The novel’s action takes place in a rural area in India, in a fishing village near the sea. The novel follows the life of a small family forced to live in poverty. The parents are unable to take care of their three children so the oldest children, Lila and Hari, assume the roles of adults in the house. Lila takes care of her ill mother and takes care of the house while her brother works in the fields in order to financially sustain his family.
We find that the family ended up that way after Lila and Hari’s father was tricked into believing that if he paid a large sum of money, someone will find him a job in Mumbai. The man ran away with the money and the father stopped working and started drinking excessively which put a strain on the family.
Realizing that their father was no longer able to provide for them, the children started to take care of themselves. Hari began to think about ways in which he could help his family better and their prospects seem to get better when it is rumored that a factory was planned to be built in their village. Hari tries to have a realistic view on whether he was going to find work in the factory.
Their situation changes when the De Silva family comes into the village. Lila and Hari start helping them and become their servants. Finding out about their situation, Mr. De Silva offers Hari a job in Mumbai in a car wash. At first, Hari is suspicious of his offer but then analyzes his situation and reaches the conclusion that his sister will never be able to find a good husband without money and that it was now his responsibility.
Hari decides to go to Mumbai with other villagers but doesn’t say anything to his sister. When he arrives in Mumbai, he searches for Mr. De Silva but doesn’t find him. Hari is helped by one of the servants in the house who introduces Hari to Jagu.
Jagu agrees to let Hari work in his restaurant so Hari sends home a postcard letting his sister know where he is and that he was going to send his earnings to them from that point on. Life is hard for Hari in Mumbai but he keeps his promise and continues to send money home. While working for Jagu, Hari meets Mr. Panwallah who takes Hari under his wing and starts to teach him how to make watches and how to repair them.
During the time Hari was in Mumbai, Lila is helped by the De Silva family. Mr. de Silva takes Lila’s mother to the hospital and with the proper care, she slowly starts to get better.
When Hari returns to his village, he decides to start a small business raising animals while thinking that he will able to open his own watch shop in the future. The novel ends on a positive tone, Hari and Lila’s situation improving greatly in comparison to how it was in the beginning of the novel.