I returned to scour them a second time when Sass found a bit of stickiness on one of the bowls. "How were you brought up, girl?" she scolded, not even calling me by my name (2.5)
Mrs. Mehta is never shy about sharing her opinion. She berates Koly for not doing the dishes properly, scolds her for daydreaming, and always keeps a long list of chores for her daughter-in-law to finish. If putting up with her demands isn't suffering, we don't know what is.
As much as I longed to see them, though, I knew that after all the sacrifices they had made for my dowry, I would shame them by returning home. (3.8)
Even though Koly decides she hates her new life with the Mehtas, she doesn't do anything about it because she knows it would shame her family. She cares more about her family and what her departure would mean for them than she does about her own misery, so she just gets on with her life and puts up with Mrs. Mehta.
All day long she sent it screaming through the house and across the courtyard: "Koly, we need water!" "Koly, sweep the courtyard! The geese have soiled it." "Koly, the clothes you washed are still dirty!" "Koly, the spices you ground for the masalas are too coarse!" (4.12)
Yikes. We can see why Koly wants to run away. We also get the sense that Koly has to persevere through more than other characters in the story. While Koly's running here, there, and everywhere, Chandra is sleeping in or doing simple stuff like fluffing cushions.
"You do not know the meaning of work. You idle about with your daydreams and your foolish books and your stitching. I will see to it that from now on you do indeed earn your keep." (5.15)
Mrs. Mehta might think this, but we disagree—Koly works hard all the time, even when she deserves a break. And yet her tasks are nothing in her sass's eyes. To mommy dearest, Koly is spoiled and advantaged. It's just one of the many things Koly has to push on through.
My pension was lost to me, and I did not know how far my earrings might take me. It seemed that I must stay where I was forever. (6.2)
Poor Koly doesn't seem to have much of a future after Hari dies and makes her a widow, and then her pension is used for Chandra's dowry. Still, though, she presses on. It's not that she thinks there's a bright future out there for her, but more than she doesn't have another choice.
With all these questions I did not think to run away today or tomorrow, but as long as I had the thought of someday, I could stand Sass's scolding. To leave would take courage, and of that I did not have much. (6.23)
Here Koly thinks about what it would mean to run away from Mrs. Mehta. She wouldn't have someone barking orders at her any longer, but she's just not sure she has the guts it takes. She's town between sticking it out and forging a new path for herself since both roads will be hard in their own ways.
Another widow was curled up there, still asleep. I shivered at the sight and gave thanks for a roof over my head. As I hurried by, I looked for the half-starved child who had stood there watching me eat. I still held my breakfast chapati and would gladly have given it to her. (9.4)
When Koly first comes to the city, she's homeless, jobless, and (almost) penniless. Pretty quickly, though, she discovers there are many who are way worse off than she is, and this encourages her to work hard to change her situation. Before she knows it, she has herself a home again.
One evening Raji came to the courtyard while I was reading the poem about the homeless bird. He sat in the far corner of the courtyard munching some leftovers Maa had given him and listening to the poem, a dreamy expression on his face. (9.17)
Koly is just like the bird, persevering against all odds and traveling from place to place in hopes of eventually finding a home. We have way more to say about this over in the "Symbols" section, though, so check it out.
"The unhappy boy ran away to Vrindavan to find his maa. He got a job as a helper to an iron-monger. […] My baap, who was now a young man, had an idea that if the drill were made in a certain way, it would be more effective. And so it was. He began to make such drills, and soon they were sold all over India, and he became rich." (10.9)
Mrs. Devi tells Koly her own family history, which features a perseverance success story, and Koly realizes that many people have endured hardship in their lives. The best option is to rise above it.
As I saw the fearful looks of the widows who were to take our place, I realized how much things had changed for me. I had friends and a secure job, and now I had Raji. (11.24)
Coming face to face with the new widows who will take her place at Maa Kamala's house, Koly sees just how much she's grown. She's stuck it out, and you know what? It's paid off. Big time. She's independent, settled, and happy.