakes. 
Koly takes her things and walks through the city. Koly tries to chant at the 
temples, but she cannot make herself concentrate longer than a few minutes at 
a time. Koly spends a week sleeping on the doorstep, taking what little food 
the homeowners offer.

Koly goes to the government office to fill out the forms to request her 
pension, but they will not allow her to have it until she has a permanent 
address they can mail it to. Koly's rupees quickly run out. Koly goes to the 
train station often, hoping her sass will come back for her. One day she runs 
into the rickshaw driver again. The boy tells her not to cry, that he knows a 
place where she can go if she will wait there for him. Koly waits with a 
family who is taking a train in the morning.

When the boy returns, he takes Koly to a house where the woman, Maa Kamala 
takes in widows, gets them jobs, and helps them save up for a home of their 
own with the help of a rich benefactor. Here Koly meets Tanu, another widow 
about her age. Tanu shows her around the house and the bedroom they will 
share. Then Maa Kamala tells Koly she will get a job in the morning working 
with Tanu stringing marigolds on traditional garlands. Koly is happy to have 
food in her belly and a bed.

Chapter 9 Summary

At Maa Kamala's home, Koly feels safe for the first time in over a week. Early 
the next morning, Koly goes with Tanu to the vendor's booth where they string 
the marigolds. The work is easy for Koly to learn, but the overwhelming smell 
of the flowers is difficult to get used to. At lunch, Tanu and Koly walk 
through the market place. They find the booth of a jeweler who tells them if 
they are good girls, he will give them beads to string bangles and allow them 
to keep one for themselves. The girls agree. Tanu finds the work fascinating, 
but Koly is quickly bored with it.

Koly hangs her wedding quilt on the wall of the bedroom she shares with Tanu 
and three other widows to keep the room from being so plain. However, the 
memories she has sewn into the quilt make Koly so homesick that she finds she 
cannot look at it very often. Maa Kamala allows the girls to keep half of 
their pay and the other half is put into a savings account so they can save 
for a place of their own. Koly and Tanu talk often about the room they will 
someday have together.

Koly often reads from her book of poems to the girls in the courtyard after 
dinner. One night, Raji, the rickshaw driver, comes by while she is reading a 
poem about a homeless bird. Raji sits and listens, fascinated. Later, Koly is 
talking to him about the poetry and realizes he cannot read. Koly offers to 
teach him. Raji is a difficult student at first, but learns quickly.

Sometimes Raji does not feel like reading and they only talk. Raji tells Koly 
about his farm and how he is only in the city to make enough money for seed to 
plant on his land. Koly tells Raji about the river where she once read her 
books and daydreamed. Raji tells Koly he has something to show her. The next 
day, Koly sneaks away from Maa Kamala's and meets Raji. Raji takes Koly to a 
beautiful place next to the river just outside the city. Here Raji tells her 
that one day he plans to fix up his farm and he will marry. Koly is happy for 
Raji, but sad to think of going away and marrying someone else. After that, 
Raji did not come back again.

One evening, Maa Kamala told the girls they must clean the house because their 
benefactor was going to come by. The girls all line up out in the courtyard 
and the lady walks down the line meeting each girl. When she reaches the end, 
Maa Kamala tells Tanu and Koly to show her the house. Once they reach Koly's 
room, the rich woman is enthralled by Koly's quilt. The woman wants to know 
all about it. The lady tells Koly that there is a man in the city who is 
looking for women who can embroider like this. Koly says he must want artists 
and the lady says that is exactly what Koly is.

Chapter 10 Summary

The next morning, the rich lady comes and picks Koly up in a car. The car has 
air conditioning, a phenomenon that Koly is not familiar with and must ask 
about. The lady then tells Koly a story of how her father came to this city 
looking for his widowed mother who had been abandoned by his uncles. While 
living here, searching for her, the lady's father showed a man how to improve 
his drill and made a lot of money with this new design. Then the lady's father 
started the widow's house for women like his mother, whom he never found. The 
lady continues the widow's home in his memory.

When they reach Mr. Das's shop, the lady asks Koly to show Mr. Das the quilt. 
The man looks at it and says the work is good, but amateurish. The lady 
convinces Mr. Das to give Koly a chance. Mr. Das says he will. Mr. Das takes 
Koly into the workroom and hands her a scrap of cloth. Mr. Das tells Koly to 
embroider something. At first Koly copies another woman's work, but Mr. Das 
wants something from her imagination. Koly embroiders a heron. Mr. Das is 
happy and allows Koly to work for him for more money than Koly would ever have 
hoped for.

The work at Mr. Das's quickly becomes very important to Koly. The only bad 
thing in her life now is that Raji has not come back. Koly makes friends with 
one of the other workers, Mala, who is about her age. Most of the other 
workers are older and one, the Shrew, is unkind and like a spy for Mr. Das. 
Once a wedding veil disappeared and Mr. Das was very upset, as was the Shrew 
because she had been working on it.

