Six months after her father’s death, American-born Bijou Roy travels to India to scatter her Indian father’s ashes in the Hooghly River. Clutching a box containing her father’s remains, she wades in to fulfill a tradition she is not familiar with and does not fully understand.
The pages of Bijou Roy chronicle Bijou’s predicament: Conflicted by her parents’ deeply felt Indian principles and those of her own modern American lifestyle, Bijou struggles to carve out an identity. The book skips back and forth in time to reveal bits of Bijou’s upbringing, her relationship with her father and her ensuing grief over his death.
In Calcutta, Bijou meets family members and friends who serve as windows into her father’s past, particularly his involvement in the controversial Communist Naxalite movement. Naveen, the son of Bijou’s father’s closest comrade, befriends Bijou and aids in her understanding with photos, stories and long-lost letters he has collected for his own academic research. As Naveen and Bijou peel back the layers of the past during frequent walks through the vibrant city of Calcutta, a bond begins to develop.
Juggling a demanding boyfriend back home and combating serious jetlag and sensory overload, Bijou struggles. By the novel’s end, however, her time in Calcutta will afford her a much clearer picture of her heritage. Her father’s words return to her and serve as a guide for hard decisions ahead: “ ‘Better to furnish your mind [with] Truth. Justice. Love. Friendship.’ There was no fear of overcrowding your mind with abstracts, he told Bijou. Same principle applies to the heart.”