In this book, we find out what happens after Sudha moves to California.
The main themes in this novel are family, love, loss, identity, immigration, and culture.
Anju and Sunil
Anju and Sunil’s relationship has not healed after their baby was stillborn. Anju can’t stand for Sunil to touch her, and they fight or give each other the silent treatment, most of the time Anju is mourning the loss of her baby and has a hard time carrying on.
Sudha’s visit is meant to help both her and Anju. They are meant to support each other through a difficult time in their lives. Sudha and Dayita live with Anju and Sunil in their apartment in San Francisco.
Anju and Sunil both love Dayita and spend a lot of time with her. Sunil picks her up as soon as he comes home from work and carried her even while working on the computer.
Sudha spends her days cleaning the house, cooking, and minding Dayita. She eventually made a friend at the park, Sara, an Indian woman who had shirked family expectations to explore America. Sudha asked her if she could help her find a job.
Sudha and Sunil both encouraged Anju to return to University. When she eventually does that, she finds a new group of friends, feminist women. Sudha feels like she no longer knows Anju as she doesn’t understand the books and people she speaks about; even the ideas are foreign.
Sunil and Sudha
Sunil and Sudha tiptoe around each other until he comes home to find her and Dayita lying on his bed. She’d been cleaning the room while Dayita watched TV from the bed. Sudha cuddled with Dayita and fell asleep.
Finding Sudha on his bed, Sunil made a pass at her. She pushed him anyway but experienced desire for him. From then, they were even tenser around each other. Anju sensed the tension but mostly ignored it and took to spending more time with her friends from school.
While attending a wedding anniversary party with Anju and Sunil, Sudha made a new friend, Lalit. She’d learned some American characteristics from TV and put them to use to flirt and have a good time. Lalit was taken with her and that started a friendship between them.
Sunil was angry at Anju and Sudha for dancing with Lalit while he sat out the dances. When someone made a racist remark as he was getting his car from the valet, he started a fight. Later that week, when Lalit left a message inviting Sudha out, he did not pass on the message to her. However, Lalit called back and he and Sudha went out.
Sunil did not want Sudha to go on the date. On Monday (the date was on Saturday), he came back home after leaving for work and brought Sudha and Dayita to a rose garden. He explained that he was in love with Sudha and asked her to marry him. He said that he would divorce Anju regardless.
Ashok is Waiting
Meanwhile, Ashok continued to wait for Sudha. He helped out the Chatterjees and even Sunil’s parents while waiting for Sudha. She left his letters unanswered until she got the courage to write him and ask him not to wait for her, that she wanted to find her own way.
When Sudha got home, she accepted the job offer that she had gotten through Sara’s contact. She’d planned to decline it but needed a fast escape from her situation. She left letters for Anju and Sunil and was out of the house 90 minutes later, picked up by the woman who arranged the job, Lupe.
Sunil told Anju that he still wanted to marry Sudha even though she ran away, and that the best thing would be for them to get a divorce. Surprised to discover she still loved him, she tried to reason with him, to no avail. Making tea one night after he moved out, she accidentally dropped a cup of tea. She then continued to break dishes, even after cutting herself on the shards. She started to seek out pain and worried that she would hurt herself, she called a friend for help.
Sudha took a job caring for an older Indian man, Mr. Sen, who had a stroke. He was having a great time exploring new opportunities in the US until the stroke. However, confined to his bed after the stroke, he became abusive and vindictive towards the women they hired to help him. He wanted to go back to his home in India, but his son wouldn’t let him, since there was no one to help take care of him there.
It was the same with Sudha until she started making various Indian foods for him. After a doctor’s visit to the house, his son realized how much weight he had lost. He was eating a minimal about of food each day and would have to be hospitalized if the situation did not improve.
Sudha bargained with him that if he got better, she would be willing to go back to India with him and be his caretaker. In exchange, she wants a good education for Dayita and the opportunity to be financially independent. At first, he is suspicious as people don’t usually want to leave the US, but She convinces him of her sincerity. He accepted the offer. He would help Dayita go to the best schools. Already, she called him grandfather and he enjoyed her company.
Sunil moved to Houston, Texas for a promotion. Soon after the move, he had to return to India for his father’s burial. He got the notice a bit late because both he and Anju had moved out of the house. Anju had to forward the letter to him once she received it.
A New Life for Dayita
Ashok car to San Francisco to bring Sudha home. He met Anju as she was packing Sunil’s stuff from the house as a favor to him since he had to go to the funeral. She explained what had happened
Anju and Sunil both missed Dayita. Sunil bought a recorder to record messages to her. He sent the recording to Anju who forwarded it to Sudha. Sudha played the tape for Dayita but then figured a clean break was best and threw it away.
Lalit the Messenger
Lalit was the go-between for Sudha and Anju. He met Anju outside of University one day to try to convince her to meet Sudha. In return, Anju negotiated for Sudha to meet Ashok.
Ashok in America
In her meeting with Ashok, Sudha told him about what happened with Sunil. He was surprised but still wanted to take her home. She rejected his proposal again.
Back to India
Mr. Sen surprised his son and daughter by walking into dinner one day. They had no idea that he had been following a regiment to get better.
With his progress, his ability to walk, and the recovery of his appetite, his son and daughter-in-law agreed about his return to India. They have purchased the tickets.
The mothers are present in this story through their letters, but they are far away, their influence minimal. We also learn of Sindhji’s death. The mothers arranged his funeral, since he had no other family. Only Sudha knows his secret.
In The Vine of Desire, Chitra shares many current events, drawing a parallel between the experience of the characters in the book and what is happening in the world. In this way, a small pulse of magic, or perhaps destiny, vibrates throughout the story. This is strengthened by Sudha’s dreams, where she sees the actions of her family and friends.
The Ending of The Vine of Desire
Sunil is walking in an arboretum. He’s started journaling recently and realizes what he has lost. He received a goodbye letter from Sudha, but did not reply. Hoping for forgiveness, he sent a letter to Anju to see if she wants to meet up next time he is in San Francisco.
Lalit and Sudha have a farewell at an amusement park. He, once again, indicates interest besides friendship, and she maintains the line of friendship. He tells her that he will visit her in India.
To meet Anju, Sudha leaves Dayita home with the old man. He considers Dayita a granddaughter. The two of them manage quite well on their own.
In the early days of Sudha’s visit, the family had gone for an outing and had seen some women windsurfing. In their farewell meeting, Anju drove Sudha to the spot where they had seen women windsurfing. This was their first meeting since Sudha moved out, but Anju didn’t want to talk about it.
Anju had taken classes and Sudha got to watch her take her first flight alone. As Anju is taking that flight, we get a glimpse into the past, the present, and future. Anju faces her grief, releasing the photograph of her ultrasound into the atmosphere. She returns to earth, into Sudha’s arms.