Mala is very outspoken and often tells Mr. Das that she can go work with the 
rival shop down the street any time he does not like her tardiness. However, 
because Mala's work is very good, Mr. Das puts up with her difficult attitude. 
Mala has a room of her own and asks Koly to come to a party there one day 
while they are walking home. Maa Kamala refuses to allow Koly to attend, 
saying she knows girls like Mala and she does not want Koly spending time with 
her. Koly decides to sneak out with Tanu's help.

Koly tells Maa Kamala she is going to the movies with Tanu. Tanu goes to the 
movie, but Koly goes to Mala's. Once at Mala's, Koly sees the stolen wedding 
veil over a lamp. Koly asks Mala about it and Mala says Mr. Das does not pay 
her enough for all her work and this is compensation. Mala then introduces 
Koly to a man. This man is an artist and he wants to paint Koly. Koly tries to 
leave when the man makes her uncomfortable. Instead, he convinces her to drink 
some punch that is laced with a drug, bhang. Luckily, the sitar player sees 
what is happening and he takes Koly out of the building and to Tanu who is 
waiting at the movie theater.

Tanu helps Koly hide the evidence of what has happened and takes her inside. 
They tell Maa Kamala that Koly ate a whole bag of monkey nuts and it has made 
her sick. Koly stays home from work for two days. When she returns, Koly stays 
away from Mala. Mala threatens Koly about the veil and completely finishes 
their friendship. However, the next day Raji returns.


Chapter 11 Summary

Raji is waiting for Koly when she leaves work the next day. They walk to their 
spot beside the river. Koly reluctantly tells Raji about Mala's party and what 
happened to her there. Koly thinks Raji will be angry with her, but he is not. 
Raji tells Koly about his farm, that his uncle rents half of it and that a 
government man is showing him how to make the land more fertile. Raji says 
that he has started repair on the house and that he wants Koly to go back 
there with him. Koly is confused until Raji says that he wants her as his 
wife.

Koly is very surprised by this because tradition dictates that a man should 
marry a woman whose family can provide a good dowry. Not only does Koly not 
have a dowry, but she is a widow. This is very unusual and Koly is afraid 
Raji's family will not accept her. Raji says he does not need a dowry; his 
parents are dead so there is no family to accept or deny her. Raji says he 
loves her and wants only her.

Koly says she is not ready to say yes now, but asks him to wait. Raji is not 
happy, but he agrees to wait. Raji promises to write. Every week a letter 
comes from Raji, some are all about the farm and the weather, some are love 
letters talking about how much he misses Koly. Koly replies by telling him she 
misses him too.

Tanu and Koly have gotten a room together to make room for more widows at the 
widow's home. They have decorated their room nicely with pictures from 
magazines and two charpoys, or beds. They share the building with four 
families and must share a toilet and faucet with them. At first Koly is 
excited by this room, but quickly becomes bored with it.

One day, a woman was in the workroom sewing a wedding sari with gold thread. 
The woman said Mr. Das has not given her enough thread even though he just 
laid one beside her. The Shrew tells Mr. Das to look in Mala's purse. When he 
finds the thread there, Mr. Das fires Mala. Soon they find out Mala has gone 
to work with the man down the street and been fired from there, too.

In June Raji writes that he has built Koly a room on his house where she can 
work on her embroidery. Koly realizes then how much Raji loves her and how 
much she loves him. Koly begins work on a wedding quilt and tells Raji she 
will marry him when it is finished. Raji says she should work fast.

Characters

Koly

Koly, at the beginning of the novel, is a thirteen-year-old Indian girl who 
has just reached the age which tradition dictates she is eligible to be 
married. 

Hari

Hari is the young man whom Koly marries. When the marriage is arranged, the 
parents are led to believe that Hari is an older boy, perhaps seventeen or 
eighteen. However, when Koly's parents finally are allowed to meet Hari, it 
turns out that he is no older than their thirteen-year-old daughter.  After 
the wedding, Koly quickly discovers that Hari is very sick, not just ill with 
the flu as her parent's were told. Later, Hari takes a turn for the worse and 
dies the following day.

Sass

Sass is the Hindu word for mother-in-law. 

Sassur

Sassur is the Hindu word for father-in-law. Koly's sassur is a schoolteacher. 
Sassur was Koly's only protection from her sass and with his death Koly's life 
becomes even more difficult than it had been before.

Chandra

Chandra is Hari's sister. Chandra is younger than Koly, and spoiled. Chandra 
does very little work around the house and Koly often finds herself making up 
for the girl's daydreaming. However, Chandra is a good friend to Koly.

Maa Kamala

Maa Kamala runs a type of boarding house for widows who have been abandoned. 
With the help of a rich benefactor, Maa Kamala provides food, lodging, and 
jobs for young widows to help them start their lives over again. After being 
abandoned by her sass, Koly is brought to Maa Kamala by Raji.  Maa Kamala also 
does not allow the girls to be alone with any man and does not want them to go 
to parties with disreputable people. Despite her strict rules, Maa Kamala is a 
very kind woman who always makes sure all her girls are well clothed and fed.

Raji

Raji is a rickshaw driver who Koly meets her very first day in Vrindavan. 
Since Raji is the only face that is familiar to Koly in the big city after her 
sass abandons her, Koly seeks him out several times and they become friends.

Tanu

Tanu is another widow who lives at Maa Kamala's. Tanu was abandoned by her 
sass and sassur when they decided they wanted to marry their son off a second 
time for a better dowry. Tanu is about Koly's age. Koly and Tanu share a room 
at Maa Kamala's and they work together in the marigold booth. Tanu is one of 
the reasons Koly hesitates to marry Raji, however, because she does not want 
to leave another friend. When Koly's boss agrees to allow her to take 
embroidery work with her, it makes it easier since she will have to return to 
the city often and will be able to visit Tanu.

Mr. Das

Mr. Das is the owner of the shop where Koly works as an embroiderer. Mr. Das 
is a very fair man who is impressed with Koly's work from the first moment he 
sees it, although he pretends he is not. Mr. Das encourages Koly to be 
artistic, to make whatever designs she wants to make. 

Mala

Mala is another young widow that Koly meets when she goes to work with Mr. 
Das. Mala is very beautiful and extremely talented in her work. Since Mala is 
one of the only embroiderers who is close to Koly's age, Koly and Mala become 
very good friends. Soon, it is discovered by Mr. Das that Mala is a thief when 
she is caught with a spindle of pure gold thread in her purse.

Themes

Tradition, Shame, and Religious Beliefs

One of the strongest themes in the novel Homeless Bird is the sense of 
tradition the people of India live with. Koly's marriage is traditional in the 
sense that it is expected that a child of a young age will marry in order to 
free her own home of the burden of caring for her and to enhance the home of 
the prospective groom by helping the sass to care for it. When Koly's parents 
realize the boy they have arranged for their daughter to marry is not what 
they thought he was, they chose to go on with the wedding despite the fact 
that they are not happy with the situation and they know it is not the best 
for their daughter. They do this because tradition dictates that if they back 
out, there will be shame brought on their household and they are not willing 
to take the risk. Tradition also keeps Koly at the home of her sass and sassur 
even after her husband has died because it would shame her family if she were 
to return to them. Also, it would bring them bad luck since a widow is 
considered bad luck despite the fact that Koly's husband was dying before she 
married him. 

Loneliness

Koly is desperately lonely after Chandra marries. After she is abandoned, Koly 
feels as though she is never going to find happiness again. It is only when 
she meets Raji and he shows her kindness that Koly begins to lose her 
loneliness and find happiness.

Love

It is not traditional for people like Koly to fall in love and marry for love. 
Koly married because her parents told her to. Raji says you can not speak to 
rupees and you cannot lie beside rupees. Therefore, Raji does not want to 
marry a big dowry, he wants to marry the woman he can talk to, the woman he 
wants to have children with. Raji wants to marry Koly. At long last, at the 
old age of seventeen, Koly has found love.

Quotes

"There were days when my ma took only a bit of rice for herself so that the 
rest of us--my bapp, my brothers, and I--might have more. 'It's one of my days 
to fast,' she would say, as if it were a holy thing, but I knew it was because 
there was not enough to go around. The day I left home, there would be a 
little more for everyone else." Chapter 1, pg. 1

"At last I was ready, and Baap came in to see me. I thought he would be 
pleased. I turned one way and the other to show off my splendor, but to my 
disappointment he began to cry."

Chapter 1, pg. 18

"I was very angry with the Mehtas, but after listening all day to Hari's 
terrible coughing, I began to think that if the Ganges could cure Hari, our 
wedding would not be such a bad thing."

Chapter 2, pg. 34

"I was not introduced as Hari's wife. I believe they took me for his sister. I 
wondered if Hari's parents were ashamed to admit before this dignified man 
that they had married so young and so sick a son to get money." Chapter 3, pg. 
45

"Before we left Varanasi, Sass purchased a cheap white cotton sari for me. 'It 
is what widows wear,' she said." Chapter 3, pg. 55

"In her sadness over Hari's death Sass grew bitter. Her angry words buzzed 
around me, stinging like wasps." Chapter 4, pg 59

"I hoped Chandra was right, but I could not help remembering a stall in the 
bazaar where Chandra and I had sorted through a heap of mismatched earring. We 
had looked through them hoping to find two that matched. What if it was as 
difficult to find two matching people?"

Chapter 5, pgs. 79-80

'The river where I washed clothes and studied my books was a friend." Chapter 
7, pg. 111

"Some of the people fell asleep immediately, as if their square of sidewalk 
were as much a shelter as a house would be." Chapter 8, pg. 125

"At first he was impatient, but as the letters became words, and the words 
thoughts, he became both eager and suspicious, as though I were holding 
something back from him."

Chapter 9, pg. 153

"I had known that Raji would make a fine husband for some lucky girl, but I 
could hardly believe that he had chosen me or that his family would accept 
me." Chapter 11, pg. 197

"Immediately I knew that it would be the homeless bird, flying at last to its 
home."

Chapter 11, pg. 212